New Family Support Services Established at SUWS of the Carolinas Wilderness Program

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Online message board, two-day parent workshops, and other program enhancements support parents of teens attending wilderness camp.

The message boards have helped me to feel less isolated and alone during this difficult time.

SUWS of the Carolinas, a therapeutic wilderness program for struggling teens, has introduced valuable new resources for parents coping with feelings of grief, loss, and isolation.

SUWS recently launched an online message board where parents can exchange information and lend support to other parents. Parents can turn to this online support group to post questions, share stories, and read about other parents' experiences, both during and after their child's stay at SUWS. Popular topics on the message board include coping with dropping off a child at camp, the benefits of the wilderness experience, and transition and aftercare planning. Brooke Judkins, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist and the Family Program Manager at SUWS, acts as moderator for the message board.

Just a few months after its introduction, the message board has already received high praise from parents. One parent wrote, "The message boards have helped me to feel less isolated and alone during this difficult time." Another posting read, "My child has recently graduated from SUWS and I couldn't have made it through without the support from other parents on the message boards!"

Based on the positive response to the message board, in January Dr. Judkins began publishing an online, biweekly therapist's column addressing any particular themes, questions, or relevant issues posted by parents on the message board. So far, her columns have covered aftercare and post-camp transitions, handling the holidays, and other pertinent topics.

Another significant addition to the parenting program at SUWS is a two-day parent workshop run by Dr. Judkins. Offered twice monthly, parents can sign up for this optional workshop upon enrolling their child at SUWS. The workshop takes place halfway through a child's stay at SUWS, generally after 3-5 weeks of camp, so the parent is supported throughout the program. The sessions accommodate roughly 8 to 12 parents at a time.

"The workshop is designed to let parents of SUWS students meet each other early in the program, share stories, and realize they are not alone," says Dr. Judkins. "In addition to learning new skills and parenting styles, most parents get a lot out of seeing firsthand what their child's program looks like, connecting with other parents, and not feeling so isolated."

Workshop sessions feature an active, hands-on approach to learning problem-solving, teamwork, and communication, and are expertly designed to help parents identify their parenting style and learn new techniques to address difficult behaviors. Parents create genograms (detailed family maps that show intergenerational patterns of behaviors), which give parents a big-picture view of the reasons behind their parenting style, where they learned certain behaviors, and how past relationships have influenced their relationship with their child.

Since the workshop's introduction in February, the response from parents has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. According to one parent, "Words cannot express how valuable the workshop was to us. It gave us techniques, different ways of looking at things, but best of all it gave us a connection to other families that have children at SUWS… If I could offer one piece of advice, it would be to attend this parent workshop."

In the words of another parent, "My daughter is in her 5th week at SUWS, and sending her was the hardest thing I've had to do. I am making it through today in large part due to the parent workshop I attended last week. I have battled grief, guilt, loss, anger, depression and confusion since she left, but I came out of the workshop feeling normal and not alone… I highly recommend this to every single parent who is struggling about sending their child to SUWS."

Recognizing that a healthier family system correlates with a healthier child, SUWS of the Carolinas has plans to continue expanding their family services with more online resources for parents and hands-on learning and growth opportunities for families. All of these program improvements will be designed to better serve the specific needs of SUWS families.

SUWS of the Carolinas is a therapeutic wilderness program with a focus on clinical intervention and assessment. The program uses the outdoors as an alternative to conventional treatment environments, while engaging students using traditional therapeutic methods. Since 1981, SUWS programs have provided guidance and support to thousands of misdirected and at-risk teens experiencing low self-esteem, defiant behavior, attention deficit, depression, substance abuse, and other behavioral issues. For more information about SUWS of the Carolinas and the benefits of wilderness therapy, please call (888) 828-9770 or visit http://www.suwscarolinas.com.

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Mark Oerther
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