Two Dayton-area therapists have turned to Mother Nature in search of an action-oriented strategy to build confidence and self-esteem in troubled teen-agers.

Taking teens on a long hike is part of the "wilderness therapy" often used by Dene Berman and his wife, Jenny Davis-Berman, who have a private practice in suburban Beavercreek called Lifespan Counseling Associates."Our program started off based on our own personal experience," says Berman. "Backpacking is a wonderful non-verbal way of getting some release and finding a new way of sorting out some issues."

Berman, a psychologist, works primarily with adolescents and teaches part-time at Wright State University. His wife is an assistant professor of social work at the University of Dayton.

"Traditional kinds of therapeutic settings don't work very well for children sometimes," Berman says. "Action is the way kids learn how to relate to the world."

The couple has planned and engineered several backpacking trips for psychiatric hospitals. Their program is in its fifth year.

Berman says the trips last 11 to 14 days and include six to eight children -both boys and girls - ages 13 to 18.

"We do group therapy there," he says. "This is a very intense experience."

Berman says follow-up studies show that the teens' problem symptoms fell 60 percent after a trip and remained at that level a year later.

"To get very dramatic results like that in symptom remission over such a short period of time and remain stable over a long period of time is very promising," he adds.

Hiking trips have included excursions to the upper peninsula of Michigan, the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania and Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky.

"Everything is pushed toward kids' solving problems for themselves," he says. "They're dependent upon the consequences of their behavior."

The first few days are spent setting up a base camp and teaching the kids how to use equipment, safety procedures, map and compass and other wilderness skills. Group counseling, says Berman, begins at once.

Teens on the hiking trips may be depressed, withdrawn, suicidal, suffer emotional outbursts, have difficulty accepting authority figures or need help accepting responsibility.

For the most part, Berman says, hiking in the wilderness helps teens realign their sense of priorities. In a wilderness setting, he says, what is important is whether one has shelter from the rain, a warm sleeping bag and a fire at night.

"Those are some values . . . that kids in society today don't get in touch with very often," he says. "They take all of those things for granted."