Wake-up Call

Most teenagers entering treatment in any setting typically gain an understanding of treatment expectations. Troubled teens know how to alter his or her behaviors that ultimately landed them in a program.

This may best be understood as a sort of "wake-up call". Unfortunately, this awakening lasts only from the point of pre-contemplation to the actual realization that perhaps behavior may be a problem. This is the point in most programs where the treatment actually stops.

Teenagers who are reasonably intelligent and moderately verbal are easily able to "talk" their way through treatment. In view of that, treatment-savvy individuals are quite adept at recognizing the external indicators of program success. Teens say all the right things in an effort to create an illusion of fulfilled treatment goals. Many teens in treatment are quite well-intentioned and sincere in their statements concerning their intended change.

If you remove the intervention the student is back in control.

Without any motivating forces to change the emotional needs underlying their behavior, they will revert back to familiar cues and signals in the same manner as before. As a result, both the teen as well as the support system become further disappointed and disillusioned. The student never experienced coping with life in terms that were any different than before the assumed treatment.

First Step

Girl in desertAt RedCliff we recognize that the cognitive "wake-up call" is merely the first step in a process of disrupting the behavioral pattern. To end the process prematurely is to risk failing to achieve the goals of that process. Because we cannot predict for each student when the cognitive component will be initiated, we make provisions for each teen. These provisions help the student to work through this process at his or her own pace.

Teenager sitting in desertThe wilderness environment and small community dynamics offer the teenagers the opportunity to confront "the business of life" at a very basic level. Typically, most of our students do their best to avoid this responsibility and remain on a developmental hiatus. They persevere in their attempts to find someone who will shoulder the responsibility for them. Hence as they rely on old coping habits, their dysfunctional ways become readily apparent.


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. This in turn, provides an opportunity for troubled teens to begin constructing an identity. This identity is based upon their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Boy holding 'thank you' signFor some students, this process happens quite smoothly. Usually these students are those who had previously made a commitment to changing behavior. But they were unable to make those changes while living in their previous environment. To some extent, these students are actually appreciative of the intervention which brought them to RedCliff. Now they experience progress in their previously-determined direction. These students readily integrate into the program and find a renewed sense of fulfillment based upon their achievements.

Other students take an opposing approach and remain entrenched in their problematic behavior for a longer period of time. The realization they are unable to manipulate their environment helps move these students to a cognitive acceptance of the situation. It typically takes these students longer to reach the point where they experience the internal sense of self-fulfillment associated achieving personal goals.

For these students, it is imperative to allow them flexibility in their length of stay. They need to build a personal sense of security and happiness regardless of what’s going on around them.  These students have typically required their outside world to give them meaning, and more importantly, to give them their sense of well-being. An open-ended enrollment period removes limitations imposed by the calendar.


Third or Fourth Week

By the third or fourth week in RedCliff’s wilderness therapy program, most troubled teens have become accustomed to their environment. Because they have adjusted to nature’s physical challenges, teens now begin to focus more on their treatment goals and appropriate solutions to the problems that brought them to the program to begin with. They establish sincere, trusting relationships with other youth and with the staff, building healthy communication and support. Each teen will eventually participate in leadership roles, assuming responsibility for the group as a whole, rather than just themselves. They are learning the power of teamwork and the necessity of individual contribution.



Each stage of the wilderness therapy program introduces a powerful message that is supported by an experiential learning process. Overall, the field staff, therapists, and an individualized treatment plan for each student reinforces this. As the students work their way through the program, they develop a sparkle in their eyes that speaks of a new confidence and strength in their ability to meet the challenges of life in the future.

Call an admissions counselor at 801-921-8488 for additional information about how RedCliff Ascent can help your family.