The concept had its roots in the ideas formulated by Kurt Hahn which made an outdoor based boarding school in the United Kingdom after he did not feel welcome in Germany anymore. Those who have seen the TV-serie “The Crown” will know how hard such a school felt for an ordinary teenager.
But in the 1970’s people took the concept a bit further. Now teenagers could go for extended tours for 12 weeks sleeping in backpacks.
In 1980’s the concept took another twist as an element of boot camp mentality was implemented inspired by Steve Cartisano. Now hired goon collected the teenagers from their bed at home during the night without warning and dragged them into the wild where they were pushed to the limits for 63 days.
Not surprisingly teenagers started to die while they were in wilderness programs. About 1-2 teenagers die every year which is an reducement from the 1980’s where the number were higher.
Modern wilderness programs often work together with both educational consultants and boarding school. If they can make the parents believe that their teenager requires more treatment, they get a referral fee once the teenager become patient at a hospital or student in a boarding school.
The industry are trying to get the insurance companies to cover this undocumented and dangerous form of therapy. However the insurance companies are on to them, so this kind of “therapy” is often not covered which means that parents end up in debt if they make use of it.
Here are a link to some of teenagers who have died in wilderness programs:
Wilderness related deaths (Today a child died – memorial blog)
About Steve Cartisano known as the godfather of wilderness therapy treatment: The rise and fall of Steve Cartisano (High Country News)
How the teenagers experience their stay in a modern wilderness program is described in this article. At Trials Carolina a teenager died in 2014 but the program continues to remain in operation to this day (2021): ‘It’s beyond cruel’: Inside an N.C. wilderness therapy program for teens (WBTV)