The Therapy Experience (Our Clinical Work)

Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents
    After Wilderness Family Therapy Dad and Kid Hug

    Our Team

    At RedCliff Ascent we always strive for excellence especially when choosing and maintaining our staff. You can be assured that your teen is receiving the best care from our therapists and field staff. Each individual member of our team is an integral part of your child’s therapy experience. We know how important it is to you as the parent that your teen is taken care of and is guided on the path of recovery.

    Your teen is in good hands.

    Clinical Staff (Our Therapists)

    RedCliff Ascent has some of the greatest therapists on staff. Our staff has the knowledge needed to improve your teen’s behaviors. All of our therapists are licensed by the State of Utah with a minimum of a master’s degree in counseling.

    Because of our continued emphasis on research, our clinical approach to therapy is based on the fundamental practices known to produce desired results. We know what works. Our therapists are interactive and monitor students’ progress weekly, ensuring that each teen is receiving the specific care and guidance needed to improve.

    Our clinical team works hard to understand and to sympathize with each participant. They have a way of digging deep and extracting those very things that your teen is struggling with. Together with the field staff, they are able to reach your teen, helping them to heal one little bit at a time.

    Field Staff

    Our field staff are an integral part of the therapy experience. They interact with your teen on a daily basis, facilitating and leading all outdoor activities. During shift changes our outgoing staff meet with incoming staff to discuss changes in behavior. This helps us to stay united in our therapy treatment plans. The staff also work closely with our therapists to ensure that each participant is receiving the right kind of treatment. The field staff meet with therapists to discuss, ask questions, exchange relevant information, and plan each participant’s treatment strategy. The clinical staff hold weekly team meetings to familiarize and explain the concepts behind different therapy approaches. This allows the field staff to create an approach that they feel works best with each individual, without sacrificing the core of these principals. Because our field staff are with participants all the time, it is imperative that they understand all aspects of the treatment process.

    To facilitate this exchange between therapists and field staff, we follow the transactional analysis approach. The field staff monitor the interactions of the participants with other participants and with the field staff themselves. This helps form a basis for understanding each teen’s behavior. Combined with the field staff’s observations and the clinical team’s knowledge of therapy practices, the groundwork for a treatment plan is set. Field workers are able to contact therapists at any time, letting the clinical team know of changes in behavior.

    To facilitate an effective exchange between therapists and field staff, we use a few methods. First, therapists and field staff meet individually to discuss relative treatment information and history. This exchange allows the staff and therapist to discuss how a teen is progressing and the barriers that are being experienced. Additionally, the therapist and field staff also have an exchange with the student present. This exchange is structured after interventions used in family therapy and allow the student to be part of reporting on their successes and struggles. This process also provides teens with perspective on how others view their struggles. To help facilitate the interactions our staff are trained on a few models that are useful in understanding behaviors. The field staff monitor the interactions of the participants with other participants and with the field staff themselves using a transactional analysis model. This helps form a basis for understanding each teen’s behavior. Combined with the field staff’s observations and the clinical team’s knowledge of therapy practices, the groundwork for a treatment plan is set. Field workers are able to contact therapists at any time, letting the clinical team know of changes in behavior.

    Types of Therapy

    We approach therapy from three different angles, all important and crucial to our participants’ success in the program.

    Individual Therapy

    Wilderness therapy provides a unique opportunity in which each participant is put in an environment where their every action has real-life consequences. Taken away from the home, teens come to understand the course of their actions and the reasoning behind the decisions they make. Changing the setting shows each participant that running away from his or her problems is no longer an option. They realize the things they have taken for granted and become dependent on are no longer readily available. They become accountable for themselves and those around them. In the wilderness, they learn to confront what it is that is causing their struggles. Through structured individual therapy sessions (and some spontaneous sessions), with the help of our therapists, your teen is able to root out unwanted behaviors and problems.

    Group Therapy

    Group therapy is an integral part of RedCliff Ascent. Weekly therapy sessions are conducted with our clinical team, along with various field staff therapy sessions on a more frequent basis. Our field staff facilitates group meetings on multiple areas (typically pertaining to whatever activity is happening) each allowing the participants to understand the purpose behind what they are doing at that time. This allows teens to process and internalize what skills are being taught to them. They can ask questions and glean insight from these group sessions. Teens are able to initiate group discussions whenever they feel necessary.

