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An Open Letter to Parents Researching RedCliff Ascent

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 think the same, dress the same, act the same, listen to the same music and sometimes get into the same types of trouble. Some 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.  As a parent, if you are looking into RedCliff Ascent, you are probably dealing with some of this now.

Please allow some added perspective on Mental Health and Substance Abuse treatment:

With issues of physical health, when your son or daughter approach you with a toothache, broken arm or stomach ache, our goal is to help them resolve the pain. They may need a filling, a cast or an appendectomy. 

With issues of Mental Health, there is generally emotional pain that is being dealt with. However, the pain is usually demonstrated through avoidance, relationship issues or destructive behaviors that include addictive or compulsive acts.

When entering treatment for mental health issues, the emotional "Pain" is rarely relieved immediately. In fact, it often gets worse before it gets better. In almost all treatment settings, when someone leaves a program or doesn't return to outpatient therapy or leaves two days into a 30 day rehab center, it's not about physical distress. It's the struggle of facing the emotional pain.

If 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 these teens are developing. The patterns and skills we are talking about will not serve them well in adulthood. These are the very patterns that caused the parents to reach out for an intervention in the first place.

Should a student find 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. On very rare occasions, RedCliff works with a student that may refuse to eat or drink. They may leave camp unaccompanied or collude with others to “Run Away”. The point being, students will continue to use the same coping skills they used at home…because it’s all they know.

All of this is anticipated and prepared for. RedCliff is prepared to deal with all of these choices should they happen. What parents need to realize is that it is the student making the choices and it is the student trying to maintain the same level of influence over the family…only from a distance. When this takes place, and it always does in one form or another, parents then start to understand it is simply the student shifting attention and accountability from themselves to someone else. When these situations happen, it is very diagnostic and the parents can truly assess the level of commitment the student has to reintegrating into the family system. This allows the parents to recognize how much “work” may be needed moving forward.

This is one of the most difficult times for parents. In “your gut” parents know he/she needs to be there. However, there is the constant worry, frustration and sometimes guilt that parents feel having to enroll their son/daughter in treatment in the first place. Then, there is the issue that disrupting these patterns is difficult for the parents as well. Over the years, as uncomfortable as it has been, there is at least some sense of normalcy to the dysfunction parents have been living with. Change is difficult for all involved.

Below are some blog post articles I hope you find helpful. They will assist parents in understanding the purpose of RedCliff and why we do what we do.

RedCliff Ascent - for those who want the best

Working with Treatment Resistant Teens

RedCliff Ascent has operation permits and is regulated by the BLM and the Utah Dept. of Human Services, Office of Licensing. RedCliff is accredited through The Association for Experiential Education (AEE) and is a founding member of the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council (OBH).

It is important to note that a portion of the BLM fees paid by RedCliff Ascent are used locally. A campground on Beaver Creek and visitor structures at Parowan Gap are a direct result of RedCliff's private funding.

Is RedCliff Ascent safe for my child?

Because RedCliff works with students and families burdened with mental health, family relationship and emotional concerns, RCA has invested resources into a private plot of land. We own 168 acres in the middle of our field of operation. Safety is paramount. We have permanent shelters, fresh water from a well, emergency supplies and food. We have practiced setting up a landing site with the St. George Life Flight Helicopter. We have a snow cat for winter time; we have our staff trained as Wilderness First Responders. We maintain a radio system and repeater tower out in the field to ensure consistent communications. We have GPS, SAT phones and a drone. We have immediate access to motor cycles, four wheelers’ and other equipment necessary for situations like those mentioned above. Our Director of Special Projects is a master tracker, having been taught by experts from Quantico and having a history of teaching tracking courses. We are not surprised by the above mentioned behaviors because we are prepared. Safety of the students is always first and foremost in our efforts.


Denise said…
Thank you so much, Steve. I am very impressed by your description of this program and your quick summary of the dynamics of teen outlook. I have 3 adult children, of whom I'm very proud and who are doing very well. They survived the chaos of living in the drug culture. I also have 3 younger kids, beginning their journey. They are 13, 14 & 7 years old. Regrettably, they aren't with me.
Denise said…
And...I am worried about them as I feel no one is addressing any issues they may have. They aren't allowed to talk about them things, at least with me. You see, they're in a guardianship with their aunt, due to DV & dug abuse. I wish I could've had the opportunity to have attended a place like this as a teen, though I didn't have an addiction yet. The rebellious attitude was there. My life would've been different and I might've seen success. Do you suggest anything for adults? I need them to come home. Thank you.
Thank you for your comment Denise. I apologize for the delayed response. Making a specific recommendation would be very difficult. Most cities and towns do have services locally for mental health and substance abuse concerns. A google search in your particular location should turn up some options. All the best!
One more thing Denise, I want to knowledge the courage, insight and determination that it took for you to write the above comment. Thank you for sharing. Warmest regards Denise...Steve
Donna4848 said…
Hi i need too find out were your programms are based throught the country at different cities as i am trying to help my friend with her very troubled son whom is off down the wrong road and has taken canabis hes been in care and is now 15yrs back home due to the social services unable to find appropriate placement as he has really bad issues trusting his elders or family or social workers. I as a friend knows ben from the age of 3 needs this kind of help you offer as i do believe this help could change his life around for the better so do your programms run through out did towns cities world wide thank you for any help or advice given.
Hi Donna, Thank you for reaching out. It is always frustrating to see a son, daughter, friend or family member heading down a destructive path and feeling helpless to do anything...or, the therapy that is tried doesn't seem to work.

Our particular program is located in Southwest Utah near the Arizona boarder.

Here is another link to the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs that may also be helpful.
Anonymous said…
I am 100% convinced that your programme is the one that would change my son's future for the better. We live in Europe and there's nothing like it here. We've tried every route to help our son but so far, no-one has been able to help and he says he doesn't need any - but we know he does. He's getting on better at school lately though, but I still fear for his future because of his utter disregard of rules, his weed smoking (and possibly dealing activities), anger outbursts, etc. He would never agree to participate in your programme, that I know. We just don't know what to do anymore.
Thank you so much for your comment! You can contact Graham Cook in the UK. Here is his website

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