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Outdoor adventure programs offers a growth experience for many youth and young adults, especially those with ADHD. Adventure camps utilize a host of experiences like whitewater rafting, backpacking, and canoeing to provide participants a chance to enjoy the outdoors and take away incredible memories that can be drawn upon in their lives at home.  These programs are focused on creating fun, powerful and memorable experiences for participants that have chosen to be there. However, Adventure Camps can and have been confused with Wilderness Therapy programs.

While both use the outdoors as a platform, many of the elements between the two can be wildly different. Think about the difference between a life coach and a therapist – therapy focuses on mental health and emotional healing, while life coaching focuses on setting and achieving goals. Similarly Adventure Camps can promote independence, team work, and self-growth by stretching a participants comfort zone through a “challenge by choice” model that participants have signed up for, while Wilderness Therapy typically uses remote wilderness settings to isolate participants, often not of their free will, and carry the expectation that participants must complete each of the components of the program to continue moving towards a successful transition out of the program.

How Did the Two Become Intertwined?
Wilderness Therapy programs have been around since the early 1960’s aimed at helping parents manage their “troubled teens.” However as time passed the name of Wilderness Therapy shifted to Wilderness Camp due to its similar programming environment as camps (it looks like a camp). Yet, the type of programming that is taking place is very different. This has caused great confusion amongst families searching for non-therapeutic adventure based options for their youth. 

The Difference Between Adventure Camps and Wilderness Therapy
What is an Adventure Camp? An adventure camp, at its core, offers a distinct summer experience centered around outdoor adventure. Participants can expect thrilling days brimming with activities like rock climbing, hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, surfing, horseback riding, and an array of other adventures!
What is a Wilderness Therapy Program? While adventure camps focus primarily on fun and skill-building, wilderness therapy programs have clear therapeutic objects and goals, which requires a more structured and therapeutic approach and oversight in an outdoor setting.. These programs are more focused towards therapeutic interventions to support adolescents facing emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenges.

SOAR is strictly an adventure-based camp experience that does not have any therapeutic elements. We are the life coach version of structured outdoor adventure. Adventure-based summer camps epitomize the spirit of exploration, offering a wide range of outdoor activities designed to foster camaraderie, resilience, and a love for nature. Many times adventure camps will incorporate life-skill development into their courses. At SOAR we focus on the 6 Life Success Attributes previously developed by the Frostig Center. This allows for our campers to reflect on their success and comprehend the real world application for their accomplishments. Here are three reasons why adventure camps are a distinct blend of adventure programming and life skill development:

  1. Adventure camps boast a diverse array of activities, catering to a range of interests and skill levels. From hiking and rock climbing to canoeing and archery, campers have the opportunity to try new experiences and push their boundaries in a supportive and supervised environment. We are dedicated to providing our SOAR Core activities including rock climbing and white water rafting in almost all summer program and ensure our participants understand all challenges at SOAR are “Challenge by Choice.”. 
  2. One of the key benefits of adventure camps is the opportunity for social interaction and teamwork. SOAR teaches social skills throughout its programs by modeling how participants can improve interactions with their peers, encouraging lasting friendships to be built. As they navigate challenges together, building communication skills, empathy, and a sense of belonging, campers grow closer to their group and grow throughout the program.
  3. Beyond the thrill of outdoor adventures, summer camps provide valuable opportunities for personal growth and self-discovery. SOAR offers multiple challenge by choice activities that push campers to achieve their goals and experience the beauty of adventure. Campers learn to overcome obstacles, develop confidence, and gain independence as they tackle new challenges and step outside their comfort zones. SOAR utilizes positive reinforcement and thoughtful nurturing and support to reinforce the success participants achieve. This encouragement is a key component to our program and is in the name: SOAR stands for Success Oriented Achievement Realized.

Adventure-based summer camps and wilderness therapy programs have very distinct program goals and methods and are meant for participants with different needs. While adventure camps provide a fun and enriching environment for skill-building and social interaction for participants who have chosen to come, wilderness therapy programs take a therapeutic approach using an outdoor setting to support adolescents in overcoming specific challenges requiring more clinical intervention whether they have volunteered to come or delivered into the program against their will. By understanding the differences between these two types of outdoor experiences, parents can make informed decisions that align with their child’s needs and aspirations, ensuring a summer filled with unforgettable adventures and meaningful growth opportunities.