By Stephen C. Schultz
"We will be known forever by the tracks we leave."
Having been raised in Oregon, I spent the majority of my childhood and teenage year’s steelhead fishing the coastal waters, climbing the Middle Sister in the Cascade Mountain Range, drifting the McKenzie River and hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
I have mentioned to friends, family and colleagues on many occasions;
“From a therapeutic standpoint, there is no better place to have a student’s issues manifested quickly than in a wilderness setting.”
The question then becomes, “Why do therapeutic issues rise to the surface in an Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare program like RedCliff Ascent?”
Throughout the years of teenage development, most teens spend a lot of time with friends. These friends thinks the same, dress the same, act the same, listen to the same music and get into the same types of trouble. The teens also develop patterns of communication and manipulation while simultaneously avoiding the tasks of adolescent development. They are engaged in an effort to gain and maintain as much influence as possible with their parents…many times interacting with them more as a peer than as their parent.
When a son or daughter has patterns of behavior that become emotionally or physically dangerous, parents step in and seek treatment. However, for treatment to be most effective, these unhealthy patterns must be disrupted. I cannot over emphasize the importance of disrupting the harmful thought, behavior and relationship patterns of these teens. These are the very patterns that caused parents to reach out for an intervention in the first place.
When a student finds them-self at RedCliff, they will try to maintain some sense of control over their surroundings. They are in an unfamiliar setting and are fully focused on maintaining control. However, the only skills they have are the same skills of manipulation and avoidance that got them to RedCliff in the first place. For example, when a student writes a “Pull Me” letter, the student has thought very carefully about what to say to their parents. If they know that mom is always concerned about cleanliness, they will be sure and mention how they sleep on the ground at RedCliff. If dad likes his meals prepared a certain way, the rice and lentils will certainly be mentioned, even though the diet has been prepared and reviewed by a dietitian and the students are required to have a 3000 calorie per day diet. If mom hates bugs, or mice or snakes, they will all be used in the letter. If the student has a pattern of avoidance at home, that same pattern may manifest itself in the wilderness. Students may refuse to hike. They may refuse to eat or drink. They may leave camp unaccompanied or collude with others to “Run Away”. The point being, they will continue to use the same coping skills they used at home…because it’s all they know.