Wilderness Therapist Careers

Picture your ideal office. Does it involve backpacking through remote mountains? Canoeing on a backcountry river? Climbing to rocky summits? Hiking through glacially carved alpine valleys? When you’re a wilderness therapist, nature is your office.

Wilderness therapy combines nature and therapy to help people heal, grow, learn, reflect, and change. The powerful healing experience of nature can do wonders for kids, couples, families, teens, or adults who need help with behavioral, psychological, or medical. Motivated, energetic, and enthusiastic wilderness therapists use nature to help make a positive impact on these people’s lives.

Wilderness Therapist Smiling for Camara

People from all walks of life can benefit from wilderness immersion and outdoor activities. Wilderness therapy, which is also called adventure or outdoor therapy, has been proven to help treat patient’s dealing with behavioral problems, chemical dependency, loss, anxiety, depression, ADD, OCD, eating disorders, trauma, rebellion, and other disorders.

The beauty of wilderness therapy is that it allows patients to reconnect with themselves at the most basic level. When you are in the backcountry there are no distractions or societal issues. The wilderness eliminates social media, television, status, and material objects. It helps people develop self-awareness, independence, self-sustainability, and teamwork.

Many people associate wilderness therapy with military style, “hoods in the woods,” boot camps for at-risk youths. This is not always the case. While wilderness therapy programs often get lumped in with adventure therapy or experiential education, professional wilderness therapists are trained mental health professionals with a background in therapy, intervention, and psychology. It’s their job to treat patients and help them overcome their issues.

When a person decides to go on a wilderness therapy trip, wilderness therapists meet and assess the patient. They then develop a personalized therapy program for that individual. Next they mix and match students and mental health professionals to form groups that will have the best results for all. Finally, the group heads out for a wilderness experience that lasts a weekend, a week, or a summer. In the wilderness, the wilderness therapist is both a backcountry leader and clinical professional. It’s their job to use proven techniques to assist the patient with their issues.

Wilderness therapy is a growing niche with loose regulation. Some wilderness therapy programs hire licensed mental health professionals with a passion for the outdoors while others hire untrained outdoor leaders or instructors with an interest in psychology or social work. There are some schools, like Prescott College, Naropa University, or the University of New Hampshire, that offer wilderness therapy degrees.

If you’re an aspiring wilderness therapist, it’s best to earn a master’s degree in psychology or recreational therapy and to develop the wilderness leadership skills to safely lead a group in a backcountry environment. You will also need a first aid certification like a Wilderness First Responder to deal with emergencies in the backcountry.

As a wilderness therapist, you can find work with wilderness therapy schools or outdoor behavioral health programs like Open Sky or Second Nature. Wilderness therapists typically make $36,000 to $50,000 per year. This may include benefits and subsidized costs while in the backcountry. Some wilderness therapists claim to make $125 to $200 per day. Pay depends on a multitude of factors.

Wilderness therapy is a rewarding career for the right person. If you’re looking for a job with an outdoor office that combines therapy and backcountry pursuits, then a wilderness therapist job is the way to go.

Quick Facts About Wilderness Therapists

Job Title: Wilderness Therapist aka Adventure Therapist aka Outdoor Therapist
Office: Wilderness Settings
Description: Treat patients for a variety of disorders in a backcountry setting
Certifications/Education: Master’s degree in therapy
Necessary Skills: Safety Conscious, Willing to help others, Backcountry Experience
Potential Employers: Wilderness Therapy Schools
Pay: $125 to $200 per day

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