Reaching the Summit

The Legacy program concludes with a visit to Summit House, where clients use all the skills they learned from the first part of the program. They also focus on relapse prevention planning, high-risk mapping and preparing their after-care plans. So, those last two weeks to a month, they focus on their transition. We want people graduating from our program with a solid plan. The only way to do that is to give them the time to focus specifically on that.

RC: Describe how the clients interact with one another.

DD: Our program is open enrollment, so we can have clients who just arrived going out on an adventure with others who have been here for weeks. Clients can have roles. For example, clients who have been here for a while can take on the role of expedition leader under the direction and with the support of the field guides — but that client is the person setting the tone. Or, you might have someone who is newer serving as the assistant cook, equipment coordinator or navigator.

The peer support component is essential. Having some clients who have been there longer helps us maintain a high emotional safety in the group. All of our clients have chosen to be here, so the buy-in is a little higher than in other programs. The peer support is what makes them want to stay. For example, take a client who struggled a few weeks ago and now is experiencing change and internal growth. That client can say to someone who is going through a similar experience: “I know what it’s like to be there. I was there, too. And I encourage you to stay.”

RC: How does mindfulness play a role?

DD: We practice mindfulness with the goal of creating heightened self-awareness. We engage with our clients and teach and practice mindfulness daily. We begin everything with a moment of awareness — it’s equal facilitation and education. There are many different ways that the wilderness environment lends itself to mindfulness exercises. But we want to be sure that the clients continue to practice mindfulness after they leave. We help them develop individual practices so they can take these concepts with them.

RC: How do you involve families?

DD: We start working with the families immediately in preparation for the family workshop, which we intentionally schedule three-quarters of the way through the program. Often, the family component at programs is at the end, but we don’t want to create a false summit. This is when we do intense family work. Timing it this way allows the clients and their families to process the experience, then continue to work and see what dynamics arise.

Family members write letters of commitment to encourage client engagement with the program and “impact letters,” which state to the client how his behavior has impacted the family. Additionally, we ask that family members write weekly letters discussing goals and expectations with the client and to be engaged with us as treatment team members.

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