According to a recent study conducted by Michele Lariviere, clinical psychologist and associate professor at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Canada, the results achieved through wilderness therapy continue to be varied and difficult to gauge. Wilderness therapy (WT) is an alternative therapeutic approach that can be useful in helping individuals who do not respond to traditional treatment methods. Primarily, WT is designed to address behavioral problems and is becoming more popular because it appeals to at-risk teens who are unable to make progress through psychotherapy or other means of treatment. Because therapists can observe behaviors and reactions over the course of several days and during a variety of situations, WT can provide insight into domains that might not be explored in an office environment. Additionally, young adults and teens who are fearful of the stigma associated with mental health problems and how they may be perceived by their peers may choose not to accept help when offered. Self-esteem and image often trump positive mental health for young people conflicted about their identity and self-worth.
One of the biggest challenges of WT is the conflicting outcomes that have been reported by therapists. Existing research has provided differing outcomes, which leaves clinicians wondering if and how this type of treatment can help their clients. Lariviere’s goal was to gather outcome measures from three therapists after they observed a week-long session of WT delivered to nine teens ranging in age from 15 to 18 years in order to establish some degree of consistency. However, this result was not achieved. Lariviere said, “Even when equipped with validated and behaviorally anchored instruments, there appears to be little consistency among observers in terms of the degree to which WT influences participant change.” In sum, the three clinicians reported significantly varying degrees of gains in the youth. These findings support other research that has established a wide range of observer outcomes in WT. Taken together, the results of this study and others suggests that more research is needed in order to develop a valid tool that can be used in various WT settings with a broad range of clients in order to accurately assess the effectiveness of treatment.
Lariviere, M., Couture, R., Ritchie, S. D., Cote, D., Oddson, B. (2012). Behavioural assessment of wilderness therapy participants: Exploring the consistency of observational data. The Journal of Experiential Education, 35.1, 290-302.
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