Out in the wild : the experience and perception of therapeutic change by women survivors of child sexual abuse as result of wilderness therapy.
In a resource-rich environment, WS of CSA, wanting to enter therapy in order to deal with their early life trauma, can choose from an array of potential treatment modalities. One such intervention is called wilderness therapy. Although a number of studies have investigated various facets ofthis fairly new therapeutic modality, this is not the case for WS as potential clients. This study with its focus on how WS ofCSA experience and perceive therapeutic change as a result of participating in wilderness therapy, intended to explore how this intervention facilitates change. The research aimed to elicit phenomenological insights that could assist in the development and refinement of the therapeutic approach and its intricate constituents. The sample included twelve WS ofCSA (21 years and older) ofwhom four took part in a fourday therapeutic wilderness experience in the Drakensberg Mountains, a World Heritage Site, while another four joined a traditional time-limited therapy group. Four participants opted to withdraw from the study. Factors that influenced the decision to withdraw were explored. Ethical considerations necessitated a pre-interview with each participant. It allowed the researcher to screen each WS for her suitability, but also to identify her unique therapeutic needs, while also providing an opportunity to acquaint her with the research project as a whole, and more specifically with the respective therapeutic intervention. The researcher gathered interview data after each intervention, which after transcription was analysed using an experience-near, phenomenological research model (Colaizzi, 1978; Giorgi, 1994; Polkinghorne, 1989) that included validation through the participants. The themes that the participants of each group described were analysed and then presented in diagrammatical form. A comparison of the results elicited elements common to both therapeutic interventions, but more importantly the unique features ofwilderness therapy. These included (a) the reality of therapeutic change in terms of CSA-related issues, (b) nature as a significant therapeutically containing space, and (c) silence as a tool for facilitating catharsis. The reality of post-hike depression and the change-inducing quality ofanticipatory anxiety evolved as other significant elements of therapy within a nature setting. The themes were examined in greater depth leading to the conclusions that wilderness therapy is a valuable therapeutic modality for WS of CSA, possibly best used as an adjunct, and offers unique therapeutic change mechanisms to these trauma survivors. Because of its exploratory nature, the study was unable to outline these mechanisms in more detail and hence suggestions for further in-depth research were made.