“We have to put hope into action,” said Clinical Director Jennifer Hedrick. “Hope is just a thought. So unless we put it into action, we aren’t really going to inspire much of anything.”
Many parents of troubled teens who come wilderness attitude come with the attitude of treat and hope as if their teen's presence in the program will help to heal their families. Teens in wilderness therapy often have that attitude as well. However, healing does not happen after simply being exposed to treatment. For families to heal, each member of the family system has to evaluate his or her role in the family, and discover ways to help the family be healthier. The process cannot work unless people involved put effort into it. In Jennifer’s words, they have to do the work.
“The truth is like if we don’t do work on the family system then that hope is going to be an empty hope after the kids graduate because the kids are going to go home to the same environment. However, even minor changes within a system can make a huge difference,” said Jennifer.
Knowing that everyone in their family is working hard to improve the family system is encouraging to teens. In fact, it can often make a teen who is resistant to therapy willing to put work into treatment.
“It is really common for a kid to think I am the problem,” Jennifer said. While she helps teens to accept responsibility for their choices and the consequences, Jennifer also helps them to understand that these problems did not develop in isolation.
When teens see their parents working hard to improve the family, the find the hope that it is possible for things to be different. That hope inspires them to put in the work necessary for things to change.
Parents have different reactions when their teen goes to wilderness therapy. Parents of teens who are new to treatment tend to have greater optimism than parents of teens with a long treatment history.
“For these families hope probably comes in the form of fresh eyes, a fresh treatment perspective. That’s what we need to do to help parents too, to see things through different lenses because otherwise, they are not going to have any hope,” said Jennifer. “Not having hope contributes to not doing the work. Hope is important, because if you don’t have it then you are not going to do the work.”
A common challenge for both types of parents is focusing too much on the outcome of therapy rather than the process.
“Really succeeding in wilderness therapy comes with a lot of setbacks, and a lot of success. So the ones who are focused on the process don’t tend to lose hope as pervasively as the ones who are only committed to the outcome,”
That is not to say that parents should not be concerned about the outcome. Every parent who sends their teen to wilderness therapy wants their teen to learn, grow, and heal. The best way for parents to achieve that is for parents to actively participate in the process.
RedCliff Ascent helps teens and families by helping them to maintain hope, and more importantly, use that hope as a catalyst for action.