Wilderness Program Features
SUWS wilderness therapy is a therapeutic wilderness program that draws much of its effectiveness from the power of experiential learning. While progressing through a series of phases (described in greater detail below), SUWS students also complete the following four experiential learning activities:
- Therapeutic ropes course
- Equine therapy
- Search & rescue training and simulation
- Community-based service projects
These activities allow students to develop personal insights and skills while also enhancing their ability to serve as effective members of families, teams, and communities. From learning primitive-living skills to basic orienteering and first-aid techniques, students are personally challenged. In the midst of giving of themselves, they find themselves.
The SUWS phase system is designed to be both challenging and rewarding for our students. Each phase builds on the students’ efforts to learn more about themselves and become more independent. The names and objectives of the phases are as follows:
- Search and Rescue
- Development Focus
- Safety and Assessment
- Awareness and Identity
- Interpersonal Relationships
- Teamwork and Service
- Goal Development
- Giving Back/Future Pacing
Our orientation period for new students focuses on their safety as they adjust to their new environment. This is also an evaluative period to assess the student’s emotional appropriateness to meet the program’s design. The basics of self-care are introduced, and we make a follow-up physical health assessment 48 hours after the student’s initial physical.
The goals of the orientation phase include are focused on introducing the program as a safe place to undertake challenge. The instructors establish that they will be resources for the students’ growth, while also introducing the self-sufficiency the new student will need to carry forward in each progressive phase. A philosophy of inherent goodness and individual worth lies at the base of all staff-student interaction.
Individual Phase centers around students’ growing awareness of self as their immersion into the desert settles into reality. Instructors introduce a set of primitive skills, and provide a written workbook curriculum to the student. The combination of environment, skills, and curriculum provide a tremendous opportunity to assess the belief systems and behavior patterns that comprise the student’s emerging identity.
The goals of this phase are to gain a deeper understanding of underlying issues, identify and interrupt negative coping patterns, and create a desire for change.
Family Phase focuses on practicing the healthy coping strategies learned in Individual Phase. As students learn the effect their behavior has on others, they develop communication skills that were lost or not well developed. They learn how position and authority are earned through the process of respect and willingness to take responsibility for the welfare of others. They take on goals at a group level and build interpersonal relationships.
As physical challenges are met, it becomes evident to the students that they are more capable than previously believed. “If I can do this, I can do anything,” has become the motto of Family Phase.
Venturer Phase works on the use of self-awareness and relationship skills in the capacity of unconditional service toward others. It is during this phase that most students learn about future placement plans or direction.
For therapeutic purposes, communication between students and the outside world may expand to conference calls with parents, schools, and future programs to help the students clarify their circumstances. Added communication is used to gather additional insights into family dynamics and to further empower the parents’ obligation to take whatever steps are necessary for the good of the students and the family. Group initiatives, metaphors, and games are used to keep the morale and teamwork at progressive levels.
Explorer Phase energetically delves into values clarification. The curriculum flows toward utilizing innate gifts and talents, and identifying what makes each person unique. The process of self-reflection begins with a personality profile to help students understand predispositions, innate strengths, and inherent weaknesses. The lessons then move toward building strength of character through interpersonal interactions. Respecting the views and values of others is key to this process, and students are primed to share their discoveries with peers.
With a healthier self-image comes a desire to achieve new heights of empowerment to cope with the potential obstacles and inevitable pitfalls ahead. The SUWS curriculum lends itself to further exploration into human behavior and the ability to reason, strategize, and develop short- and long-term goals. Students learn acceptance of factors that limit choices, and the value of focusing on what they have and taking advantage of the privileges they are afforded.
Service projects tailored to reinforce specific areas of personal development expand the students’ positive reference experience. Students who succeed will carry their triumphs outside the highly structured SUWS environment.
