Aspen Achievement Academy Celebrates 20 Years of Pioneering Work in Wilderness Therapy

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In recognition of its 20-year anniversary, Aspen Achievement Academy reflects on two decades of service and the promising future of wilderness therapy.

We are all so proud of this program and what we've been able to accomplish in the past 20 years

Aspen Achievement Academy, one of the oldest, most reputable wilderness programs in the country, is commemorating its 20-year anniversary with a celebration of its contributions to the field and continuing successes.

"The concept of wilderness treatment grew out of experiences in the 1930s and 40s, when visionary leaders realized that if they took at-risk teenagers out into wild and put them together with competent, caring adults, good things happened," says Gil Hallows, MS, long-time executive director of the academy.

Aspen Achievement Academy's pioneering model was born out of a wilderness course at Brigham Young University that reinvigorated college freshman on the verge of academic expulsion or probation. The organizers of that program then set their sights on introducing adolescents into the wilderness to achieve the same therapeutic effect, and thus founded Aspen Achievement Academy in 1988.

Since that time, the Aspen model has served as a prototype for wilderness programs throughout the country. While some programs have compromised the wilderness component of wilderness therapy, Aspen has artfully preserved the integrity of the authentic wilderness experience while making a few significant enhancements.

One major advance at Aspen has been an uncompromising dedication to safety and risk management. Rather than diluting the wilderness experience, Aspen has perfected the ability to balance the lessons that can be learned from nature with the latest advances in safety. Aspen employs a rigid safety program including ongoing radio communication, highly trained instructors, and an emergency response team to ensure the safety of students and staff at all times.

"Since the days of our early founders, we've taken leaps and bounds in managing risk," says Hallows. "We've gone to great lengths to ensure the safety of our students through extensive staff training, preparedness exercises, and constant vigilance."

Another enhancement has been the ever-increasing sophistication of Aspen's therapeutic interventions. Hallows takes immense pride in the quality of services and depth of interaction with Aspen students and their families, as well as the level of professionalism and training Aspen staff members at all levels receive. In addition to thorough and ongoing formal training, the field instructors develop therapeutic skills through hands-on training and observing the therapists, and the therapists develop wilderness skills through their interaction with the students and staff in the field.

"A theme that runs through everything we do at Aspen is 'Built to Last,'" states Hallows. "We've created a culture that draws the best talent, where people are inclined to stay long-term, and that sincerely values the relationships we've built over time. We're confident in our ability to continue to attract long-term, high-quality employees who love working with adolescents and believe passionately in the power of the wilderness."

According to Hallows, an advantage of being one of the oldest and most respected programs in the country is having two decades of history, experience, and data to draw upon that demonstrates the effectiveness of wilderness therapy. Aspen has documented its long-standing commitment to improving the lives of troubled teens and their families through its extensive involvement in outcome and research studies and ongoing satisfaction surveys. The academy is one of the only wilderness programs to have monitored the efficacy of its interventions for over a decade.

According to these studies, more than 80 percent of adolescents treated at Aspen have improved family relations, fewer legal problems, reduced abuse of drugs, and improved performance in school.

"We are all so proud of this program and what we've been able to accomplish in the past 20 years," says Troy Faddis, MS, LMFT, the clinical director at Aspen. "That's why we're one of the few programs willing to submit data every year for researchers to analyze and draw conclusions about the safety and efficacy of wilderness therapy."

Aspen Achievement Academy operates year-round on hundreds of square miles of stunning land in southern Utah. The uniquely expansive course area allows students to truly experience the healing power of the wilderness, far removed from city life and noise, and to stop and learn about plant and animal life, touch and see different geographical areas, find dinosaur bones and old river beds, and engage actively in the program's academic curriculum.

"A lot of these kids have been running from treatment for a long time - and they've been successful. They've failed out of everything," says Faddis. "Because of our vast course area, if they want to run to try to get out of doing something, they can - and with very little risk. Kids can come here and for the first time in their lives hear 'No, you can't get out of this. You're going to have to work through it.'"

Over the years, Aspen Achievement Academy has received many accolades from national media and has been featured in the award-winning book Shouting at the Sky. Rising above most other programs of its kind, Aspen also earned the distinguished JCAHO Gold Seal of Approval, reflecting the program's commitment to the highest standards of quality, safety, and care.

As Aspen continues to reach out to families in crisis, it will also carry on monitoring its effectiveness in order to assure the continued quality and success of the program.

"We're celebrating 20 years, and we couldn't be happier," states Hallows. "Some of the programs that were established shortly after Aspen have since disappeared, so we're proud of our track record and our commitment to the continued pursuit of excellence. In all these years, we have never reached a point where we were just content with the program as is. In the coming years, we will continue to refine our approach and strive to exceed expectations, providing the best possible wilderness experience to the families we serve."

Aspen Achievement Academy is a licensed wilderness therapy program located in the high desert of southern Utah that provides "at risk" adolescents ages 13 to 17 with experiences that promote the development of self-discipline, confidence, problem-solving skills, and a healthy lifestyle. Using insight-oriented individual, group, and family therapy and modern rites of passage, troubled teens identify healthy ways to bridge the gap between adolescence and adulthood.

Aspen Achievement Academy is a proud member of Aspen Education Group, the nation's largest and most comprehensive network of therapeutic schools and programs. Aspen Education Group offers professionals and families the opportunity to choose from a variety of therapeutic settings in order to best meet a student's unique academic and emotional needs. Aspen Education Group has been profiled by major news and television organizations around the world, including U.S. News and World Report, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and People magazine, as well as on CNN, ABC's 20/20 and Good Morning America, NBC's The Today Show and Dateline NBC, National Public Radio, and the syndicated television show Dr. Phil.

Aspen is a division of CRC Health Group, the nation's largest chemical dependency and related behavioral health organization. For more information about Aspen Education Group, visit or call (888) 972-7736. For more information about Aspen Achievement Academy and the benefits of wilderness therapy, please call (800) 283-8334 or visit


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