Is a wilderness therapy program “overkill” for teen porn addiction?

By Matt Bulkley | Blog Education Series

STAR Guides Wilderness - Is a wilderness therapy program “overkill” for teen porn addiction

We are periodically asked by those not familiar with the array of problems that can accompany a pornography addiction, if wilderness therapy is a bit too drastic of an intervention for an addicted teen.

Our answer is quite simply “No!”. While we are not going to make the case that every teen with a pornography addiction needs to complete a wilderness therapy program, we hold a strong belief that wilderness therapy is a needed intervention for pornography addiction under certain conditions. Listed below are four conditions that require an intensive out of home intervention stemming from an addiction to pornography:

-When the addiction becomes a risk to the teen’s safety.

Example—15 year-old boy who has been viewing porn on a daily basis since age 11 moves into using a fake profile as an attractive adult woman in social media to solicit adult men into highly sexualized chats involving plans to begin hooking up in person. When confronted by parents, the youth consistently denies it, yet the behaviors continue leading to escalating family conflicts.

-When the addiction becomes a risk to others’ safety.

Example—16 year-old boy who is addicted to porn compiles a collection of “explicit selfies” of girls who he has coerced to engage with him in sexting sessions. He begins placing the images on revenge porn websites and using the images to blackmail the girls.

-When outpatient treatment fails.

Example—17 year-old addicted to pornography since the age 13 unable to break free from the addiction on his own and even with extended outpatient treatment his longest period of ten days of abstinence before falling back into the addiction. He is experiencing depression, feelings of failure and self-loathing which is leading to school failure and social isolation.

-When the youth is resistant to treatment.

Example—14 year-old addicted to pornography who despite repeated efforts by his parents to limit has access to porn continues to find ways, including theft, to obtain electronic devices to access the internet to view porn. He is unwilling to discuss the issue with his parents and refuses to attend or participate in counseling services.

These four examples are based on true-to-life scenarios and similar situations occur daily in our highly sexualized, technology driven society and unfortunately will become more common place with the rising generation.

Why wilderness therapy for pornography addiction?

  • wilderness placement “unplugs” teens from all technology and communication with the outside world requiring them to develop healthy coping skills for dealing with problems. Many youth today have never spent a day without technology and have become dependent on the use of technology. Wilderness placement immediately disrupts the dependency on viewing pornography as a coping style.
  • wilderness placement requires more than “talk” to be successful. Savvy, treatment resistant youth are no longer able to manipulate their environment to avoid responsibility. The wilderness delivers natural consequences for irresponsibility that can’t be manipulated by charming or charismatic talk. Youth who have been in denial about their addiction are no longer able to hide their issue through manipulating others.
  • wilderness placement reveals an individual for who they are at their core. Time spent in nature is the quickest way to begin the process of self-discovery. Pornography addiction prevents an individual from discovering their true identity. Shame, guilt, humiliation, self-loathing and depression interfere with this process. Wilderness placement allows addicted teens to begin to heal from the emotional scars that so often accompany pornography addiction.
  • wilderness placement allows addicted teens to gain new perspective on life. Without the amenities of modern society, teens realize how much they have taken for granted in their lives. Teens gain a renewed appreciation for their parents, their homes, their health and their families. They are able to put into perspective the destructive role that pornography has played in their lives and are able to re-prioritize what is important to them. This allows for the creation and implementation of a recovery plan to guide their return back home following completion of the program.

About the Author

Matt is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been working in the field of youth treatment and psychotherapy since 1995. He did his undergraduate work at BYU and earned his M.S.W. at the University of Utah. He has worked in a variety of treatment setting in his career ranging from wilderness therapy and residential treatment to outpatient treatment and state government.

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