Prusik is excited to announce SUMMER CAMP: A FOUR DAY WILDERNESS THERAPY PROGRAM in the Crowsnest Pass, Alberta.

Do you know of a youth who would benefit from this program? Read on to learn more about wilderness therapy and how it works:

Philosophers have long understood the importance of learning through doing. Aristotle said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” Confucius also remarked “Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.” This is the central idea of experiential learning, that learning occurs when an individual makes sense of his or her own direct experiences.

David Kolb (1975), an American education theorist, developed “The Experiential Learning Model.” The model is composed of four elements: Concrete experience; Observation of and reflection on that experience; Formation of abstract concepts based upon the reflection; And testing the new concepts. This model is a cyclical process, continually repeating. The following model illustrates this idea:

Simply put, the model can be explained as having an experience, reviewing and reflecting on that experience, processing that experience through the use of models and concepts, and applying the new learning from the previous experience to another experience. This is the intended process that clients are expected to experience in the wilderness.

Research supports that outdoor wilderness activity is known to increase feelings of self-esteem and to give clients a feeling of control and competence. Clients become empowered as they gain healthier coping skills and experience a decrease in feelings of powerlessness, hopelessness, and disconnection (Rohde, 1994 quoted in Warren). Michael Gass further suggests that wilderness experiences make up for the experience-poor environment of modern society. He states:

Youths today are born into a society that is information-rich but experience-poor, where family- unit bonds are attenuated and stressed, where schooling further isolates children from meaningful challenges and direct participation in society, and where the media often model destructive, anti-social values. It is no wonder that we now reap the fruits of maladaptive strategy: youth violence, crime and anomie (Kimball & Bacon in Gass, 1993 p.19).

In the wilderness youth are able to explore aspects of their lives without the distractions of city life. Wilderness trips allow for experience-rich opportunities to take place as clients are challenged mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually through wilderness activities such as building shelters, cooking, hiking, exploring nature etc. Through these activities, clients encounter new challenges, often directing them to look to their inner resources. As Friese, Hendee and Kinzinger (1998) note:

The wilderness promotes healing and personal growth because it is a place where individuals practice physical and emotional survival skills as they seek to exist in an unfamiliar and new environment. The wilderness permits clients to experience feelings of mastery, significance and self-worth as they overcome new challenges.

Ultimately, the goal of wilderness therapy is to incorporate both soft and hard skills. Hard skills are the measurable skills, often associated with new learning such as hiking, shelter and fire building etc. Soft skills are often not as easily recognized because they are qualitative rather than quantitative: Teamwork, perseverance, confidence, empathy and acceptance are all examples of soft skills. Effective wilderness therapy programs intermingle soft and hard skills in order to build participant confidence and make positive emotional, motivational, and behavioural changes.


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