News & Views - December,
2001 Issue #88
UI Wilderness Therapy Study
Reveals Benefits to Adolescents
College of Natural Resources, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho
208-885-2269 or firstname.lastname@example.org
CNR Communications, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho
208-885-6673 or email@example.com
December 13, 2001
MOSCOW–A study of 858 adolescents participating in outdoor behavioral
healthcare (OBH) treatment, often referred to as “wilderness therapy”, indicates significant reductions in behavioral and emotional
symptoms as a result of this type of treatment.
A new 38-page report authored by Keith C. Russell, assistant professor and leader of the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research Cooperative
in the University of Idaho-Wilderness Research Center, describes results of a nationwide study of participants in OBH programs in
2000. OBH is an emerging form of mental health treatment, which helps resistant adolescents overcome behavioral and emotional problems
by integrating a wilderness challenge experience with residential treatment.
The study assessed at-risk adolescents, the majority of whom were males, ages 12-19, after an average of 38 days in treatment using
the Youth Outcome Questionnaire (Y-OQ®). The Y-OQ is designed to measure treatment progress by assessing behavioral dysfunction, interpersonal
distress, and social problems to reflect the adolescent’s well-being. The questionnaire was administered at admission and discharge
from treatment to adolescent clients and their parents to gather perceptions as to the client’s baseline behavior and change following
the treatment program.
Eighty-three percent of parents perceived their children’s clinical symptoms as improved as a result of treatment, and discharge scores
were on average close to scores obtained from normal populations of adolescents. Statistically significant improvement was shown in
behavioral dysfunction, interpersonal relations, and critical items, such as suicidal behavior. The findings confirm the idea that
OBH treatment can improve behavior, reconcile family relations and help address the more serious underlying issues in adolescent’s
lives that may drive problem behavior.
Clients perceived their symptoms at admission as less severe than did their parents (70.67 compared to 100.19 for parents), but discharge
scores were similar (client discharge scores were 47.55 and parents 48.55). Russell suggests that the differences in parent and client
assessments at admission could be a result of adolescents’ denial, not fully realizing or admitting the consequences of their past
behaviors, but arriving at a clearer and more accurate assessment after treatment. He says that “the majority of clients entering
OBH treatment do not want to be there and initially are extremely resistant to the process. They often believe there is no problem
with their behaviors.”
Phase two of the study will analyze data from three-, six-, and 12- month follow-up assessments of the same clients. “Continuing the
research will help determine how long, and to what degree the positive results of treatment are maintained,” said Russell, “and we
also will examine how OBH treatment outcomes are affected by the kind of aftercare services utilized.”
This outcome assessment study is part of a program of research in the OBHRC of the UI’s Wilderness Research Center on the effects
of wilderness therapy and outdoor treatment for at-risk adolescents. The research addresses questions of concern to parents, mental
health practitioners, social service agencies, insurance companies, managed care facilities and land managers. The research is supported
in part by the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council, a group of leading programs seeking a knowledge base from which to
improve treatment and industry standards. A prior study by Russell (Technical Report 26) identified 116 OBH programs currently operating,
generating approximately $200 million dollars in annual revenues in this growing industry.