Wilderness therapy is a form of treatment that involves taking troubled teens or young adults to remote natural settings and engaging them in various activities and challenges. The goal is to help them overcome their behavioral, emotional, or mental health issues and develop positive coping skills. However, not all wilderness therapy programs are created equal. Some of them, such as Trails Carolina, have been accused of abusing, neglecting, and traumatizing their participants. In this blog post, we will explore some of the horror stories and allegations that have emerged from former campers and staff members of Trails Carolina.
What is Trails Carolina?
Trails Carolina is a licensed and accredited wilderness therapy program in the Blue Ridge mountains of Western North Carolina. It claims to help boys and girls aged 10-17, and young adults aged 18-25, who are struggling with a range of issues, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, substance abuse, eating disorders, aggression, defiance, low self-esteem, academic problems, and more. The program consists of three phases: base camp, expedition, and transition. Each phase lasts for about a month and involves different levels of intensity, structure, and support. The program also offers individual and group therapy sessions, family coaching and workshops, equine therapy, academic curriculum, and aftercare planning.
What are the horror stories?
Despite its appealing website and marketing materials, Trails Carolina has been exposed by several former campers and staff members as a place where abuse, neglect, and trauma are rampant. Some of the horror stories include:
- Katelyn Haruko Schmisseur was 16 when she was sent to Trails Carolina for her eating disorder. She said that she was forced to live in filthy conditions, with only a bucket lined with a biohazard bag as a toilet. She also said that she was constantly watched by a staff member when she used the bathroom or showered. She said that she felt dehumanized and helpless during her stay at Trails Carolina.
- Linda was a counselor at Trails Carolina from 2015 to 2017. She said that she witnessed staff members abusing and mistreating the campers on a regular basis. She said that they would use physical force, verbal insults, threats, isolation, and deprivation as punishment methods. She also said that they would manipulate the campers’ emotions and make them feel guilty for their problems. She said that she quit her job after she could not tolerate the unethical practices anymore.
- Jake was 14 when he was sent to Trails Carolina for his ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder. He said that he was subjected to harsh discipline and humiliation by the staff members. He said that they would make him carry heavy rocks in his backpack, force him to sleep on the ground without a sleeping bag or a tent, withhold food and water from him, and yell at him for minor mistakes. He also said that he was sexually assaulted by another camper while the staff members ignored his cries for help.
What are the allegations?
In addition to the personal testimonies of former campers and staff members, Trails Carolina has also faced legal actions and investigations for its alleged misconduct. Some of the allegations include:
- In 2018, a lawsuit was filed against Trails Carolina by the parents of a 14-year-old girl who died from an asthma attack while attending the program. The lawsuit claimed that Trails Carolina failed to provide adequate medical care and supervision for the girl, who had a history of severe asthma. The lawsuit also claimed that Trails Carolina misrepresented its qualifications, safety standards, and success rates.
- In 2019, another lawsuit was filed against Trails Carolina by the parents of a 16-year-old boy who suffered from severe frostbite while attending the program. The lawsuit claimed that Trails Carolina exposed the boy to extreme cold temperatures without proper clothing or equipment. The lawsuit also claimed that Trails Carolina ignored the boy’s complaints of pain and numbness in his fingers and toes.
- In 2020, an investigation was launched by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services into Trails Carolina after receiving multiple complaints of abuse and neglect from former campers and staff members. The investigation found several violations of state regulations and standards at Trails Carolina, such as inadequate staffing ratios, insufficient training and supervision of staff members, improper use of restraints and seclusion techniques, lack of infection control measures, failure to report incidents and injuries, and falsification of records.
What are the alternatives?
If you are looking for a safe and effective way to help your troubled teen or young adult overcome their challenges and achieve their potential, you may want to consider other alternatives than wilderness therapy programs like Trails Carolina. Some of the alternatives include:
- Family therapy: Family therapy is a type of counseling that involves working with your whole family to improve communication, resolve conflicts, and strengthen bonds. Family therapy can help you and your child understand each other better, support each other’s needs, and cope with stress and change. Family therapy can also help you address any underlying issues that may be contributing to your child’s problems, such as trauma, abuse, divorce, or grief.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of psychotherapy that helps your child identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that are causing or worsening their difficulties. CBT can help your child develop more realistic and positive ways of thinking and acting, as well as coping skills to deal with challenging situations. CBT can be effective for treating a variety of issues, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, substance abuse, eating disorders, and more.
- Medication: Medication is a form of treatment that involves taking prescribed drugs to regulate the brain chemistry and function of your child. Medication can help your child reduce the severity and frequency of their symptoms, improve their mood and energy levels, and enhance their focus and concentration. Medication can be used in combination with other forms of treatment, such as therapy or education. Medication can be helpful for managing conditions such as ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and more.
Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program that claims to help troubled teens and young adults overcome their issues and find hope and healing. However, many former campers and staff members have revealed that Trails Carolina is actually a place where abuse, neglect, and trauma are common. Trails Carolina has also faced lawsuits and investigations for its alleged misconduct. If you are looking for a safe and effective way to help your child, you may want to consider other alternatives than wilderness therapy programs like Trails Carolina. These alternatives include family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, or other reputable programs that have proven results and high standards of care.