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What is Wilderness Therapy? - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults

What is Wilderness Therapy? – Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults

Nature is therapeutic. Sometimes just going for a walk or sitting outside on a gorgeous, spring afternoon can help you deal with a difficult day. As the 19th Century poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.”

People who are dealing with ongoing challenges may need to spend more than just an afternoon outside to successfully face their struggles. For teens, a wilderness therapy program can be the help they need to learn how to face life’s challenges in positive, productive, lasting ways. The team at Pacific Quest on Hawaii’s Big Island is here to help.

What is Wilderness Therapy?

While wilderness therapy programs started in the 1970s, it wasn’t until the last 15 to 20 years that these programs adopted the holistic approach that many programs now have. At Pacific Quest, for example, we create a specialized treatment plan for each student, we offer a primarily organic, anti-inflammatory, whole foods diet and we integrate horticulture therapy into our wilderness therapy program.

Most wilderness therapy programs use nature and the outdoors as the core of an experiential learning program to teach their students communication skills, self-confidence, resilience and positive coping skills. These programs also include academic classes and may include life skills classes such as cooking, fitness and finances. Learn more about Pacific Quest’s approach to wilderness therapy.

A wilderness therapy program differs from a traditional boot camp in several ways. First, boot camps are often modeled on military training camps and are therefore more physically intense than wilderness therapy programs. Second, a military environment may be pervasive at a boot camp as their main focus is to instill a sense of discipline and structure into their students. Lastly, boot camps may not integrate academic classes or therapy into their programs and often put the physical, mental and emotional demands of the program at the core of their mission. A wilderness therapy program, on the other hand, uses nature as a means to help students heal and to build them up without ever breaking them down.

Signs Your Teen is Struggling

As your children hit their teen years — or even before then — it’s natural for them to want to spend more time with their peers and less time with you. This transition helps them test out their independence while they still have you and their home as safety nets.

If your teen is pushing you and your family away or changing in uncharacteristic ways, there may be cause for concern. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Has your teen gone through major changes in terms of friends, school work, academic performance, appearance, attitude, emotional state, interests or responsibilities?
  • Has your teen started lying or breaking promises, become disengaged or shown a lack of responsibility?
  • Is your teen lashing out, yelling at you or other family members or even becoming violent?
  • Is your teen drinking or doing drugs? Some teens may engage in this behavior to avoid dealing with their struggles or because they haven’t learned a positive way to cope.


Your teen may be dealing with anything from a learning disorder to video game addiction to depression. Through our wilderness therapy program, Pacific Quest can help your teen find positive ways to face their struggles and live a productive, healthy life. Learn more about the types of diagnoses and issues we treat.

The Pacific Quest Difference

At Pacific Quest, we’ve worked with countless families over the past 20 years and have seen firsthand how frustrating, exhausting and even heartbreaking it is to have a child who’s struggling. We’ve also seen how effective and even transformative our wilderness therapy program can be for our students and their families. Through our experiential outdoor classroom and in conjunction with behavioral therapy, we teach students sustainable life skills and empower them to make healthy choices.

Students will develop various skills including planning, goal setting, organization, time management, community living, cooking, exercise, and self-care. Another core element of Pacific Quest’s approach is horticultural therapy, which combines the art and science of growing flowers, trees, fruits and vegetables with theories in counseling psychology, human behavior and neuroscience. Our holistic approach empowers students to play an active role in their own therapy. This level of involvement gives teens a sense of purpose and control in our wilderness therapy program, which they may feel they were lacking.

To learn more about us contact us with any of your questions and to set up a consultation on our office line, 808-937-5806, or email us.

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