8 Things to Look for in Wilderness Therapy Programs

You are currently viewing 8 Things to Look for in Wilderness Therapy Programs

Experiential Learning teaches more than just the individual lesson; it teaches tenacity. It teaches that it’s okay to fail, as long as you don’t give up. It provides an almost tangible feedback loop between cause and effect, and for some, this makes a significant difference in their ability to absorb information. As we discussed in our last blog post, when paired with wilderness adventure therapy, has found to be a highly effective solution.

If you opt for the wilderness therapy route, it is important to select a credible program that is not only research-driven and adheres to clinical best practices, but also one that can provide expertise in treating students with executive function deficits such as Nonverbal Learning Disorder, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Make sure you select a program that offers all of the following:

  1. Specialization in the desired area. There are many reasons to enroll an adolescent in wilderness therapy, but each student has their own specific needs. For those with an executive function deficit, it is critical that treatment is sought through a program which is not only equipped to offer the best help, but which specializes in these areas. Look into the backgrounds of therapists and field staff; make sure that the people helping your child are the most qualified to do so.
  2. A formal evaluation for each student. Students who have Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, or Nonverbal learning disorder will likely be entering a wilderness therapy program having already been diagnosed. However, a person is not a diagnosis; it is important to choose a program that understands your child’s particular struggles, limitations, and goals. Make sure when choosing a program, that the program has a process for formal evaluation of their students upon admission.
  3. An individualized treatment plan. Everyone’s struggle is a little different, and it is important to choose a program that encompasses the clinical sophistication to adapt to each patient’s needs. A credible wilderness therapy program will provide its students with a tailored plan for treatment upon admission, and this plan will be updated throughout treatment as progress is made.
  4. A researched-backed clinical model. A therapeutic treatment is a scientific discipline with the benefit of thousands of hours of research. Individual therapists and clinicians bring the element of compassion to therapy, but successful wilderness therapy programs are based on an established clinical model. Select a program that has a research-based approach to treating Nonverbal Learning Disorder, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  5. Affiliations with and accreditations by applicable state and independent regulatory organizations. The most reputable wilderness therapy programs will partner with and be accredited by environmental, equipment regulation, educational, and safety organizations. This ensures best practices are followed, the land used for wilderness therapy is protected, and any academic credits earned by students will be transferrable when they return home.
  6. Medical care. Among the many benefits of wilderness therapy, one of the drawbacks is that, of course, it takes place in a remote location far from a hospital or medical facility. When considering a wilderness therapy program, make sure to verify that it staffs medical professionals. Students should have 24/7 access to medical care for more minor concerns, and the program should have a life flight plan in place in case of emergencies.
  7. Family involvement. The ultimate goal of any treatment program is for the patient to be able to return to their daily life and be happy and productive. With minors in particular, this life necessarily involves the family. Parents love their children and want to support them in any way they can; you need a program that will give you the best tools with which to do this. Seek a wilderness therapy program that involves parent seminars, family therapy, and resources for parents.
  8. Support with the transition home. Like most residential treatment programs, wilderness therapy is a short-term plan. While your child should return home with the tools he or she needs to succeed, coming back to the real world holds its own challenges, and the transition can be difficult. A qualified wilderness therapy program will work with your child’s outpatient therapist, and offer ongoing clinical support as needed to your child and your family.


While no parent ever wants to send their child away, it may be worth exploring wilderness therapy as a treatment option for ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Nonverbal Learning Disorder. The disadvantages – absence from school, separation from family and friends – are short-term, but the benefits have the potential to last a lifetime. Whatever your situation, whichever route you choose, we would urge you to thoroughly research your options and make the decision that is best for you and your loved one.

Download our White Paper and see how experiential learning can help your child

About Vantage Point by Aspiro

Vantage Point is a specialized offshoot of Aspiro Adventure, the program that pioneered wilderness adventure therapy. Vantage Point focuses on helping students with executive function disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Nonverbal Learning Disorders, among others.

The Vantage Point programs are designed to build self-efficacy in our students through overwhelming mastery experiences – our students accomplish goals they never believed possible, which creates a belief that they are capable of changing their own lives for the better. We focus specifically on social dynamics and social skills to help our students connect with others and feel like they can be a part of the world. Experiential Learning is a tenet of our philosophy and our program. Paired with ongoing individual therapy and targeting specific areas for growth, our wilderness therapy programs are proven successful by outcome studies and are overseen by experienced Field Guides and clinical professionals