Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Adventure therapy, Interpersonal relations, Interpersonal relations and culture, Narrative therapy, Wilderness therapy, Experiential learning, Relational-cultural theory


While an ever-growing number of studies have demonstrated that wilderness therapy can be very effective in facilitating emotional and behavioral change in at risk adolescents (Russell, 2003; 2005), a lack of understanding persists both within and outside of the wilderness therapy community regarding why and how wilderness therapy works. This study addresses these important questions by exploring the theoretical foundations of wilderness therapy and their relationship to practice. Conceptualization of wilderness therapy practice, theory, and process is approached through consideration of existing definitions of the treatment model as well as the field's characteristics and demographics. An overview of ongoing program debates and discourse, outcome studies, and the present direction of research help to establish the current condition of the industry and its present successes and challenges. The historical evolution of wilderness therapy's concepts and practice methods are explicated in order to contextualize and clarify the origins and evolution of the model's contemporary configuration and orientation. Further inquiry into the theoretical and functional components of how and why wilderness therapy works is undertaken through individual and integrative application of two postmodern psychosocial constructs: relational-cultural theory and narrative therapy. Application of these theories and principles to wilderness therapy processes yields suggestions for future research and industry practice.




iii. 91 p. Thesis (M.S.W.)--Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Mass., 2009. Includes bibliographical references (p. 85-91)