Wilderness experience programs such as Petty Creek Ranch have demonstrated remarkable efficacy and positive outcome rates in serving adolescent populations with severe conduct disorders, emotional problems, and addiction issues. Extensive literature and research over the past 30 years suggests that this therapeutic modality is capable of facilitating a substantial change in the behavior of participants while also helping improve their self-reliance, resiliency, and leadership skills. Originally designed as a method of helping clients who have a deeply rooted resistance to authority and who have exhausted other treatment approaches, wilderness therapy draws upon its setting to create a situation in which clients experience an initial disempowered feeling and fear that makes them follow the directions of the “field guides.” Without force or coercion, field guides are able to illicit a compliant and cooperative attitude from participants who are typically frightened, angry, and viewing treatment as a punishment. The immediate dependency the participants place on the field guides disrupts their perception of authority figures, enabling them to develop a new relationship with those in charge. Over the course of the wilderness expedition, participants befriend the field guides and are able to process many lessons as they learn new skill sets.


Petty Creek Ranch uses wilderness interventions in the delivery of several program services, as we have seen added benefits in the use of this unique approach. In addition to correcting defiant and oppositional behavior, we find wilderness interventions to be beneficial in helping struggling teens distinguish the difference between a “need” and a “desire" as well as to develop a sense of appreciation for what they have. We also believe that the wilderness interventions used by Petty Creek Ranch help deliver a “reality-based” therapy that teaches natural consequences, aids in the development of self-concept, offers realizations to change behavior, and strengthens the family relationships of the boys we serve.


Traditional wilderness therapy programs are guided by three distinct phases that include an initial period of cleansing and detoxification, followed by one that focuses on teaching personal and social responsibility, and a final phase in which aftercare and transition plans are made. In the initial “phase” of this process, clients are given a healthy diet, rigorous exercise, and are removed from all cultural stimulation and technological distractions. They begin to feel improvements in physical well-being and develop a clarity in thought that enables them to internalize their experience and view the challenges they face in the wilderness as a metaphor for the struggles they face in life. During the second period, clients are given more tasks and begin to learn natural consequences for their behavior; for instance, if someone fails to properly erect a tent and it rains, everyone in the group will get wet. This “reality-based” therapy helps foster a sense of personal and social responsibility in which failure to accomplish specific tasks are no one’s fault but the person who neglected them. The final period is designed to prepare clients for applying the lessons they learned about self-care and personal and social responsibility either back home or in a more structure environment such as a long-term adolescent program.

Petty Creek Ranch has modeled its entire long-term program on the wilderness therapy process, drawing upon the three phases of cleansing/detox, personal/social responsibility, and transition planning as guiding markers in the course of treatment. While your son is in our program, he will regularly participate in backcountry expeditions and will also live in an environment that adopts wilderness intervention principles within the milieu itself. Our daily schedule will consist of eating a healthy diet, getting rigorous exercise, participating in group counseling sessions and peer support groups, in addition to receiving many other treatment interventions in a remote Montana cabin. We feel that our program is a hybrid model that is very unique in the youth caring industry, and believe that our transition and after care planning process will truly ensure your son’s success, as we will create an extensive post-discharge system of care that will address every single need your child will have when he leaves Petty Creek Ranch. Please give us a call today to learn more about how our program will help you get regain your son!

The Wilderness Therapy Process: Cleansing, Responsibility, and Transition.


Contact Number: (406) 722-3226

Email Adress: pettycreekranch@gmail.com