    Many truths can be learned through group therapy. Some of the topics discussed include the development and maintaining of healthy relationships, problem-solving, and the understanding of behavior (psychoeducational evaluation). Peer lead groups can also help participants give proper feedback for each other. When working so closely with others, participants can see how their actions affect those around them. Providing these assessments of one another allows for the growth of the individual and the group as a whole.

    One of the main purposes of group therapy as a whole is to illicit genuine responses from their changing environment. Interpreting their experiences in wilderness therapy is a first step on the recovery path. Challenging and confronting their preconceived behaviors allows for emotional growth. Showing emotions and then learning where those feelings come from leads to necessary changes.

    Family Therapy

    The importance of family is a crucial element of RedCliff Ascent. The goal of wilderness therapy is to be able to heal, not only the participant but the family rifts as well. We set out to bring families back together. Family Therapy allows parents to take part in the treatment process. RedCliff Ascent uses a unique treatment called Wilderness Narrative Family Therapy where participants interact with their families through weekly letters and narrative writing assignments. These narratives serve several purposes. Therapists are able to gauge a parent’s desire to help their teen heal. Parents are able to communicate their side of the story to their teens in a non-judgmental and loving way. These narratives are introduced to the teen at specific times during their recovery, ensuring that they are in the right mind space to be able to hear and comprehend their parent’s concerns. Wilderness Narrative Family Therapy is unique to RedCliff Ascent and we believe it to be a crucial step toward long-lasting recovery.

    The Journey

    Wilderness therapy is a process. Healing takes time and effort, but with the right tools and the right treatment plan, recovery is possible! At RedCliff Ascent, therapy doesn’t just take place in an office with a therapist, it is a constant thing. Every minute of every day here is meant to challenge and improve. Your teen could be making a fire, hiking in the high desert, or carving a spoon, and still they are learning how to be better. They learn that choices are their responsibility, not something that is forced on them. Participants learn accountability for their actions.

    Our therapists and field staff understand how to convey this to your teen. Through wilderness experience, we work to eliminate the “what can I get away with” mentality that is often present in other forms of outpatient therapy. We move beyond that beginning stage of a teen’s realization that something has to change. In many programs, this is where treatment stops. At RedCliff Ascent, this is just the beginning for us. The start of your teen’s journey to recovery.

    Daily Life

    So what exactly happens day to day in wilderness therapy?

    Our participants participate in various adventure activities to help facilitate a change in behavior. At RedCliff Ascent, wilderness therapy is a means to cut away life’s distractions. In a society obsessed with technology and the immediacy of anything and everything one could want, teens struggle to become accustomed to life without such things as cell phones and fast food. As they adjust to their settings, participants come to see the beauty and healing power of nature. Participants are assigned a group in which they learn “hard skills” in a wilderness setting. A typical day might have teens creating a shelter or carving eating utensils. Students learn and practice wilderness survival skills such as bow/drill fire making, orienteering, botanical identification, journaling, and low-impact camping. For many students the adventure group activities are what initially engages them in the program. These adventures provide a way to elicit eustress (healthy stress), and helps a teenager who is stuck emotionally or behaviorally engage with his peers and the treatment team in a fun and challenging way. The nomadic lifestyle keeps the participants in tune with nature and their surroundings to better understand their own significance in the world. Teens will walk an average of three to seven miles a day. We use “hard skills” as a way to measure teen’s readiness to put aside their “center of the universe” mentality. By mastering these mundane skills, participants take part in a sort of Mr. Miyagi approach. They learn the meaning behind such base tasks. Helping your teen understand these meanings is one of the main targets of our therapeutic treatment. Each of these activities is part of a clinical approach to therapy and designed to build relationships, assess problems, and treat struggling participants.

