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Digital natives running wild: exploring adolescent girls’ identity development through wilderness adventure.

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Ecotherapy as a therapeutic modality has rapidly gained in global popularity in the last three decades. Taking on many forms such as animal- assisted therapy, gardening therapy, outdoor camps or wilderness adventure programmes, ecotherapy utilises the medium of nature and/or the wilderness to develop and grow self-competence, self-mastery, self-discipline and self-identity. This research explores the influence of a structured ecotherapy programme on the psychosocial development of a group of adolescent girls in South Africa in the context of the digital era. Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory of Development was used to understand the mechanisms of adolescent psychosocial development which centre around the achievement of competence and growth of self-identity. The relative dearth of South African literature reflecting research in the field of ecotherapy is contrary to evidence of a broad range of existing programmes and interventions that falls withing the scope of ecotherapy practice in the country. This research responds to this deficit by contributing to the local knowledge base regarding the efficacy of ecotherapy as a therapeutic and personal development tool for adolescents in the context of the digital age. Transcendental phenomenology was used as the philosophical framework around which the research methodology was structured. The researcher accompanied a group of girls on the ecotherapy programme called Journey as a participant-observer in order to record the lived experience of the girls over a 21 day period. Data from focus group discussions, field discussions and observation notes and recordings were clustered and thematic analysis used in order to capture the essence of Journey and its psychosocial impacts on the adolescent girls. Findings demonstrated the efficacy of Journey as a positive contributor to the psychosocial development of adolescent girls and that the programme provides the economies of scale that would allow replication for other adolescent groups in South Africa.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.