Therapeutic existential experiences during wilderness exposure: Implications for wilderness therapy programs

Mark Ring already holds a PhD in Biochemistry, but his focus shifted recently to work on a degree in the social sciences. He is now researching the therapeutic benefits of exposure to wilderness. Wilderness therapy has been used to help at-risk groups, such as people with mental illness, adolescent alcohol and drug users, adult female survivors of sexual abuse, and war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Programs vary greatly, but include some outdoor adventure activity, from wilderness day trips to three-week hiking and kayaking expeditions. Most research has measured the positive impact of wilderness therapy on self-esteem and ability to interact socially. But participants’ first-hand reports suggest a deeper healing process occurs. Mark is interviewing participants to determine how this experience helps people adapt, live more fully, and find greater meaning in life. He hopes this information can help make wilderness programs more effective at improving participants’ emotional and mental health.