Over the river and through the woods : to wilderness therapy we go
Wendy Wei Motulsky
May 13, 2015
Department or Program
Gender construction and performativity, Foucauldian disciplinary power, and wilderness constructivism are not new objects of academic inquiry and discourse. Yet wilderness therapy, an emerging therapeutic field, remains a largely unexplored topic in gender studies and critical theory. My thesis aims to explore the ways in which wilderness programs harness constructions of gender and the wilderness, as well as subjugating disciplinary practices, for clients’ self-empowerment process. To do so, I use lenses of feminism and eco-feminism. I first define wilderness therapy, a specific type of therapy that takes place in small groups solely in the outdoors, in terms of discourses surrounding gender, power, and the wilderness. By grounding the thesis in these multiple theoretical lenses, as well the websites of Open Sky Wilderness Therapy and Second Nature Wilderness Therapy, the workbook given to students in Open Sky’s adult program (called the Pathway), a first-person narrative I wrote, and interviews with seven graduates of wilderness programs, I examine the contradictions in wilderness therapy to understand how those contradictions influence clients’ self-empowerment. I finish by arguing that wilderness therapy functions as a space of self-empowerment despite problematic treatments of the wilderness, of students’ gender, and of disciplinary power.