Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal

, Volume 31, Issue 5, pp 475–493 | Cite as

Helping Youth Transition into an Alternative Residential School Setting: Exploring the Effects of a Wilderness Orientation Program on Youth Purpose and Identity Complexity

  • Christine Lynn NortonEmail author
  • Betsy L. Wisner
  • Matthew Krugh
  • Aleah Penn


This mixed-methods study examines the relationship between adolescent identity complexity (Clin Social Work J 21(1):11–24 1991) and youth purpose related to participation in a wilderness experience program at an alternative, residential boarding school in Colorado. Students in this study (N = 55) completed an adapted version of the Self-Worth Index (Ment Health Relig Cult 4(2):103–108 2001) before and after participation in a wilderness experience program. Youth in the study also completed a pre- and post-test eight-item index measuring identity complexity, with each item assessed on a five-point Likert scale. Likewise, qualitative, face-to-face interviews with each student were conducted to triangulate findings and further explore the impact of the wilderness program on identity complexity and youth purpose for youth labeled “high risk.” Data analysis revealed that the wilderness program contributed to students’ positive sense of identity and purpose in their lives, and helped them transition into the residential school culture successfully.


Adolescence Wilderness orientation program Alternative school Youth purpose Identity complexity 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine Lynn Norton
    • 1
    Email author
  • Betsy L. Wisner
    • 1
  • Matthew Krugh
    • 1
  • Aleah Penn
    • 1
  1. 1.Texas State University-San Marcos School of Social WorkSan MarcosUSA

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