I went to shorter wilderness program in the middle of the winter in Oregon. When I got there, they strip searched me and took my stuff. I was given clothes and put in the back of a pick up truck with those removal plastic tops. After that I was driven up into the mountains at dusk. By the time we stopped, it was dark out. I was given snowshoes and was told to strap on a sled to drag some of our supplies (this duty rotated). We were hiking to some place in the dark in the Oregon mountains in January. I stopped and told them this was bullshit. They said I was free to walk away assuming I would be scared to. I unhooked the sled and started to walk away. They tackled me and made me put the sled back on and keep marching.
I remember being really cold all the time. Our tents didn't have bottoms. We had to dig a hole to put our boots in and sleep on top of them at night to prevent them from freezing stiff. It was 21 or 22 days out there. The guides were nice enough, but reflecting on it as an adult, their qualifications were more related to being able to hike than to counsel teenagers. I remember the stars being beautiful at night. I remember the hikes were grueling and I looked emaciated when I finished. We weren't supposed to go into each other's mids (tents without bottoms). The last night, I heard a bunch of other kids in one of the mids. When I went in, they were all huffing gas from the tanks we used for our camping stoves.
Despite doing well in that program and being considered a leader, they recommended I get sent somewhere else. I went on to military school followed by a two year stint at the now closed Elan School. The wilderness program wasn't even my first program. I went for a 3 month stint at Turn-About Ranch when I was 14. They had a wilderness program in the same town called Northstar. It was shut down the year prior after a kid was thought to be complaining to get out of hiking. He had a perforated ulcer and was bleeding to death. The famous writer Jon Krakauer wrote an article for Outside Magazine about it called "Loving them to Death."
I was 15 for the wilderness program. It has since been closed to due to participant deaths. I know one of the deaths was considered an accident. A large branch from a tree felling on someone while they were sleeping. At their program in Nevada, a girl died of heatstroke. I think there was one more.
As far as therapeutic boarding schools go, I went to the notorious Elan School. Look it up. You will find all kinds of horrific shit about it. During my time there, I was in a house with roughly 120 kids (we came in and left 1 at a time, so this is just a guess). The house population was between 45-60 at any given time. I've lost count of how many are dead now. I'd guess at least 25%, but possibly more. Suicide, drug overdoses, a couple murders. Some are dead, but I don't know what happened. A lot disappeared and none of us know what happened. They could fine. Recently, I found one guy everyone thought was dead and he was doing awesome. However, I also found another people had been looking for and he'd been dead for 17 years.
I bring this up because people all these troubled teen placements are trying to make a profit. It's commonly a one size fits all program. Some kids end up in these places for disturbing crimes. Other kids got smoking a joint or skipping school and their parents sent them there. Nor does success in these programs predict much. One kid who had done extremely well was murdered by his friend while smoking meth out in the woods. His friend went crazy, slit his throat, and left him to bleed out. Another kid who was just in there before me, murdered his mom with a sledgehammer. Kids who had never even done drugs would come out a few years later and end up heroin addicts.
That doesn't mean others didn't do well after leaving. One of my peers is a high powered lawyer in big law firm. Another is a fairly famous healthcare political activist who is quoted in the Washington Post and interviewed on television. Many move on to be normal people. But, most of us are somewhat or extremely haunted by it.
The truth is, it's all a crap shoot. No program has any guarantees. Also, while parents might send their kids to these places because they love them and want to get help, it can feel like you are being thrown away like a piece of garbage. For me personally, with each place I went, my relationship with my parents got worse. The anger just built up at them. So, I would do great at a program. Then I would come back home and it would get bad again. Most programs unfortunately do not look at the larger context a kid's problems exist in. They are the problem. The program is being paid to make them the focus of the problem. However, in my extensive experience in these places, sure, the kids were usually fucked up, but so was most of the family. The kid was just what was called in psychology lingo the "identified patient". Kids don't usually just become messed up in a vacuum. But, in a for profit endeavor, the customer is always right. Even in cases where the parents are supposed to be involved in the therapy, it's only to a point. After all, they are the ones cutting the check. So, it creates some pretty perverse incentives.
Sorry for the wall of text. I hope some insight can be drawn from my words, but everyone's situation is different.
Question for teens that have gone to a wilderness experience for 8 weeks or more: (Reddit meassage board)