Social work has long supported activity-based group work for young people. One such approach includes outdoor behavioral healthcare (OBH), also known as wilderness therapy, which often employs nonclinical field staff to lead outdoor activities as part of the overall treatment model. Although men and women both serve as field guides, the culture of OBH has historically been male-dominated, at times obscuring the voices and perspectives of female staff in the field. For this reason, a feminist social work lens was employed in order to engage in a qualitative gender analysis of women field guides’ experiences in OBH.
Focus groups were used in this study to better understand gender as experienced by individuals who identify as women working as field guides in OBH.
Results indicated that women experienced gender at intrapersonal, interpersonal, and program levels in ways that contributed to both empowerment and obstacles to leadership roles and longevity in the field. Identified needs included training for all staff on gender, women in leadership roles, and all women’s spaces.
Implications for social work practice are discussed, aimed at supporting women’s development and creating work environments most conducive to learning and growth for staff and clients alike.