What is the assessment and treatment process for sexual specific treatment in a wilderness setting?

By Matt Bulkley | Blog Education Series

STAR Guides Wilderness - What is the assessment and treatment process for sexual specific treatment in a wilderness setting

The Wilderness

Learning to be comfortable in the wilderness requires constant work and effort. For many students, the level of effort required to be comfortable is far greater than what they are used to and this immediately creates opportunity for disruption of avoidance, laziness and procrastination. These are primary issues that prevent many youth from benefitting from outpatient treatment services.

Sexual History

In addition to learning to manage the demands of residing in a primitive, wilderness setting students work with their therapist to provide a full disclosure of his sexual history. Upon completing this history, students submit to a therapeutic polygraph exam, which is administered by an expert in adolescent polygraphy and sexual behavior. This exam is used to verify the accuracy of their reported history. This process is an important part of “clearing the slate” and “coming clean” on past sexual behaviors in an effort to begin the process of healing and recovery.

The “Iceberg Effect”

Because of the shame and guilt that typically accompanies sexual behavior problems, many teens have been reluctant to be forthright in disclosing their sexual history. Like an iceberg, the bigger part remains under the surface, not exposed to view. The tendency for youth to only admit to a small part of their sexual history is called the “iceberg effect.”

Thus, the need for an immediate disruption to their environment through placement in the wilderness and a therapeutic process for making a full disclosure of their sexual history. The wilderness placement and disclosure process help students overcome the “iceberg effect” and begin treatment being completely honest and open with themselves, their families, and their therapist.

Using the verified sexual history, a comprehensive psycho-sexual evaluation can be conducted to determine the risk of future re-offending, sexual acting out and to provide specific recommendations to parents and professionals for planning for future treatment needs.

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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