It seems counterintuitive. The thing you want most in the world is to bring your family together. Then why on Earth would you send away your troubled teen to the Utah desert? How could being away from your teen for weeks at a time help anything get better? However, sometimes the best answers are the ones that seem the least likely. By sending away your teen, you are taking that impressionable young person away from the situation that drives your teen’s negative behaviors. You are giving your teen the chance to reconnect with nature--and your teen’s true self. Meanwhile, your family will also be learning skills to create lasting change back home.
The promise of wilderness therapy is that when your teen returns from RedCliff Ascent, both you and your teen will have the skills you need to come together as a family. RedCliff Ascent has more than two decades of experience making good on that promise.
Still, RedCliff Ascent is not the first choice for most families. By the time most families come to RedCliff Ascent, they are in a state of chaos.
“Typically, when families first come here, everyone or most everyone is angry and hurt and scared. There are no lines of communication... Parents are desperate because parents feel like they are losing their child. Kids feel like they can never do anything right.”
During all this chaos, families feel there has got to be a different way to all this. They are right. There is RedCliff Ascent.
“We interrupt whatever the family is doing whatever that child is doing. We bring the kids out here, introduce structure, and teach teens how to communicate without yelling, fighting, and anger,” said Darcy. “Kids learn to say how they feel. In this day and age when everything is electronic or texting, and people lose that ability to look somebody in the eye and say, ‘This makes me feel uncomfortable.’”
That is not to suggest that teens will be the only ones who are making changes during their time at RedCliff Ascent. The family back home will have weekly meetings with a licensed therapist via video conferencing. During these sessions, parents will learn new techniques for connecting with their teen.
Rather than anxiously waiting back home while expecting their teen to do all the work, parents are expected to do homework of their own. Parents read relevant books, participate in therapy, write letters, and complete therapeutic exercises.
Clinical Director Jennifer Hendrick emphasizes the importance of parents putting work into their teen’s recovery. She said, “The truth is if we don’t work on the family system then any hope for change is going to be an empty hope because teens are going to go home to the same environment.”
“It sounds almost absurd to say that you are not going to talk to your son or daughter for 65 to 70 days and in that time you will be doing family therapy to heal your relationship. The Parent Narrative Therapy we are doing will heal that line of communication. By communicating through letters we take all the energy out of the discussion and families are able to get down to what is really going on,” said Darcy.
There is an abundance of evidence to show that Darcy’s optimism is correct. For most students and families who participate in wilderness therapy, the family situation changes for the better. , According to self-reported information, not only does the situation improve after the students’ graduate but most families also sustain these improvements for more than a year after they return home.