Aspen Education Group's Wilderness Therapy Programs Help Combat Teen Risk-Taking During Summer Vacation

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Parents who want their teens to learn new skills over summer vacation, but who also want to address problematic behaviors such as drug or alcohol use, defiance, academic frustration or low self-esteem, have found the best of both worlds at wilderness therapy programs.

Wilderness therapy programs allow teens to have a focused, positive and emotionally enriching experience over the summer, while being presented with various leadership and mentoring opportunities.

Teenagers all across the country are counting the days until summer, while their parents are beginning to worry about how they’ll keep their children safe when school is out. In June and July, when the days are long and the weather is warm, the likelihood increases that teens will experiment with drugs and alcohol, spend more unsupervised time with friends and engage in other risky behaviors.

Parents who want their children to learn new skills over summer vacation, but who also want to address certain behaviors that concern them, such as drug or alcohol use or defiance, have found the best of both worlds at wilderness therapy programs.

“Wilderness therapy programs allow teens to have a focused, positive and emotionally enriching experience over the summer, while being presented with various leadership and mentoring opportunities,” said Neal Christensen, the clinical director at Outback Therapeutic Expeditions, a wilderness therapy program for teens in Lehi, Utah.

Because teenagers’ brains are still developing, adolescence is an ideal time for therapeutic wilderness camp. Their thought and behavior patterns can still be modified, any mental health issues can be managed, and behavioral issues may be staved off by getting treatment as early as possible.

“Parents have an opportunity when their child is just beginning to head down the wrong path to pull the child out of a toxic situation and place them in an environment where they have a chance to think about where they’re going and receive support as they learn and grow,” said Christensen.

Historically, people sought out nature as a way to find clarity and purpose, and the great outdoors can be an important part of the therapeutic process for today’s youth. Wilderness therapy offers a safe, structured and clinically sophisticated rite of passage that can help teens reflect on their choices and set goals for the future.

“Aside from weddings, funerals and graduations, there are few rites of passage left,” said Jesse Quam, MSW, LCSW, the clinical director at SUWS of the Carolinas wilderness program for struggling teens. “Wilderness therapy creates a unique opportunity for teens to mark their transition into young adulthood.”

Wilderness therapy programs serve teens with a wide range of learning, emotional and behavioral issues. In the summer, wilderness camp can be particularly beneficial for teens who:

  •     Hung in there just long enough to make it through the school year but have started making questionable decisions and are heading down a path that could pose a threat to their well-being and next year’s school performance
  •     Tend to make poor decisions when they have a lot of unstructured, unsupervised time
  •     Want a summer camp experience but need extra structure and supervision to stay out of trouble
  •     Recently experienced a major life stressor such as a death or divorce and need to develop new coping skills in order to deal with their emotions more effectively
  •     Need a completely new type of therapeutic experience in order to commit to treatment and achieve personal growth

“Summer is a great time to attend wilderness camp,” said Quam. “The days are longer, teens don’t have to miss school to participate and they can come explore some of the most beautiful regions of the country.”

Teens who participate in a full-length wilderness program over the summer don’t sacrifice their schoolwork, and teens who have a busy summer schedule can participate in a program like SUWS Adolescent and Youth Programs in Idaho that requires as little as 28 days.

“A summer in the wilderness can be a leadership- and confidence-building experience,” said Kathy Rex, the executive director of SUWS Adolescent and Youth Programs, which offers separate groups, activities and age-appropriate curricula for 11- to 13-year-olds and 14- to 17-year-olds. “After a few weeks of hiking, group activities and counseling, teens can return home and enjoy the rest of the summer with their family or continue building new skills in a therapeutic environment.”

One summer at a wilderness program can make all the difference when teens go back to school in fall. Graduates’ behaviors often show marked improvement – they’ve built stronger relationships with their families, and they’ve gained an academic advantage through months of hands-on learning. Some wilderness therapy programs even offer academic credit.

While adolescents are working on their issues at camp, their parents are working with the program therapists to understand how they’re contributing to the family’s challenges and to set goals for the next school year. The break gives the entire family a chance to de-stress and re-group before the teen returns home.

“In many households, everyone is so busy and stressed during the school year, they begin to lose touch with one another,” said Christensen. “A summer in wilderness therapy can help everyone focus, start speaking the same language and put together a plan to make next year more successful.”

About Aspen’s Wilderness Therapy Programs

Outback Therapeutic Expeditions is a wilderness program for teens ages 13 to 17 that blends the best of the "ancient cultural systems" with the most effective and proven therapeutic processes. Students at Outback experience the highest standards of safety and therapy in the context of one of the most powerful settings for real change: the wilderness.

SUWS of the Carolinas is a therapeutic wilderness program for adolescents ages 10-17 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.

SUWS Youth and Adolescent Programs offers therapeutic wilderness programs for boys and girls ages 11 to 17. Since 1981, SUWS programs have provided guidance and support to thousands of misdirected and at-risk teens who are experiencing low self-esteem, defiant behavior, attention deficit, depression, substance abuse, and other emotional and behavioral issues.

SUWS and Outback are part of Aspen Education Group, the nation’s leading provider of therapeutic education programs for struggling or underachieving young people. Aspen’s services range from short-term intervention programs to residential treatment, and include a variety of therapeutic settings, such as boarding schools, outdoor behavioral health programs and special needs summer camps. The broad scope of services offered by Aspen Education Group provides professionals and families with the opportunity to choose the best setting to meet a student’s unique academic and emotional needs.

Aspen Education Group is a member of CRC Health Group, the most comprehensive network of specialized behavioral care services in the nation. For over two decades, CRC Health has been achieving successful outcomes for individuals and families.

For more information, please call (866) 515-5202 or visit SUWS Youth and Adolescent Programs, Outback Therapeutic Expeditions, or SUWS of the Carolinas.

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