The Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (JTSP), compiled and edited by the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP), publishes articles relating to adolescent and child treatment throughout the world. I've had a close relationship with this association as my home in Washington DC is just a few hundred meters from their office. Just about every wilderness adventure therapy program in the states is a member of their association and their journal has been progressive in publishing our industry's latest research.
I came across a new article this year called "Poison Apples, Big Bad Wolves and other 'Happy Ending' Spoilers: Overcoming the barriers to enduring change following youth residential treatment." The most fantastic aspect of finding this article is that I read it the morning prior to attending a meeting with a school regarding re-entry for one of our previous clients. We were planning follow up support as the student had a positive experience on our most recent expedition.
In running Potomac Pathways, our followup and intensive outpatient (IOP) program for teens coming home from residential treatment back in Washington, we frequently ran into issues relating to the question, "What creates long term success?" Wilderness therapy works because young people participate it an incredibly engaging experience with staff that build a genuine therapeutic alliance. However, most research has shown that students show a slight relapse in progress within their first six months coming home prior to turning it around and continuing on a positive path for the next year and a half.
At Potomac Pathways, we successfully answered this aftercare plague by continuing to run adventure therapy outings and provide weekly group, individual and family therapy services with those that have already completed their wilderness therapy program. Young people demonstrating positive change were also able to work with us as mentors to support those students just returning home.
With True North Expeditions, we have applied the same model to families that wish to take part. We have seen that our participants value the support provided by our team and continue to sit side by side with their child on a positive path. I've said to many of you that I've met over this first year with True North Expeditions that wilderness therapy is the one of the best avenues for helping teens but that is not where the magic happens. Its the services and support networks we can apply when the teen is back home with family.
In the article referenced above, they have outlined what predicts success in a program (reported by students, staff and parents) and what were the "major external factors" that created real barriers to program success.
What Predicts Program Success
1) Staff Relationships
2) Accountability & Structure
4) Nutrition & Exercise
True North Expeditions' model has answered all of above through using evidence-based research in operating wilderness therapy expeditions for teenagers. Our staff are engaging, our Expedition Curriculum builds our students' self-esteem and our organic, whole foods diet paired with daily routines and physical exercise help in achieving a higher quality of life. However as mentioned above, the real test occurs when students return home.
Major Barriers of Long-Tern Success
1) Drugs / Alcohol (Poison Apples)
2) Negative Peer Groups (Big Bad Wolves)
3) Unchanged Family Environments
Teens who take part in our followup programs have demonstrated continued reduced drug use. When we meet as a group, our followup participants get the chance to build relationships with those who have completed our program. Our goal here is to continue to create a therapeutic community, outside of the expedition, for young people to find the difference between peers that push us to be better versus those that pull us backwards.
Unchanged family environments is the leading cause of a slip post treatment. When looking at program success, relationships and accountability/structure are the leading predictors for success and young people need this continued at home. I believe that everyone and anyone can benefit from having a therapist and counselor and believe that when we find our perfect therapist, we really begin to change the way that we positively relate to others.
For parents, this helps us to understand how our verbal tones and choice of words affect what our children "hear" and the way in which our child learns from his or her environment. Changing and controlling the way we think about our current situations can make all the difference. Its about doing something new and different to restore balance in our home.
If you're ever interested in talking about the latest findings in adolescent therapy or want to point me in the direction of some new research then I would be absolutely pleased to read anything! I am always hoping to improve True North Expeditions in order to help teens and families from all over Australia. We'll have a boy from Sydney on our upcoming expedition as well as some Victoria natives.
See you on the trail
True North Expeditions, Inc. provides adventure therapy programs and services for children and teenagers in Australia. Based in Adelaide, the TNE team writes about child and adolescent psychology, family dynamics and how adventure therapy programs can connect with struggling adolescents.