'Wilderness therapy' helps young war victims in North

Nitza Riklin, a Hebrew University-trained psychologist, adapted "wilderness therapy," which has for years been popular around the world.

desert forests 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimiski)
desert forests 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimiski)
A form of "wilderness therapy" and psychotherapy has brought significant improvement to Haifa teenagers suffering from violent behavior, concentration problems, anxieties and other problems caused by rocket attacks and chaotic conditions during the Second Lebanon War. Nitza Riklin, a Hebrew University-trained psychologist who has worked at the Health Ministry's Tirat Carmel Mental Health Center for 12 years, adapted "wilderness therapy," which has for years been popular for "straightening out" troubled people in the US, Australia and elsewhere. In those countries, program participants live in primitive conditions for many days to receive therapy and to learn to cooperate. The Tirat Carmel program has been ongoing ever since last summer's war, integrating psychotherapy with three hours a week of wilderness therapy in the Carmel Forest near Haifa. Eleven boys and girls aged 13 to 15 maneuvered their way over rope bridges, climbed up rocks and rapelled down cliffs on Wednesday, supervised by nature guides and psychologists Idit Yam and Celine Marudas. Some NIS 40,000 in funding for the program was provided by Ashalim, founded by the Joint Distribution Committee. "We chose that age group from among young people who came to the ministry's mental health station at Tirat Carmel seeking help for behavioral and emotional problems caused by rocket attacks," Riklin told The Jerusalem Post. "Some of the problems began soon after the war ended, while others appeared later." "We chose that age group because they are very difficult to treat using play therapy, which is effective with younger children. They are still children, they are not as verbal as adults and find it hard to participate in talk therapy," said Riklin, who said mental health station director Dr. Dorit Maoz was very "courageous" for agreeing to an experiment with difficult kids in difficult field conditions. The group's activities, which included navigation, cooking in the field and survival challenges, required the participants to learn cooperation skills, which many of them had difficulty with at home and in school. "When one went up a rope ladder, another had to hold it," Riklin said. "These are youths who have a basic difficulty putting faith in others, with many failures and frustrations in their lives. They didn't believe they could ever reach the top of a tree or of anything. The result of the program was great improvement - much more than we expected - in the troubled teenagers," Riklin said. "One girl was a candidate for transfer to a special education school, but [now] she was chosen the outstanding pupil of the grade‚ in her own school. The kids connected to the learning experience and overcame some of their fears and negative behavior." The psychologist said she would like to repeat the program next year with other youngsters, if funding is provided. "I believe it would be effective for adults as well as teenagers," she added. "I am not aware of anyone having used this adapted wilderness therapy for these problems in Israel." Riklis is writing up the experience and its lessons for Sihot, the Israeli journal of psychotherapy.