Wilderness Therapy Camp: Troubled Teens POV


This is Isabel before she got sent to the camp in 2020.

Lucy Freedman , Contributor

Sixteen-year-old Isabel Senke was sound asleep in her bed on a Tuesday night, when two strangers came into her room, nudged her awake, made her pack a bag, and put her on a plane. 

“All of a sudden I was in the woods in North Carolina,” said Senke.

For the next 12 weeks, Senske and others lived on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, hiking six miles a day, setting up camps every night, and participating in group and individual therapy sessions.

It was all part of Trails Carolina- a wilderness therapy camp designed for troubled teens. 

Senske was one of 15 teens over the summer who attended this program.

Founded in 2008, Trails Carolina offers a series of programs from individualized therapy, family therapy, academic programs, and wilderness camps that, according to their website, are designed to “help families reconnect, heal, and thrive.”

They are one of several therapy camps across the U.S that “help troubled teens.”

During the Covid 19 Pandemic, Senske was having a hard time being motivated so she started falling into bad habits.

“I dropped out of school and started getting into bad things such as drugs and alcohol,” said Senske.

Over the course of the next 90 days, Sekske and the other teens in her group went through a daily routine. 

“Once we arrived at the campsite of the day, we would make teams: a fire team, a tarp team, and a water team.”

They would wake up early and collect firewood, cook their food, and gather water from nearby water sources. They were taught how to be independent and do all of their daily activities themselves. They also went on daily six-mile hikes.

According to Senke, fellow campers had more severe problems, some came from abusive homes, while others had criminal records, and others were extremely depressed. 

She said she was the only one out of the 15 that had never been to a psychiatric ward.

“Most of the kids I met were confused as to why I was there because my situation at home was one of the milder ones,” said Senke.

They were allowed to send one letter a week to their parents. So, it was hard for Senske to understand why she was sent there. She didn’t even get a chance to say bye to anyone before she was taken.

“The loss of contact with everyone I knew was hard and I felt confused as to why I was thrown away there,” she said.

Although Senke says her experience was tough, some people, like therapist Andrea Perleman, think these types of camps can help.

“I think this type of therapy can be beneficial to the teenagers who need a more intense kind of help,”  said Perleman.

 A child and teen psychologist who has been working with teens for 15 years, Perelman has heard all of the types of problems teens face including school demands, negative thoughts about themselves, problems with friends, and unsafe living environments such as domestic violence and substance abuse. 

Isabel said her experience was traumatic. Her parents decided that sending her to a therapy camp during the summer was the best option to get her back on the right track.

But Senske didn’t understand what was going on. She felt as if she was thrown away by her parents.

“I still can’t be around campfires without getting flashbacks. I haven’t fully processed being there yet,” said Senske

She is now back in school, doing FLVS, getting good grades, and does not do drugs and alcohol. 

“It definitely scared me into doing what I was supposed to do,” said Senske.