In the depths of the White Mountain National Forest in Maine, a group of teenagers set down their backpacks and catch their breath. It’s the second day of a three-night expedition, and there are plenty of miles to go. But this is no camping trip – it’s therapy. For over 20 years, clinician and social worker Will White has led teenagers into the wilderness to help them find themselves.

“Young people these days are more anxious and much of that seems to be related to consumption of social media,” White says. Troubled by the increase in depression, anxiety, and isolation in the children he counselled, he drew a parallel between these symptoms and the pace of the modern world. As part of the team at Summit Achievement, a hybrid of an outdoor camp and private school, White was astounded to see how kids responded to the blend of verbal counselling and challenging time outside. The programme is structured so that academic classes take place for three days of the week, while the other four are reserved for rigorous trips in the surrounding area. These sojourns push the kids to test their limits, overcome obstacles, and learn that they have what it takes to be strong. “As people change, so should our methods of therapy,” White says. “I saw more therapeutic change in the outdoor programme than I saw in an office.”

Open to children between the ages of 13 to 20 from around the world, Summit Achievement emphasises the opportunities for confidence building, discipline, and awe that being outside provides. The programme lasts for a minimum of eight weeks, with regular therapy sessions included. Family appointments are integrated too. These help the teens and their parents understand the shifts and changes that need to be made at home in order for the programme to have longevity after they leave.

Scientific study has proven that being in nature improves the quality of our lives. It reduces blood pressure and gets our bodies moving. Beyond the extensive physical benefits, there are emotional and mental advantages too, like the tempering of ADD and aggression. “Wilderness therapy shows us that we are capable of achieving what we put our minds to,” White says. Kids who arrive on the campus troubled, nervous, and inactive leave stronger and more centred as a direct result of his intervention. “Everyone deserves a chance to find solace within themselves,” White says.