Fun activities are typically integrated into the journey of a developing child. Learning to ride a bike, play an instrument or swim are all ways of applying practical knowledge and widening one’s range of experiences in the world. Another activity is camping, which teaches one how to survive and fend for oneself without the need of household resources or luxuries. With such a large, cultural acceptance, one could propose that learning these kinds of skills adds great benefits to a person’s physical and mental health. Exploring and discovering the perks of camping is now the current goal of the field’s research.
Escaping the grasp of the industrialized cityscape, trekking into the wilderness and establishing a self-sustaining outpost are tasks that have demonstrated a therapeutic effect for participants. For instance, a University of Michigan observation supports that participating in extended outdoor activities improves long-term, psychological well-being. Study participants were interviewed before and after a recreational experience in the wilderness. The activities ranged from setting up camp together to hiking in smaller groups. Beforehand, more than half of the individuals were diagnosed with physical or mental health problems, but after the study, they then reported more than 10 percent improvement in multiple mental health measures. In addition, there was a 9 percent improvement in social functioning and almost an 8 percent gain in positive life outlook.
Camping can sometimes entail a personal experience in nature with one’s family or friends like the example above. While these events still provide applicable wisdom and strengthen intimate bonds, most research in psychology focuses on larger, more organized camps with younger populations. These camps offer specialized programs known as wilderness therapy, which encompasses challenge courses, adventure-based therapy and other experiential activities that are rehabilitative and take place outdoors. Many of these approaches are also gaining recognition and popping up all over the nation. Some are even implemented by the Boy and Girl Scouts of America.
Specifically, organizations like the American Camp Association (ACA) have drafted their own guidelines, standards and framework for addressing mental health issues:
- Through available, informative resources, camp counselors and other representatives can collaborate with an established mental health team if a child is a risk to himself, herself or others.
- If so, the child is given strict supervision and attentive care according to parents or local mental health clinicians.
- If not, the child is evaluated on whether he or she can perform essential functions.
- Depending on the severity of the mental problem, the child will receive behavior management support and will continue to be monitored extensively.
- If additional problems arise with the child, arrangements will be made for a shorter stay as well.
Furthermore, results of the ACA’s study of its own practices identified the greatest areas for psychological improvement. First of all, medications should be managed and scheduled to a child’s exact specifications. Throughout the camper’s stay, camp associates should establish an open communication with parents, peers and counselors to apply useful tips when possible. Since camps are essentially small and interactive communities, it is also encouraged to inspire positive group mindsets as problem behavior can spread quickly. Most of all, it is vital to view camping away from home as a new and anxiety-provoking experience for many children. As such, a prosocial and optimistic environment should also be maintained.
Other research endeavors claim that at-risk youth tend to be ill equipped to engage in traditional counseling interventions, which require them to be verbal and to disclose thoughts and feelings. Wilderness therapy, a specialized approach within adventure-based counseling, provides an alternative treatment modality that maximizes the client’s tendency to spontaneously self-disclose in environments outside the counseling office.
At Sovereign Health of California, many residential facilities throughout the state take advantage of the natural resources around them. Besides exploring the restorative and therapeutic settings for clients to enjoy, holistic activities like equine therapy and yoga integrate different forms of relaxation into the recovery process. If you or loved one needs professional support for a mental illness, contact a Sovereign representative anytime at (866) 819-0427 or live chat online.
Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer