Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Human Development and Family Studies

Department name when degree awarded

Family and Human Development

Committee Chair(s)

Randall M. Jones


Randall M. Jones


Scot Allgood


Brent Miller


Kathy Piercy


Frank White


Wilderness therapy is increasingly seen as a viable treatment alternative for troubled youth, yet there is a noticeable dearth of research comparing the effectiveness of wilderness therapy with more traditional treatment programs. To help address this research need, this study conducted an exploratory analysis of the therapeutic benefits of a wilderness therapy program, Wilderness Quest (WQ), compared to a therapeutic community program, Life-Line (LL). The WQ and LL programs both are based on a 12- step recovery philosophy and emphasize the integral role of the family in adolescent treatment.

The study employed a qualitative methodology, beginning with an extended period of observation (approximately eight weeks) in each program. The primary data for the study came from follow-up surveys with youth and their parents which were conducted about 13-15 months after the time of enrollment. Twenty-one families were represented in the study (10 from the WQ program and 11 from the LL program).

The WQ program was perceived to be a "pivotal experience" for many youth and the most common reported benefit was increased self-confidence. The most common reported benefit for youth in the LL program was a "pivotal change" in lifestyle, with groups and one-on-one talks with staff and peers being the most beneficial. The study discussed the subtle distinction found with the short-term wilderness program being a "pivotal experience" and the long-term therapeutic community program leading to "pivotal change." The most common reported benefit for families in both programs was an increase in communication and closeness.

In the follow-up behavior assessments there were no perceived differences between WQ and LL youth in areas of family relations, school/education, and job/work. There was a slight difference in peer relations with LL youth behaviors slightly more positive than WQ youth, and there was a notable difference in substance abuse with LL youth behaviors being more positive. The data also indicated that certain post-treatment factors were related to youth progress after leaving the programs, with aftercare and association with positive peers being the most important for WQ youth and program graduation and association with positive peers being the most important for LL youth. Interpretive models were developed to illustrate the developmental growth patterns of youth in the two programs.