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What is a Brat Camp?
With the airing of ABC's Brat Camp reality television series, many parents are becoming aware of wilderness therapy as a unique therapeutic option for troubled teens.
Brat Camp Wilderness therapy or wilderness programs, sometimes known as outdoor education, has been around for decades. They are not to be confused with boot camps, which use military-style discipline to get struggling teens in line. Wilderness therapy allows Mother Nature to serve as teacher and as the backdrop for real emotional and behavioral change.
The efficacy of "brat camp" or wilderness therapy has been studied extensively by Dr. Keith Russell, first at the University of Idaho, and now at the University of New Hampshire.
Brat camp has not been a name traditionally associated with wilderness therapy. In fact, the phrase "brat camp" was created by the television studios to peak interest in the show. The show first began in the United Kingdom, and followed students at a working ranch in Utah, Turn-About Ranch. It aired on Channel 4 in the UK. ABC then produced an American version of brat camp.
Wilderness therapy does not use confrontational therapy that you might see in boot camps. This isn't necessary in the wilderness. The natural world requires students to work as a team, challenge themselves to move past self-imposed limitations, and re-examine their beliefs about themselves and the world around them.
Parents interested in a brat camp or wilderness therapy should be aware that television shows do not necessarily show the real inner workings of these programs - they are often slightly more dramatized to appeal to a wider audience. Wilderness therapy has a long history as a successful intervention model among troubled teens.