Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program that claims to help troubled teens and young adults overcome their challenges and find hope and healing. However, there have been several allegations of abuse and mistreatment at the program, raising serious concerns about its safety and effectiveness. We will explore some of the incidents that have come to light, as well as the potential risks and benefits of wilderness therapy in general.
What is Wilderness Therapy?
Wilderness therapy is a type of treatment that involves taking participants out of their usual environment and placing them in a natural setting, where they engage in various activities such as hiking, camping, survival skills, and group therapy. The idea is that by exposing them to nature, they can develop self-reliance, resilience, problem-solving, communication, and coping skills, as well as gain insight into their emotions and behaviors.
Wilderness therapy can be beneficial for some people who struggle with issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, trauma, or behavioral problems. It can provide them with a sense of adventure, challenge, and accomplishment, as well as a supportive community of peers and staff. Some studies have shown positive outcomes for wilderness therapy participants, such as improved self-esteem, mood, motivation, and relationships.
However, wilderness therapy is not without risks and drawbacks. It can also be harmful for some people who are not suited for this type of intervention, or who are exposed to abusive or negligent practices by the program staff. Some of the potential dangers of wilderness therapy include:
- Physical injury or illness due to harsh weather conditions, inadequate equipment, lack of medical care, or accidents.
- Psychological trauma due to isolation, coercion, humiliation, punishment, or lack of consent.
- Financial exploitation due to high costs, hidden fees, or false advertising.
- Legal issues due to lack of regulation, oversight, or accountability by the authorities.
What are the Allegations Against Trails Carolina?
Trails Carolina is one of the many wilderness therapy programs that operate in the United States. It is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina and serves boys and girls aged 10-17 and young adults aged 18-25. According to its website, it offers a “multi-dimensional model” that includes wilderness expeditions, base camp activities, family involvement, academic support, and individualized treatment plans.
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However, Trails Carolina has also been accused of abusing and mistreating its participants in various ways. Some of the allegations include:
- Sexual abuse: On February 23rd 2022 , a former resident of Trails Carolina filed a lawsuit against the program claiming she had suffered sexual abuse “because of the negligent, reckless, wanton, and tortious acts and omissions of Defendant Trails Carolina, LLC.” According to the lawsuit, the child, CMM, was only 14 when she was sent to Trails Carolina. She alleges that she was sexually assaulted by another resident, who was 17 at the time, while they were left unsupervised by the staff. She also alleges that she was forced to share a sleeping bag with him on multiple occasions, and that the staff failed to report the abuse or provide her with adequate care and support.
- Physical abuse: Several former participants have reported being physically abused by the staff or other residents at Trails Carolina. For example, one former camper said he was punched in the face by a staff member after he refused to hike. Another former camper said he was kicked in the ribs by another resident while he was sleeping. Others have described being restrained, pushed, or dragged by the staff.
- Emotional abuse: Many former participants have also reported being emotionally abused by the staff or other residents at Trails Carolina. For example, one former camper said she was constantly berated, mocked, and threatened by the staff. Another former camper said she was forced to write letters to her parents confessing her faults and asking for forgiveness. Others have described being isolated, manipulated, or gaslighted by the staff.
- Neglect: Some former participants have also reported being neglected by the staff at Trails Carolina. For example, one former camper said she was denied medical attention when she fell unconscious due to dehydration. Another former camper said he was denied food when he refused to hike. Others have described being deprived of basic hygiene, comfort, or privacy.
What Can You Do If You Are Concerned About Trails Carolina?
If you are concerned about Trails Carolina or any other wilderness therapy program, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself or your loved ones. Some of these steps include:
- Researching: Before enrolling yourself or your child in any program, do your homework. Check the credentials, accreditation, and reputation of the program. Look for reviews, testimonials, and complaints from former participants or families. Seek independent advice from professionals or experts in the field.
- Asking questions: Before signing any contract or agreement, ask questions. Find out what the program entails, what the costs are, what the risks are, and what the outcomes are. Ask for evidence, references, and guarantees. Ask about the staff qualifications, training, and supervision. Ask about the safety protocols, emergency procedures, and grievance policies.
- Advocating: If you are already enrolled in a program or have a loved one who is, advocate for your rights and needs. Speak up if you have any concerns or complaints. Seek help if you are in danger or distress. Report any abuse or misconduct to the authorities or agencies. Seek legal counsel if necessary.
Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program that has been accused of abusing and mistreating its participants in various ways. While wilderness therapy can be beneficial for some people, it can also be harmful for others, especially if it is administered unethically or irresponsibly. Therefore, it is important to be informed, cautious, and vigilant when considering or engaging in this type of treatment.