    Beyond learning hard skills, your teen will develop the proper interpersonal and emotional regulation skills necessary for them to manage their life in an age-appropriate way. RedCliff Ascent works to help teens remove those buffers that tend to stunt their abilities to put up emotional and interpersonal walls. The way our program is set up allows immediate response and feedback when a teen is reverting back to their original behaviors. Because they are receiving constant feedback from their group, it helps participants to learn healthy ways to manage their emotions. Without the usual distractions of normal life, they are able to develop age-appropriate responses to difficult emotions.

    Steps to Recovery

    At RedCliff Ascent we understand that every participant is different. The time frame for recovery might be one way for one teen and much longer for another. However, there is a process in which every student goes through in wilderness therapy. The program is made up of Eight curriculum stages. Our therapists and our field staff are cognizant of these steps and help to create a smooth transition from one stage of treatment to the next.

    One of the biggest proponents of wilderness therapy is the idea that we make sure our participants move past that “wake-up call” stage. Instead of it being the culmination of therapy, we consider this the first benchmark to achieve.

    It’s kind of a known stereotype that teens often think the world revolves around their tiny sphere of existence. When our participants are entered in the small community dynamics of the wilderness, they learn to take responsibility for themselves. They are no longer able to push the blame or push the liability for troubled behaviors on someone else. They come to realize that their old way of viewing the world is flawed.

    Once this light bulb goes on, we are able to move forward with the actual changing of unwanted behaviors. At this stage, working through the treatment process becomes more than a cognitive exercise in debate and requires an integration of mind, soul, and body. It provides an opportunity for troubled teens to begin constructing an identity. This identity is based upon their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

    Some participants come to this realization early on, while others take longer to grasp the concept. This is one of the reasons we allow flexibility in length of stay. Those who have relied too heavily on their outside world for meaning, usually require a longer period of treatment.

    Typically by the third or fourth week in the program, participants have adapted to their new environments. By adjusting to the rigor of nature, they are then able to focus on recovery. Emphasis is placed on setting and making treatment goals. Teens at this stage also learn how to appropriately solve their initial behavioral and familial problems. There becomes a sense of community and trust between participants, field staff, and clinical staff. Participants are given leadership roles to facilitate responsibility for someone other than themselves. They are learning the power of teamwork and the necessity of individual contribution.

    Each stage of the wilderness therapy program, helps boost confidence and provide, not just a change in behavior, but a change of heart. Our process is supported by research and hundreds of recovered teens. The team is here and waiting to improve the lives of your teen and your family.


    Graduation is a big last step in the participant’s recovery plan. At RedCliff Ascent we call this the “End of Trails” ceremony to symbolize completing on stage of treatment and moving on to the next. Each teen who completes treatment at RedCliff Ascent still has more stages in their journey but we want to celebrate the completion of this part of the journey. It shows that they are ready to move on to the real world and back into the family setting. The decision to graduate relies heavily on the parents and doesn’t just come after completing the curriculum. Parents decide whether or not they believe their child has truly improved. Because of the nature of our program, parents have total access to their treatment plan throughout the process. They see from the beginning, every change in behavior their teen has accomplished. The ultimate determination of graduation is a combination of therapist and parent approval.

    The ceremony itself is a two-day experience designed to reintroduce the teen to the parents, close the gap if you will. It begins with a seminar in which parents prepare for the welcoming back of their teen into the home. After the seminar, the participants take part in the “run in” which is a quarter mile run into the open and loving arms of the waiting parents. This symbolizes the importance of open communication, love, and renewed understanding between parent and child.

    Personal Growth and Application

    Therapy doesn’t just stop at graduation. The main purpose in learning the hard skills and interpersonal skills in our program is the application it can have in the real world. Proper application of such skills in wilderness therapy can translate to better behavior in the home. Weekly clinical assessments are designed to gage a participant’s readiness for re-entry into society. By participating and learning these skills and taking part in every aspect of the wilderness therapy approach, participants learn to think of the bigger picture. Personal growth occurs when teens are able to recognize the need for change, adapt and learn from their environment, and apply what’s been taught to decision making and behavioral problems that arise. When your teen returns home, we expect what they’ve learned to stick. Therapy is nothing without the means for students to apply properly what they've learned. Our research shows that RedCliff Ascent does just that.