An Introduction to Wilderness Therapy
Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program located in the mountains of North Carolina. Wilderness therapy is a form of treatment that involves taking at-risk teens and adolescents who struggle with behavioural, emotional, or mental health issues and placing them in a remote outdoor setting for therapy.
Rather than operating out of a traditional residential treatment facility, wilderness therapy programs like Trails Carolina use the natural environment as the backdrop for experiential and adventure-based therapeutic activities.
Critical Aspects Regarding Trails Carolina Investigations
Some critical aspects of the wilderness therapy model include group living in the wilderness, low staff-to-participant ratios, individual and group counselling sessions, and highly structured daily schedules cantered around experiential activities like hiking, rock climbing, and ropes courses. Programs typically last several weeks to months, depending on the individual’s specific treatment needs.
The goal is to help participants learn new life skills, build confidence, process underlying issues, and promote personal growth through immersion in nature-based therapeutic interventions.
Program Overview for Trails Carolina Wilderness Therapy
Trails Carolina is located on over 1000 acres of rugged mountain terrain in the western North Carolina forests.They treat teens 13-17 with issues like substance abuse, mental health and learning disabilities
A typical day at Trails Carolina involves an early morning rise followed by breakfast preparation. Participants then partake in outdoor activities designed to challenge them physically and emotionally, such as rock climbing, whitewater rafting, backpacking, or hiking. Counsellors also actively incorporate individual and group therapy sessions throughout each day.
Evenings involve campfire discussions focused on processing the day’s activities and lessons learned. The staff aims to create a structured yet supportive wilderness environment for participants to work through personal issues while developing independence, problem-solving skills, and a connection with nature.
The program lasts 4-6 months, depending on individual treatment plans and progress. The treatment uses experiential learning models and adventure-based activities to promote reflection, trust-building, confidence, and therapeutic breakthroughs among participants in the wilderness setting.
Staff Qualifications and Training
All staff at Trails Carolina undergo rigorous wilderness first aid and CPR training to ensure participant safety in remote outdoor conditions. Clinical team members like therapists, counsellors, and case managers also hold licenses or certifications in their respective fields, like social work, counselling, or psychology
Staff keep low ratios like 1:3 for constant supervision. Clinicians work closely with outdoor specialists to design and facilitate experience-based group and individual activities focused on therapeutic goals.
A clinical director with extensive experience in wilderness therapy program design and implementation actively oversees the program’s overall leadership. The program also regularly conducts training to update staff on best practices and safety protocols for adventure-based, nature-immersion treatment models.
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Treatment Approaches and Methods
While in the wilderness setting at Trails Carolina, participants engage in a variety of therapeutic modalities designed to facilitate personal growth, emotional processing, and behavioural change
- Experiential learning: Rock climbing, ropes courses, and backpacking provide hands-on lessons in teamwork, problem-solving, trust, responsibility, and self-efficacy. Participants apply lessons learned in nature to their lives back home.
- Nature-based counselling: Individual and group therapy sessions are often conducted outdoors around campfires or during nature hikes to take advantage of nature’s calming, therapeutic properties and inspire thoughtful self-reflection.
- Adventure therapy: Activities build confidence, resilience and accomplishment through pushing comfort zones.
- Wilderness living skills: Teaching survival techniques and outdoor skills promotes independence, resourcefulness, and a connection to the environment and one’s place.
- Group dynamics: The wilderness immersion and shared activities facilitate trust-building, communication, cooperation, and healthy peer conflict resolution.
- Aftercare planning: Treatment aims to provide participants with tools and resources needed to maintain progress post-program through individualized transition and alums support plans.
- Program Effectiveness and Outcomes: Multiple studies have found wilderness therapy to be an effective treatment model for at-risk youth, with high rates of success
Recent Studies Regarding Trails Carolina Investigations
One 5-year study found that 93% of wilderness therapy participants achieved their rehabilitation goals with no reoccurrences of issues like substance abuse or delinquent behaviours. Research from the University of Utah showed wilderness therapy led to significant decreases in distractibility, hyperactivity, aggression, and impulsivity in participants up to 6 months post-treatment.