The statement, “The teacher learns more than the student,” applies as students become mentors to their peers. With a story to tell, student mentors share personal, emotional, and physical experiences. Through leadership, the Guides walk on fertile soil, expanding their capacity to understand hidden truths in character and to use those strengths as an influence for good for others.
Going on a personal solo is something many of us wish we had time to do. A valuable component of a student’s program is the completion of a solo. Time is spent reflecting on the past and focusing on building a more successful future. Typically lasting for three days and two nights, solo is an experience that is earned and prepared for, and that coincides with a student’s therapeutic outcomes and goals.
During their solo experiences, students are highly supervised by staff members who check on them a minimum of three times a day to ensure their safety. They remain in close proximity to staff members, but are asked to maintain an established physical boundary. Solo students are tasked with assignments, including journaling, letter writing, and skills mastery. A book is also selected from the trail library for the message it contains.
Search and Rescue
Search and Rescue. Those words have come to mean a lot over the course of the past weeks. By earning the distinction of becoming a search and rescue team member, students have reached the culmination of service to self, family and the larger community at SUWS. The challenges and rewards have been great, worthwhile, and life changing. Our students are now prepared to go searching and rescuing in the world beyond. It is not the end; it is just the beginning.
When students go “on call” as a search and rescue team member, they are ready to give back emotionally and physically to care for others in need, and are willing to sacrifice personal comforts and work as a team to conquer any stumbling blocks that they may encounter. They are prepared for this, and by completing this final step are preparing for the ultimate challenge –leaving the desert environment, a place that by now has come to represent personal safety, self-reliance, emotional growth, and home.
The search and rescue team will be called upon to visit groups where new students may be struggling. Through sharing their own experiences, team members will offer hope and encouragement to others, while at the same time reaffirming to themselves the accomplishments they have made. They will also be tasked with a simulation that will require them to use their navigation skills to locate a “missing” person. Once this person is found, the team will conduct a physical assessment, treating all ailments that may be present.
The SUWS program challenges both mind and body, presenting both rigorous physical challenges and thought-provoking, growth-promoting therapeutic exercises.
The SUWS Adolescent and Youth Programs curriculum is accredited by the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA CASI). NCA CASI is an accreditation division of AdvancED. The school credits that a student earns at SUWS are recognized by schools, colleges, and universities globally. Through AdvancED’s reciprocal agreements with sister accrediting organizations, students can continue their educational goals in the United States or around the world.
The SUWS Adolescent and Youth Programs curriculum is divided into five academic areas; Healthy Living, Psychology of Daily Living, Physical Education, Personal Development and First Aid. Each academic area will be aligned to Idaho Content Standards and students will be awarded High School Credits for work completed. Evidence of academic performance will be demonstrated through curriculum completion, journaling, specific writing assignments, mileage logs, and length of stay in program.
High School credits will be awarded in accordance to proposed requirements obtained from Deputy Superintendent of Education for the State of Idaho. The proposal set forth states one (1) credit hour will consist of sixty (60) actual classroom hours. Therefore, the number of credits issued to a SUWS student depends on the length of stay in the program. A transcript of credits will be provided upon graduation.
For more information regarding academic credit, please contact SUWS Adolescent & Youth Programs at 888-879-7897.
SUWS is accredited through Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). Accreditation assists service providers to improve the quality of their services and meet internationally recognized standards. Achieving accreditation requires a service provider to commit to quality improvement, focus on the unique needs of each person the provider serves, and monitor the results of services.
“SUWS had a dynamic impact on our 16 year old daughter. I remember quite well how amazed I was at the changes I saw in her. She was able to communicate with so much confidence and told of her adventures at SUWS. When others would ask, she clearly spoke of the different steps of the program, such as “I phase” and “Family phase” and the importance of each. She was able to communicate the difficulty of the program, yet the accomplishments and friendships she made.”
Excerpts from a Students’s Journal
SUWS offers an effective troubled teen treatment program and troubled teen rehab treatment for teens and youth. Click here to learn more about our academic team.