How to Find Quality Treatment in the Outdoors

In the complex and often overwhelming landscape of therapeutic treatments, we recognize that finding the right path for your loved ones, especially during times of crisis, can feel like navigating a maze. The abundance of information and the prevalence of disheartening stories from individuals who have faced negative treatment experiences can make the journey seem insurmountable.

The Outdoor Behavioral Health Council (OBHC) was established with the fundamental goal of setting an industry standard for best practices in mental health treatment. We understand the challenges faced in discerning quality programs from the rest, OBHC member programs are committed to providing a framework that ensures the highest standards of care.

Our member programs have invested significant time and effort to adopt data-driven, evidence-based practices, striving to offer clients the best opportunities for success in their treatment journey. As we reflect on the history of therapeutic wilderness programs, it is essential to acknowledge the origins of “wilderness therapy” and the transformative benefits that spending time in nature has offered since the 1940s.

However, the 1980s and 1990s witnessed a surge in programs promoting a “break you down to build you up” or bootcamp model, lacking oversight and regulation. This led to instances of mistreatment and abuse, highlighting the urgent need for industry-wide standards.

In response to this critical need, a group of wilderness treatment programs came together in 1996 to form the first iteration of the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council. United by a commitment to collaboration, best practices, and elevated standards of care, these programs aimed to reshape the industry and provide safe and effective treatment options.

Since its inception, OBHC has tirelessly advocated for therapeutic experiences in the outdoors, working towards the development of standards that ensure safety and effectiveness. Our dedication to this mission led us to initiate a years long data study in partnership with the University of New Hampshire (UNH), tracking outcomes, efficacy, and safety. This research not only informed our clinical practices but also played a crucial role in achieving insurance reimbursement in July 2016.

OBHC member programs remain at the forefront of the fight for reimbursement, engaging in civil suits with state-level insurance companies and collaborating with advocacy organizations like Denials Management, now Fix My Claim. The insights gained from our research have equipped our highly trained, licensed clinicians to employ effective therapeutic interventions unique to our environment.

Recognizing the need for accreditation that aligns with the distinctive nature of wilderness therapy, OBHC advocated for the expansion of existing standards. In 2013, our efforts resulted in the creation of a comprehensive set of ethical, risk management, and treatment standards through the Association of Experiential Education, AEE, accreditation. This established a new benchmark for wilderness and outdoor adventure treatment programs.

Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare member programs remain committed to our mission. We are devoted to providing safe, accessible, and effective care for individuals and families seeking support during challenging times. The well-being of the clients and families we serve remains at the heart of everything we do, and we will continue to seek improvement in this ever-evolving field of treatment and care.