Research on Wilderness Therapy

Why do research?

We take pride in utilizing evidence-based treatments for a simple reason: they work. Similarly, to best serve our clients and their families, we recognize the importance of data collection, research, and program evaluation. We are committed to gathering outcome data on our clients’ experiences at Traverse and beyond. On-going data collection helps us understand what’s working for our clients and how to continue improving.

Young Adult Wilderness Therapy

Wilderness therapy has been shown to be both clinically and statistically significant for young adult clients numerous times (Bettmann, 2016; Curtis, 2018; Roberts, 2016). Clinically significant changes are readily observable by clients, families, and professionals alike. In partnership with several programs, the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council (OBH) continues to gather and analyze data from across the industry. One of our owners, Dr. Neal Christensen, is the current Chair of the Research Committee for OBH and did his doctoral work studying wilderness therapy outcomes.

The Data

We use the Outcome Questionnaire (OQ-45.2) to examine client progress. The OQ 45.2 is a validated, reliable, and widely used measure in the field of mental health treatment. The OQ 45.2 measures three sub-scales of (dys)functioning: Symptom Distress, Interpersonal Relations, and Social Role. Clients may fill out the surveys at admission and graduation, and then again six months and one year after leaving Traverse. This will allow us to look at sustained change over time.

Traverse Outcomes (OQ 45.2): (The following data is from preliminary findings)

  • Average client score at admission to Traverse = 75
  • Average client score at graduation from Traverse = 57
  • Average client change score from admission to graduation = 18

What does it mean?

  • Lower scores indicate healthier functioning (we expect clients scores to drop during their time in the program).
  • 63 is the “clinical cut-off” for the OQ 45.2. Clients scoring above this mark are experiencing symptoms at a clinically significant level.
  • 14 is the “Reliable Change Index” (RCI). If a client’s score drops 14 points (or more) we can be confident the change is real and meaningful. This level of change is readily apparent in behaviors and/ or beliefs and is considered “clinically significant.”
  • In summary, Traverse clients arrive experiencing symptoms at a clinically significant level (75) and they then experience a change (18) that meets the RCI for meaningful change. 

Traverse Outcomes (Satisfaction):

As part of our research, we have clients also fill out a survey on their subjective experience. The following questions are posed as 5-point, Likert-scale questions (e.g. “Very Dissatisfied” through “Very Satisfied”).

  • Q: “Compared to when you began the program, how would you describe your problems?
    • A: 97.3% of clients report feeling “Much Better” (59.5%) or “Somewhat Better” (37.8%)
  • Q: “Currently, how satisfied are you with the quality of treatment you received at the program?”
    • A: 93.2% of clients said they were “Very Satisfied” (66.1%) or “Somewhat Satisfied” (27.1%)
  • Q: “How much effort did you put into your treatment at the program?”
    • A: 35.1% reported putting in “Maximum Effort.” Another 43.2% said they put in “Above Average Effort.”
  • 66.67% of clients reported improved family functioning via the Family Assessment Device – General Functioning (FAD-GF).