Redcliff Ascent takes a young person out of their comfort zone and places them in a situation they cannot control, namely, the wilds of southern Utah. The aim of this confrontation with nature is to humble a person enough to help them overcome substance abuse or other behavioral problems. These are the central tenets of wilderness therapy which is the fundamental treatment modality offered at Redcliff Ascent.
Redcliff Ascent began in 1993, as the brainchild of two brothers who grew up noticing the divide between themselves and their relatives who grew up in the city. The structure of ranch life, the hard work, and discipline required to survive each day was something that precluded them from abusing substances or becoming chemically dependent.
The Redcliff Ascent program tries to get a troubled teens’behavioral development restarted. A core component of wilderness therapy holds that abusing substances stalls a young person’s growth, both physically and emotionally.
They begin to believe, falsely, that they are in charge and that they can easily manipulate any situation in which they find themselves. Wilderness therapy breaks all that down, making a young person face a situation they have never faced before.
Redcliff Ascent employs highly trained field staff. There are also therapists and clinicians on hand who have spent most of their careers at Redcliff. They attend to both the physical and mental health needs of students.
There is medical staff on hand to monitor students who may have co-occurring disorders and require medication management. Meals are carefully structured to leave out processed foods and refined sugars so that students only have what is essential to survive. Staples like lean proteins, vegetables, and beans, along with fruits and nuts are all part of the menu.
Field staff are all well-trained in first aid, and survival techniques and their training is constantly updated as they rotate out to make consultations on a student’s progress. In fact, all clients of Redcliff Ascent must complete the same training protocols that field interns took to become field instructors.
Into the Wild
Admission into the Redcliff Ascent wilderness program is based mostly on physical factors. Given the rigors of the Redcliff Ascent program, all entrants must first pass a physical exam before they are allowed into the program. Any participants with chronic illnesses like diabetes and asthma may be denied admittance.
Clinicians assess all Redcliff Ascent students to determine the treatment track that suits them best. Entrants first three days at Redcliff Ascent require no physical exertion as they acclimate to their new high-altitude surroundings.
The “wilderness” section of Redcliff Ascent’s treatment program consists of daily three to six mile treks to various outposts around the main property. Clients are assigned to groups.
Each team has as its leader an experienced and well-trained field instructor that guides each student through the basics of survival training. Students are taught to build shelters, make fires and bows and flints.
Wilderness therapy shares a lot of the same values as Native American rites of passage. Achievements gotten through hard work and struggle are celebrated, building a student’s self-esteem and teaching them the importance of responsible living.
Baptism by Fire
Wilderness therapy is not only roughing it in the mountains, taking long hikes and building campfires. There are evidence-based methods and treatments folded into those more physical requirements. Students meet with assigned counselors once a week when not trekking in the mountains.
Informal, on-the-fly group meetings are also a feature of the clinical side of treatment at Redcliff Ascent. Expressive therapies like journal keeping and camp-fire sharing sessions help round out Redcliff’s psycho-social education treatments.
The length of a stay at Redcliff Ascent varies. Most students opt to stay for the minimum of a month, but longer stays are also possible.
Redcliff ascribes to the belief that a student completes the program only when they have achieved significant therapeutic goals. When a student has shown that they have internalized a new value system based on responsibility and self-sufficiency it is only then when they can honestly call themselves graduates.
Although wilderness therapy can sound like a trying experience, it falls somewhere between a coddling, permissive type of rehab and a hard-nosed, boot-camp like rehab. If you are a teen struggling with substance abuse or some other behavioral issue, the structure and discipline of this program might help you. It offers a firm hand to help you discover things about yourself you might have never known.
Price for 30 days at Redcliff Ascent: $13,500