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February 10, 2012

You may have heard of boot camps, and if so, there may be a lot of questions swirling around about what boot camp really is.

Is boot camp right for my troubled teen?

Can girls go to boot camp?

Is boot camp the same as wilderness therapy?

We’ll take a closer look at the above questions and more. There are so many circumstances in a young person’s life that a one-size-fits-all category in terms of therapy programs is difficult to ascertain without an actual, formal assessment.

Is boot camp right for my troubled teen?

Boot camps were established as correctional facilities for wayward teenagers. They’re typically seen as a last resort location for parents looking for a quick-fix for their poorly-behaved, out-of-control child. Unfortunately, there is little research to indicate the boot camp approach to troubled teens reverses or sets straight angry, aggressive, temperamental behavior. Boot camps for teens are compared with the system of incarceration in the US whereas freedoms and self-identity are bound or stripped away completely.

Created in the mid-1980s and based off of military training schools, boot camps are rigid atmospheres. They work at putting young people through grueling tasks, difficult physical activities, and severe punishments for not following rules and orders. The method eventually breaks down a person until they’re regressed to weakness so compliance is automatic.

Can girls go to boot camp?

Yes, boot camps for girls exist. There are recorded, however, horrific abuses of children in boot camps and girls are not spared the physical, mental and emotional degradation. In fact, The National Mental Health Association concluded: “employing tactics of intimidation and humiliation is counterproductive for most youth.” They go on to discuss various degrees of abuses.

Is boot camp the same as wilderness therapy?

In a word: No. Boot camps and wilderness therapy programs could not be more different. Perhaps the only similarity is the biological age of participants. Whereas boot camps force change through wearing down an individual, wilderness therapy encourages transformation through awareness of self. The technique in wilderness therapy that leads to troubled teenagers finding self-awareness is directly related to teaching them awareness of the natural world.

The rhythms of the wilderness—the seasons are a constant reminder that untouched beauty is sacred, that nurturing brings bounty, that fresh air and clean water both heals and nourishes. Wilderness therapy camps give young people opportunities they may not have otherwise. They can plant and care for seeds and in learning how to nurture plants, understand how to nurture themselves. Of course wilderness therapy programs are part wilderness interaction and part therapy—a synergy that has been studied to show significant positive changes in troubled and hurting teens.

When thinking through the kind of therapy program you may want for your teen, it is important to get a feel for the kind of influences they’ll be working with. The people around us contribute to our shaping. Interview, discuss, involve yourself with getting the kind of information you need to make an informed decision about the kind of treatment and outcome you’d like to see for your child.

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