Trails Carolina Horror Stories: Wilderness Therapy’s Dark Side

Wilderness therapy, a type of therapeutic intervention that utilizes outdoor expeditions to treat behavioral and mental health issues, has been praised and questioned in the same breath. Within the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you’ll find Trails Carolina, a wilderness therapy program that has been on the forefront of the debate surrounding the safety and effectiveness of these interventions. Despite promoting its goal to help troubled youth discover their path to healing and self-discovery, the program is the subject of numerous horror stories that have left a dark cloud over their practices and the industry of wilderness therapy.

Understanding Wilderness Therapy

Wilderness therapy is a group of therapy programs that are used to help adolescents, teenagers, and young adults who have severe behavioral and psychological problems. These programs take place outdoors and are focused on using nature as a way of changing the attitudes and behaviors of the participants. Wilderness therapy is founded on the concept that being in nature is restorative and has the ability to help people relax and be less stressed. Many parents of teenagers who have participated in wilderness therapy believe the programs were life-saving. Critics say that there is not enough evidence behind the programs to justify their widespread use.

The Rise of Trails Carolina

Trails Carolina’s founding was heavily inspired by the belief that the natural world is transformative, and held the potential to help adolescents and young adults rise to their challenges and find and maintain a path toward true progress. The institution quickly grew in popularity, proving to offer the sort of broad appeal that would come with catering to a wide array of different needs. And as more people have learned of Trail’s existence, so too have come increased scrutiny.

Controversies and Criticisms

The institution has found itself embroiled in controversy, facing allegations of abuse, neglect and myriad forms of mistreatment. Many of the most explosive claims about the institution stem from the personal accounts of former program participants, some of which have raised challenging questions regarding the practices of not only Trails Carolina itself, but of programs operating under a similar operating philosophy.

Personal Horror Stories Begin to Emerge

But over time, allegations have also been raised against Trails Carolina, claiming emotional and physical abuse, neglect, and improper medical care. Underlying these accounts are a number of common themes and a significant gap between the program’s promises and the reality some participants experienced.

Investigations Started After Multiple Allegations Made

With multiple allegations filed and lawsuits initiated against Trails Carolina, state and federal authorities launched investigations. Their findings have led to questions about regulatory oversight and what is needed to ensure the safety and well-being of teens in wilderness therapy programs.

Psychological Impact on Participants

Psychologists and child welfare professionals have expressed worries about the likely psychological repercussions of a negative wilderness therapy experience. Severe trauma and exacerbation of existing mental health issues are meant to say more than enough about how poorly run programs can inflict long-term damage.

Industry Standards and Safety Measures

This section compares the adequacy of Trails Carolina’s operation to industry standards, and whether enough is done to protect the safety and welfare of participants. The discussion of whether or not the the oversight and regulation of wilderness therapy goes far enough is one that isn’t going to disappear anytime soon.

Defending Wilderness Therapy

Defending Wilderness Therapy There are those who come to the defense of wilderness therapy — pointing to positive outcomes that involve success stories. Wilderness therapy can be transformative, they argue, when it’s executed in a responsible and ethical manner.

Alternatives to Wilderness Therapy

Alternatives to Wilderness Therapy For those who remain skeptical of the efficacy and safety of wilderness therapy, there are other therapeutic routes to take that may prove beneficial to individuals. Mental health professionals, for example, sometimes have their own recommendations that they say offer a sound alternative.

Also Read: Who is Jeinz Macias? All You Need to Know


The stories from Trails Carolina paint a nuanced picture of wilderness therapy. While many participants see undeniable benefits, some of the horror stories are just as undeniable. Prospective participants and their families need to go into the experience with their eyes open and do an exhaustive amount of research … but if the industry is to function without putting vulnerable kids at even more risk than they’ve already faced it will take a much broader shift. An enviable industry will require transparency, strict regulation, and a relentless focus on the kids and families placing their trust in these programs.

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