Reaching the Summit

When you take clients from their negative environment, place them into an environment that has a healthy culture and engage in activities that build them as individuals, you maximize opportunities for change to happen. Being outdoors limits distraction, making it easier to do the internalized work required to establish a life in recovery. These wilderness experiences can have profound impacts in a very short period of time.

It just makes sense: Picture someone receiving therapy on a couch. Now, picture that same person receiving the same type of therapy but hiking through a slot canyon. Which one do you think is more effective? It makes you wonder why we are still doing therapy on a couch.

If a client does a little better than he expected on a rock wall or while skiing, he learns something. That builds his self-efficacy, which then transfers back to his school and home environments. Our clients learn and practice the skill of slowing down reacting, evaluating the situation and choosing an appropriate response.

When we increase client investment and create opportunities for clients to take ownership of the experience, we enhance their self-efficacy, which supports them in making lasting internalized changes.

However, it takes field guides with a lot of skill and experience to create a space that maintains a safe culture and an environment where clients can step forward, have choice and take ownership. Our field guides have the wisdom to know when to provide leadership and when they need to turn the reins over to the clients.

RC: Tell us about the atmosphere you promote.

DD: We place an emphasis on welcoming people to our community and on building a healthy, strong culture. For every person who comes to Legacy — whether they are clients, staff or visitors — we welcome them to our program. We are never too busy to stop what we’re doing and acknowledge where people have come from and how they came here. We want to honor their journey and the experiences they have to offer. This builds trust and relationships.

RC: What is the program’s structure?

DD: We are the only licensed outdoor behavioral health care program that also is accredited as a residential treatment program. Clients are with us about 90 days. Once they are here, they spend three days a week at the residential treatment center, which is a lodge on the lake, where they do 22 hours of clinical treatment and prepare for their adventures, doing tasks like washing their clothes, getting gear ready and planning. Then, they go out on an adventure and execute the plan that they took part in putting together. We look for every opportunity to bring them back to the therapeutic goals. They return to the lodge and process the adventure. One of the elements that makes these experiences powerful and lasting is the planning of the excursion, execution of the adventure and the debriefing after we return. If you don’t do proper planning and allow the clients to be a part of that side and if you don’t create space to debrief, then you’re limiting the opportunity for internalizing growth.

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