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Topic: Culture & Communities     Department: Letters

Wild subversion

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I enjoyed your coverage of wilderness therapy ("Wilderness therapy redefines itself," HCN, 2/3/14). Krista Langlois' sympathetic yet honest reporting presents the practice of wilderness therapy in an accurate and generous light.

I do wish, however, that Langlois was more critical of our culture's underlying assumptions – to which wilderness therapy is a necessary corrective. For instance, she identifies cost as the root of the industry's "struggle for mainstream legitimacy." Rather, cost is simply symptomatic of the assumption that value can be quantified, manipulated and sold. These assumptions are further evidenced by the insurance industry's unwillingness to fund treatments with limited empirical support. Naturally, in this environment, wilderness therapy advocates have sought to provide the necessary metrics and performance in order to be treated as legitimate in the health industry.

It may seem like these systems of thinking are merely a way to secure the best possible outcomes, or to hedge one's bets when making an investment by reducing risk. But the way we think, and what we do, change the way we perceive ourselves and our world. Specifically, in the case of technology and science, the process of quantification posits the world and even ourselves as material resources to be used. This perspective is pervasive. Notice that we no longer have "personnel" departments at work, we have "human resources" departments. In the political sphere, the government supports engineering and science education only to create the drivers of the future economy."

This has profound psychological and spiritual impacts. Research is showing that a great deal of the value of wilderness in our psychological and spiritual landscapes is that wilderness subverts this form of thinking. It offers humanity a more primordial relationship to the world. The more wilderness therapy advocates engage in the empirical and technological thinking of our culture, the more they undermine their own ability to subvert and correct that thinking.

J.W. Pritchett
Ketchum, Idaho

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