How to Start a Wilderness Program

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A wilderness program is a type of camp that provides therapy and help for troubled teens. Unlike a boot camp program, teens are taken into wilderness settings and encouraged to look inward while enjoying the serenity of the wilderness surroundings. While attending a wilderness program, teens and young adults work in therapy with psychologists to learn better behaviors and self-respect. Wilderness programs can be helpful for behavioral, emotional, or substance abuse problems; common problems range from video game addiction to more serious and perhaps dangerous behavioral patterns.

Locate a site for the wilderness program; settings range from forests to mountain regions. The site of the program will determine several factors of setting up and starting the program, including potential risks. Most wilderness programs are placed in forested areas that have minimal risks, including few or no dangerous animals nearby. Look for an area with enough space for the program. If no facilities are in place already, setting up the program will require building cabins or sleeping facilities, so make sure the location is appropriate--not on a steep hill, for example--if these steps are necessary.

Obtain funding. Funding for psychological programs like a wilderness program is obtainable through scholarships, grants and loans. It is a type of business, but it is also a form of therapy, which opens up medical grants and scholarships from both government and private sources. The federal government does not give business grants, but it does give grants for medical facilities. Since the wilderness program is a business, also look for state grants available for small businesses, and consider local or county grants, which focus on small businesses and improving the local economy. Look for business loans from a local bank, which will give money based on personal finances until the camp starts and is generating income. The exact amount of funding will vary based on the location and the amount of work necessary, but the program will typically require at least $200,000 to purchase the location and pay initial costs, including hiring staff. Participants will usually pay around $5,000 to $7,000 for the program, so once the program starts, the payment for staff will come from the earnings.

Hire therapists. A wilderness program needs at least two therapists who specialize in the kinds of treatment necessary for the patients. Having one therapist for boys and one for girls is ideal, though the therapists can split the group according to the needs of the patients. The specific type of therapist will depend on the age group and the type of problems the program accepts. For example, if a program caters to teens addicted to video games, the therapist should specialize in addiction problems and be used to working with teens. If the program is designed for teens with ADHD or similar problems, hire a therapist that deals with ADHD. The therapists will help with behavior changes and development while other staff, including the camp leaders, will manage the wilderness activities.

Train the therapists in wilderness survival and emergency skills. The therapists must know every potential emergency action in case an accident occurs. Wilderness programs are the most prone to accident when compared to programs like boot camp, rehab programs or basic behavioral therapy, and having basic emergency preparedness is necessary for safety. The wilderness setting can have emergencies arise that range from wild animal attacks to falls that result in broken bones.

Hire a nurse or doctor for the site. Besides having therapy available, having medical professionals on the location is a good way to prepare for harmful or potentially deadly situations.

Set up sleeping locations. The patient's stay is usually around a month or so, and sleeping accommodations must be provided for. The ideal arrangement is made of cabin settings or small buildings with room for four to six patients, and restroom facilities. Tents are appropriate only for summer programs that focus on camping and survival skills as a therapy option. Choosing a location that has buildings in place is ideal, but it is possible, with added expense, to build one or a few cabins. Prices will vary by state and location, but $50,000 for each building is a common estimate.

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About the Author

Helen Jain has been writing online articles since December 2009 for various websites. She has studied English and psychology and hopes to get a Ph.D. in English in the future.

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