Learning Disabilities, Mental Health and Wilderness Therapy

Last week, I spent three days in Boulder Colorado, speaking at and particpating in The Wilderness Therapy Symposium. I also spent time visiting and getting to know a few “Young Adult Transition Programs” in the greater Boulder/Denver area.

Firstly, I wanted to acknowledge how grateful I am to be a part of the community of treatment programs and professionals who dedicate their energy and expertise to the business of helping teenagers who are struggling. At this conference, there was an amazing collection of various viewpoints, all focused on cooperative and collaborative efforts in order to get better at serving youth.

Wilderness treatment fieldwork staff, therapists, mentors, educational consultants, and researchers were all represented. In an environment such as this one (not to mention the beauty of altitude and Boulder, CO), served to remind us that, and as Dr.Michael Gass, of the University of New Hampshire and Director, Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research (OBHRC) put it during his inspiring lunchtime talk, collaboration among treatment programs and professionals makes us all better at helping kids and families (my paraphrasing of his message).

This is my further interpretation of Dr. Gass’s message: When we live in silos doing our individual work, that’s one thing. But, when we share information, and collaborate on research to determine what actually works, we bring this important treatment approach to higher levels, and we can better communicate the truth; that Wilderness Therapy works, and it is an effective tool that brings useful treatment to children and families.

In clarifying his message, Dr. Gass commented on the risks associated with wilderness therapy. Risk is a part of wilderness therapy, but is high on perception and “low on actuality.”

Dr. Gass: “there is less actual risk for clients to be on adventure therapy programs than to not be on these programs.”
(Gass, Gillis, and Russell; 2012, pp. 203-204).

The central message of my presentation, “Creating Impact through Insight: Integration of Learning Disabilities, Mental Health and Wilderness Therapy” is simple: Treatment team members must create higher and higher standards for understanding and translating best practices from the world of learning and learning disabilities, in order to adjust and align therapy to the various learning challenges and processing styles of teenagers (and their parents).

The collective expertise of the various professionals who convened in Boulder was impressive. Their dedication and heart was equal to the tasks and challenges of saving and redirecting the lives of teenagers who are at-risk and beyond.

There really were too many to acknowledge, but I want to make mention as examples, a handful of folks who represent this field so well. People like
Timothy Earle and Jim Lavin, who organized and put on this conference, therapists like Sean Roberts and Matt Hoag of Second Nature, Hillary Moses of Pacific Quest (presenting on a Horticultural model of wilderness therapy), program owners and directors such as Danny Conroy of Aim House, Joseph DeNucci of Insight Intensive, and all the admissions and development folks who help keep us informed and organized.

“Sixty percent of adolescents in treatment centers for substance abuse have learning disabilities.” (Hazelton/NICH)

About Sanford

Learning Disabilities specialist and Educational Consultant
This entry was posted in Camps and Residential, Events and Conferences, LD Support Sites, Learning Disabilities and Mental Health. Bookmark the permalink.

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