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Wilderness Therapy Programs: A Systematic Review of Research

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Julia Cramer, Paige Wanner - June 2022

Wilderness therapy programs are set in natural or remote settings and embed therapeutic elements into daily outdoor activities like camping and backpacking in order to build program participants’ personal and interpersonal skills. Some programs serve individuals with behavioral, mental health, and substance use disorders.

In 2021, the Washington State Legislature directed WSIPP to conduct a research review of wilderness therapy programs and assess stakeholder interest in Washington. We identified 88 studies evaluating programs serving youth and adult populations in need of behavioral, mental health, and substance use support. Due to limitations in the literature, we could not estimate whether or not wilderness therapy programs are effective or determine if the approach is cost beneficial. In this report, we describe our systematic literature review and summarize the main themes from the literature including program models, populations served, and general findings.

A second report, due December 2022, builds on this report and will focus on the interest of stakeholders who currently participate in wilderness therapy programs in Washington or want to in the future.

Report ID: 22-06-1901
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