A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies concluded that adventure-based interventions provided positive outcomes across psychological, behavioural, and academic domains with medium to large effect sizes.
Trails Carolina reported improved outcomes like better family/school/work and less conflict/substance use among graduates 6-12 months later.
Overall, when implemented to rigorous clinical standards like at Trails Carolina, wilderness therapy appears to be a viable and effective treatment option for at-risk youth struggling with various underlying issues. Its success derives from a unique combination of adventure-based counselling methods within the therapeutic context of nature.
Uncovering the Dark Reality of Trails Carolina Investigations Wilderness Therapy
Allegations of Abuse and Lack of Oversight
A 2021 investigation found Trails Carolina participants alleged physical, emotional and medical abuse contradicting its claims as a caring facility, with dozens reporting traumatic experiences to the Asheville Citizen-Times.
Allegations included excessive restraints, denial of food and water as punishment, and rampant verbal abuse. Lack of proper safety standards also led to injuries from accidents in the remote wilderness setting with inadequate medical responses.
The investigation supported concerns that oversight of Trails Carolina was lacking.Despite advertising accreditation and credentialed staff, deeper inquiries revealed issues with training, background checks, and compliance with basic care standards
Persistent Stories of Abuse Emerge
In interviews, numerous former participants recounted traumatic experiences of excessive physical force, like being slammed to the ground or hogtied as a means of control. Restraints were often not removed for hours, even in extreme weather conditions.
Staff also told teens about harsh punishments, such as denying food, water, and sleep for minor infractions or perceived non-compliance. In some cases, food deprivation stretched for multiple days until the youth collapsed from dehydration and hunger.
Beyond physical abuse, teens reported constant verbal attacks, belittling, and threats from staff. Homophobic, racist, and sexist slurs were commonly used to demean and manipulate already vulnerable youth struggling with mental health issues.
Medical neglect also appeared rampant, with severe injuries like fractures and lacerations either ignored or going untreated for days in the remote wilderness surroundings. Infection and illness went unchecked under minimum standards of care.
Lack of Oversight and Red Flags Ignored
Records obtained by the Citizen-Times revealed Trails Carolina President Mike McLaughlin had no formal therapeutic training. Staff training and licensing requirements were virtually non-existent, contrary to claims of adherence to professional standards. Background checks were incomplete, with some employees with criminal records ignored.
Mandatory reporting of abuse was also not followed per state regulations. Complaints against the program dating back over a decade had been covered up or allowed to persist without consequence
Subpoenas further uncovered Trails Carolina provided false advertising about accreditation and partnerships with local Universities for oversight. In truth, no legitimate clinical accreditation or independent monitoring of practices existed.
Continued operation despite red flags suggests enforcement agencies turned a blind eye to concerns, perhaps due to remote location or lobbying influence. Students suffered needlessly without proper accountability or care standards enforced
Healing from Trauma Through Shared Experiences
In the aftermath, dozens of survivors have come together through online support groups to share their painful but validating experiences. By telling and re-telling the trauma they endured, deep wounds are beginning to heal through communal recovery and advocacy.
Survivors are working to prevent future harm by raising public awareness, lobbying for legal reforms to license and regulate all wilderness programs, and providing peer counselling to new generations removed from abusive situations. Their voices united can catalyse positive change through open discussions that establish the truth and restore justice denied for too long.
Overall,The Trails Carolina case reveals lack of youth protection in wilderness therapy. Survivors deserve support as the community reforms systems prioritizing profits over care
Conclusion Trails Carolina Investigations
The investigations into Trails Carolina revealed troubling allegations of abuse and lack of oversight. By bravely sharing their stories, survivors are helping to reform the system. Their advocacy aims to prevent future trauma through increased regulation, licensing, and protection for vulnerable youth.
While healing from harm will take time, the changes stimulated show that speaking up is not in vain. By advocating for safety, these resilient individuals aim to help children receive ethical care.