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The Therapeutic Value of Research

By Stephen C. Schultz

“One thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning” ~ James Russell Lowell

The smell of cedar and sage is everywhere. The pack is heavy, but not too bad. She used to hate carrying that thing. Now she thinks she’s getting stronger. There’s a murmur of conversation from the kids behind her. Suddenly, the sound of hiking boots against the dry dirt is pierced by a hawk’s cry! Everyone stops…no one talks. They are all thinking the same thing…I Want to Fly!

Experience is a valuable aspect of life. Individuals, families, organizations and communities all learn from experience. When working with troubled teens, RedCliff Ascent assists the teens in having healthy and helpful experiences that shape their lives for years to come.

RedCliff as an organization is no different. RedCliff must also learn from experience and continue to improve. Here are some ways RedCliff Ascent practices what it preaches.

RedCliff Ascent ( gathers extensive research data on six different areas of our Wilderness Therapy program. Those areas are student Body Composition, Staff Exit Evaluations, Parent and Student Exit Evaluations, Educational Consultants and Incident Management. This research enables us to measure specific outcomes and systematically improve therapeutic interventions and practices.

By tracking changes in student body composition RedCliff is able to quantify the health benefits of wilderness treatment. We are also able to make adjustments to diet to meet the wellness needs of each student.  Our data on body composition gives us the necessary documentation to show the physical improvements of our students as well as the emotional improvements. This data provides our students and staff with the assurance of a holistic treatment environment and brings a sense of confidence to families and referring professionals.

Exit evaluations with departing staff help us spot unhealthy cultural trends and identify areas where adjustments may be warranted. This helps us reduce staff turnover and keep a more experienced staff in the field.

RedCliff participates in University-based and peer reviewed research, giving a greater degree of objectivity to our research efforts. We have dedicated hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue to a real time data base to track student health, incident management and safety outcomes on a day by day basis.  Our operational and administrative teams review this data each week.

Graduation interviews with parents and students gather data which facilitates program improvement. In the past, this data has resulted in improvements to student apparel and gear, staff enhancements, and the DVD production of the “Parents Seminar.”

Likewise, Educational Consultants ( and other allied health professionals are also asked to complete program evaluations which provide feedback on services, family interactions, communication, and transitional planning.

Why Do I Care?

Unlike most programs in the industry, RedCliff Ascent can back up its claims with hard data. RedCliff is committed to research because it’s committed to improvement. When parents navigate the never ending sea of teen treatment options, it’s nice to know there is one program who recognizes the value of refinement.

Note: The very cool picture of the Hawk was taken by a friend and colleague Danny Fountaine. I first met Danny when he was working at RedCliff Ascent. Married, with four children, Danny currently resides in New Zeland and is "...fully engaged in the special times as well as the sundry moments of kid life."


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