Wilderness Therapy as an Intervention for At-Risk Youth: A Pilot Study of Treatment Mechanisms and Program Effectiveness

Authors: Morgan Heimbigner, Cali Caughie, Phoebe Bean, Samantha Russell, Madison Goldstein Faculty Mentor: Stuart Hall Department of Psychology University of Montana 32 Campus Drive, Missoula, MT 59812

Objective: Wilderness therapy is a model of treatment intervention which utilizes components of traditional therapy in combination with outdoor expeditionary principles. The current pilot project seeks to understand the role of executive function, attachment, resiliency, and hope in wilderness therapy treatment outcomes in a population of at-risk youth (13-17 years of age) taking part in a 5-week program run out of Montana. The study aims to gather data to better inform program development and to add to the literature informing wilderness therapy effectiveness for youth populations.  Participants and Methods: The participants (n=11) completed a series of surveys and cognitive tests at intake and discharge from the program. The surveys targeted behavioral and emotional factors such as resilience (YOQ, CYRMR), attachment (AAQ), and hope (BHS). The cognitive tests targeted executive function (TMT, COWA). Student participants were additionally engaged in semi-structured 20 minute interviews with clinical researchers at intake, discharge, and two weeks post discharge.  Results: All measured domains improved from pre-to-post with one exception (COWA). This aligns with our hypotheses, as well as the goals of the program. The most significant and positive main effect of intervention occurred on the somatic subscale of the YOQ (t=3.198, p=.019). Conclusion: The data shows overall positive improvement in participants' cognitive, behavioral, and emotional states from pre- to post-intervention. However only one of the outcomes measured reached statistical significance. This is expected given the small sample size and low statistical power used in this study. Now that a pilot study has been conducted, future studies with more participants and improved methods is the next step.

Additional Abstract Information

Presenters: Morgan Heimbigner, Cali Caughie -
Phoebe Bean -
Samantha Russell -
Madison Goldstein -

Institution: University of Montana

Type: Poster

Subject: Psychology

Status: Approved

Time and Location

Session: Poster 11
Date/Time: Wed 3:00pm-4:00pm
Session Number: 7034