“It’s funny, because you don’t think this place is affecting you at all, it’s just a fucking forest, and I’m fucking gonna kill fucking mom when I get fucking home, she’ll have hell to pay, but then it’s like no it’s not, she’s doing me a fucking favor.”

My favorite quote from this series comes from one of the girls who has been out for only about 10 days. While watching this program I’m thinking about the differences between the structures of where I’ve worked and this place, and about what responses are effective to initiate or to calm behaviors, but most importantly – what role does the wilderness provide?

Sitting and staring at trees – looking at nature in any form, really – provides more therapy than anything that can be said, but good luck getting a headstrong teenager to sit and stare at a tree out of his or her own volition. Wilderness therapy programs have varying structures that stem from different theories – length of time needed to create lasting change, which incentives and consequences should be used to create change, which social norms and rules should be enforced to demonstrate the desired behaviors, and more.

Ultimately, though, the wilderness is the therapy.

“You set out and learn through what you experience during your journey. In that sense, all of life is expeditionary learning.” (From A Mother in Wisconsin’s “Nothing to Lose Except Money“) One thing that the wilderness gives is the space for reflection that is necessary for learning. When was the last time that you spent hours reflecting on your behavior?

It’s a shame that the show is called Brat Camp. There’s a good follow-up that goes into the response to the show from RedCliff, the organization that ran the program that was filmed. Steven Schultz, a company spokesperson, is quoted as saying, “They didn’t talk enough about the therapeutic aspect that’s involved. There’s a general feeling that therapeutic aspects of the program weren’t equally represented with the wilderness and survival skills.”

The author of the article goes on to add: “Therapeutic intervention is a complex, nonvisual subject that may not play particularly well on reality TV.” That’s completely true, and I wonder how someone could use the documentary medium to more effectively showcase the complexity of therapeutic intervention in a wilderness setting.

That’s a pretty complex process, and a challenging assignment. Man, do I love a challenge.