The Healing Wilderness: Shouting at the Sky’s Fresh Look at the Road to Adulthood

Photo: Thomas Benneck

For the greater share of human history, young people benefited from the precious gift of rites of passage: formal experiences, offered as stepping stones to help them find their way across that delicate, even dangerous bridge from adolescence into adulthood. In modern times, that crossing has become especially dangerous. Depression among teens is at historic highs. Behavioral disorders in America are being diagnosed at nearly twice the rate of other developed countries. According to the National Resource Council, one out of every four kids age ten to seventeen is now at risk of failing to achieve a productive life.

But beyond all these gloomy statistics, a remarkably promising, if unexpected set of specialized programs are kindling some extraordinarily useful notions for young people: notions about how to find their voices, tell their truths, heal their lives. Certified, compassion-based wilderness therapy programs (as opposed to discipline-based boot camps), are now enjoying success rates in treating teen drug addiction more than double that of traditional 28-day lockdown therapies. What’s more, as Dr. Salli Lewis of the Center for Research, Assessment and Treatment Efficacy recently noted, influence-based wilderness programs are also prompting “significant, lasting improvement” for teens with attention-deficit hyperactivity issues, conduct disorders, aggressive behavior, depression, and suicide.

Join Gary for a bright recounting of his time spent with some of the best such efforts in the country. What these young people had to say about their time in the wilderness, continuing to call it “the most important experience of my life,” offers powerful clues about what kids in America are desperately in need of – regardless of whether or not they ever set foot in wild country.