How to Become a Wilderness Therapist

Being in nature has a proven effect on relieving stress and improving our general state of well-being. It also offers a unique mode of therapy. If you are a nature addict and love being in the outdoors, then becoming a wilderness therapist might be a career that you want to consider.

A wilderness therapist helps teens and young adults navigate challenging times by providing experiences in the outdoors. If this is something that sounds like it might be the perfect idea of a career for you, then you will want to check out what it takes to become one. 

What is Wilderness Therapy?

Group with their hands raised and backpacks on looking out

Wilderness Therapy is a treatment modality that involves taking teens and adults into unfamiliar natural surroundings to allow them to explore behavioral and other mental health issues that they might be experiencing.

The history of wilderness therapy goes back to the early 1900s when it was found that patients with tuberculosis improved when they were moved to the outdoors. Today, this form of therapy involves providing a secure, supportive environment for exploring maladaptive behaviors, disruptive and unproductive beliefs, and poor coping skills. The goal is to use trips into the wilderness, primitive skills training, and team-building exercises to challenge and transform these issues. 

Wilderness therapy jobs are rewarding. You will create situations that mimic challenging family and social situations. You will help clients develop endurance, the ability to adapt to new situations and understand how to improve relationships in all areas of life. This mode of therapy is considered a subset of adventure therapy, but they are slightly different. The main difference between adventure therapy and wilderness therapy is that Adventure therapy focuses more on the physical component of the training.

Wilderness Therapy Degrees

Graduation hat, diploma and books on a table

One thing that you must understand if this sounds like the right career for you is that there is a difference between a wilderness experience program and wilderness therapy. To be considered wilderness therapy, the program must be licensed by a state agency, overseen by a mental health professional, able to provide individual treatment plans, and have a method for evaluating the effectiveness of the program. Although many will gain benefits from a wilderness experience, to be considered a treatment modality, it must meet these four requirements. 

There are several paths to a wilderness therapy degree. You can go through a certificate program, such as that offered by the University of Maine. Graduate degrees are available, and many universities conduct adventure and wilderness therapy degrees concurrently, only with a different core focus. Some of them offer courses in outdoor therapy that include the requirements for both degrees. The main difference between many of the programs is the core focus and specialty. The core coursework involves social work, cultural studies, human behavior and development, and psychology. 

Graduate Degrees

If you plan to complete graduate work in wilderness or outdoor therapy, most graduate programs require that you have a bachelors degree but many schools do not have strict requirements on what this entails. It is suggested that your bachelor’s degree is in one of the core focus areas, such a social work or psychology. Some of the schools that offer graduate wilderness therapy degree programs include: 

These are a few of the programs that we know about, but there are likely many more. Before you enroll, be sure to check the accreditation of the program and make sure that you will be eligible to obtain state licensing to practice upon completion. Not all private colleges and certificate programs will meet state requirements. It is best to check before you enroll in any program. Be sure to check with your state for any requirements that they might have for this work. Also, be sure to explore the individual programs to find out about specific requirements and for what types of jobs you would qualify for after completion. 

Wilderness Therapy Internships

Smiling girl with a backpack

Internships are a way to gain real-world experience by applying what you learned in the classroom. Internships are designed to prepare you for what you will do on a daily basis in the workplace. Some states and employers might require an internship to qualify for a position in this field. 

In most cases, you must be either enrolled or have completed at least your bachelor’s or master’s degree to qualify. Programs differ in their requirements. Some of these positions are paid, and others are unpaid. You can find internships offered through universities, private businesses and organizations, and others that are through a partnership between educational institutions and private businesses. 

Internships change from time to time. If you are looking for an internship, the best place to look is on bulletin boards and in publications of the university and your degree program. Sometimes, they are advertised through college newspapers. You might also ask your academic advisor. You could also ask your professors because they might know of programs that are not widely advertised. 

Wilderness Therapy Salary and Job Titles

Sign with Jobs pointing to the right

Now that you know a little about what it takes to become a wilderness therapist, you are probably wondering what types of jobs you can get and the salary that you can expect. According to, the average salary for a wilderness therapist is between $41,021 and $52,648 with an average of around $45,833. places the salary a little higher at around $57,831 per year for the average. 

These differences might reflect different degree levels. In addition, it will depend on whether you are managing, developing, or working as a therapist in this program. As a Wilderness Therapy Guide, you would earn less than in a managerial or clinical position. The wilderness therapy salary will also differ according to the company and size of the organization for which you work. 

Does this combination of working in nature while helping teens and adults overcome challenges sound perfect for you? If it sounds like you then it might be time to explore the programs that are available so that you can find the one that will help you reach your career goals. Wilderness Therapy is as rewarding for the therapist as it is for those who use these services. Maybe it is time to begin your lifelong path to helping others and doing something that you love. 

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