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Opinion & Essays - Oct, 1993 Issue #24 

Archie Buie
, Editor
Therapeutic Wilderness Camp Newsletter
Cleveland, Georgia

While on vacation in Seattle; as editor of the Therapeutic Wilderness Camp Newsletter, I called everyone I could find to locate a Therapeutic Wilderness Camp for my mailing list. That is, as I know them; long term residential campsite programs. I was quickly enlightened, there were none. Why? I asked myself, knowing the TWC's were the best tool America has to help its growing legions of troubled youth.

I got my answer -- when I got back to Georgia -- from a short article in WEA's THE CAMPFIRE by Dr's Dene Berman and Jennifer David-Berman, both PhD's. California, Washington, and Hawaii have all chosen regulations "that effectively prohibit wilderness programs from operating." Why was this so? Still a mystery but some interesting results came out as I tried to get answers.

And, OK, I was looking for long term programs. The west coast model is for shorter programs characterized more as Treks, Trips, Adventures, Challenges -- varying from a few days to as much as 96 days according to results sought.

In the beginning, as they say, the East Coast model began with Campbell Loughmiller at the Salesmanship Club near Dallas, Texas. His WILDERNESS ROAD outlines the basic model for the campsite oriented, long term program that is widely used in the Eastern United States. Loughmiller was very clear that camping is an essential ingredient in helping a youth find his way back to his family.

On the other hand the West Coast model seems to spring from Larry Dean Olson, founder of Anasazi, who found his connection with the wilderness in a different way. His notion was to use the connection with nature the wilderness provided to challenge, to provoke changes, but not in long term living in it.

Actually, the differences appear to stem not from philosophy as much as application of the meeting-with-nature in terms of time. Both believed that a young person could be shaped by his relationship with a nature that is un-wrapped of buildings, streets, Walkmans, etc.

Kids respond to the wilderness challenge both long and short term. The difference could be in the seriousness of the youth's problems. Common wisdom is that one third of all troubled youth will be helped no matter what the wilderness program is. One third may more or less respond to either type of program, long or short term. One third will respond more slowly but will show more improvement in long term wilderness camps. Vast over simplification, but appropriate.

So! It would appear that both systems have large benefits but for different groups of young people. Which raises the problem of identifying accurately who you are seeing during an intake interview, another question entirely.

Long term VS short term is another easy way to make a difference that isn't really meaningful in our context. Both definitely have their place, both can contribute.

They work to return kids to their families able to cope with today's world.

Copyright 1993, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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