From Field Guide to Therapist | Wilderness Therapy Jobs
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From Field Guide to Therapist

Nature is one of the most powerful healing mechanisms known to mankind, so it only makes sense to utilize its healing power for our own good.  Wilderness therapy programs use the powerful healing and teaching power of nature in combination with therapeutic techniques in order to treat behavioral problems in young adults and adolescents.  Of course, becoming a wilderness therapist requires lots of training and experience.  However, fortunately, many wilderness therapy programs offer entry-level positions to get you involved in the field and set you up to further your wilderness therapy studies.  Learn how entry-level positions prepare you to become a certified wilderness therapist.

standing on rock

What is a Wilderness Therapist?

You’re probably familiar with the traditional therapy treatment modality, which typically involves one-on-one communication with the client and therapist in a typical office setting.  While this form of treatment may be effective for some, sessions are typically limited to an hour at a time and students may not be given the time or effort that it takes for them to heal.  Part of what makes wilderness therapy so special is that it provides the time and space for full healing and revival.  Students of wilderness therapy programs are removed from their current environment, which may be contributing to behavioral problems.  Students are placed in a safe and controlled nature setting, where they work with certified wilderness therapists to overcome obstacles, challenges, and personal difficulties teaching students to create healthy behavior changes as well as find healthy coping mechanisms.


Job Responsibilities:


Becoming a wilderness therapist is a challenging yet rewarding occupation.  Listed below are some of the common day-to-day responsibilities of a wilderness therapist.


  • Clinical intake (involves meeting/interviewing potential students and parents to determine if they are a good fit for the program).
  • Case management (creating and recommending proper treatment plans for group and individual students).
  • Individual & group therapy (leading group and one-on-one debriefing and therapy sessions to students).
  • Clinical summaries (post-trip records of relevant student information and procedures from the program).
  • Completion of daily paperwork
  • Direct care and supervision of students
  • Weekly lesson plans and activities (designing educational content and activities, including therapy sessions and outdoor adventures, tailored to the needs of the students every week).




In order to become a wilderness therapist, most programs require a certain degree of education and training.  If you are an aspiring wilderness therapist, you will likely need:


  • A bachelors or master’s degree in psychology, recreational therapy, or a related field
  • A minimum of 1 year working with at-risk youth, or comparable experience
  • Excellent leadership and communication skills
  • 21+ years of age with a valid driver’s license
  • Certified wilderness first responder (preferred)


All of these responsibilities and requirements to become a certified wilderness therapist can be a bit daunting, and you may be even stuck not knowing where to start.  Fortunately, most wilderness therapy programs offer entry-level positions for those interested in becoming a wilderness therapist, that may help them achieve their goal.

What are Field Instructors?

Wilderness field guides, otherwise known as field instructors, help to assist wilderness therapists by helping lead and safely teach groups of students in outdoor activities and adventures.  As a field guide, you will participate in pre-planned activities such as rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, skiing, and more.  Field instructors are there to guide and supervise the students, it is important that they exercise sound judgment in order to ensure the safety of the group.

If you are looking for a place to begin your wilderness therapy studies, becoming a field instructor is certainly a great start.  Field instructors have the opportunity to gain experience working with troubled youth, develop outdoor skills, and get to work closely with the therapist.




As a wilderness field instructor, you will work closely with the students.  Some of the primary responsibilities you will have as a therapist include: 


  • Managing risks of activities while maintaining supervision over students
  • Work as a part of the treatment team to fulfill the specific needs of each student
  • Live and teach comfortably in the wilderness setting for extended periods of time
  • Effective instruction in therapeutic content, including yoga and mediation
  • Serve as a positive role-model  




While field instructors do not require as many qualifications as therapists, there are still a few preferred skills and experiences needed in order to make an effective field guide.  Common responsibilities of a field guide include:


  • 21+ years of age
  • High school diploma or equivalent 
  • Pass annual physical examinations and pre-employment drug screening 
  • Clear State & Federal background check
  • Hold a current certification in CPR and wilderness first responder (WFR)
  • Demonstrated leadership in outdoor or wilderness setting (preferred)
  • Experience or educational background in therapeutic treatment, youth development, psychology, or a related field (preferred)
  • Experience with yoga, meditation, or other mindfulness practices (preferred)

How Instructors Become Great Therapists

Having experience as a wilderness field instructor is a great way to build connections to the wilderness therapy industry as well as learn the skills needed to become a wilderness therapist.  Working as a wilderness field instructor provides you with a significant amount of preparation to become a wilderness therapist as it exposes you to the environment, populations, and clinical modalities that you will be working with if you chose to continue your studies.  Not only does becoming a wilderness field instructor provide you with preparation, but it provides you with relevant experience which is helpful for those interested in furthering their career in wilderness therapy studies.

In addition to wilderness therapy programs helping the students, they also provide the opportunity for staff to promote their own healing and teach them how to better overcome challenges themselves.  Beginning your occupation as a wilderness therapist as a field guide can provide you with the opportunity to have a “trial run” and find what specific modalities or techniques are most effective and best fit your style, in order to become the most effective therapist.  

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