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News & Views - Dec, 1992 Issue 

Wilderness Treatment Centers
John Brokke
Marion & Wilsell, Montana

(From an article in the Enterprise newspaper)

The wilderness experience into the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park is the essential ingredient that makes the Wilderness Treatment Center work.

After 30 days of intense therapy at the center, situated on the edge of the Shields Valley overlooking the majestic Bridger Mountain Range, it's make or break time of each patient. It is during this phase of treatment that patients have to face the fear and anxiety of real-life situations. No longer are they in the safety of group therapy, they must make the trip without alcohol or drugs.

Each group of 6-7 kids is led by a certified addictions counselor and a certified wilderness instructor into the unforgiving mountains of Montana. For the first seven days of the trip, which take from 16-21 days, patients are taught such skills as backpacking, putting up tents, fire-building, fishing for food, rappelling and camp sanitation. During the winter months, they are also taught how to construct snow shelters and snow caves.

In the second week of the expedition, each patient does a three-day "solo" where he camps alone for three days and two nights. It is during this time he completes Step-Four of his recovery. Without any distractions, he spends the time alone taking a self-inventory - getting in touch with his addiction, his attitudes and actions. During this time, they are checked on at least twice a day by one of the instructors, but verbal silence is never broken, said Steve Fairbank, Director of the Wilderness Treatment Center.

Following the solos, the group chooses a major peak to climb and as a unified team, they reach the top. It is here that each patient learns to be not only self-reliant, but more importantly, to trust others. He must also come to grips with the fact he has successfully faced a major challenge - without a joint or drink.

"The wilderness trip and getting honest with themselves are ranked the two most important things they get out of the center," Fairbank said. "After two months they are in the best shape they've ever been in their lives - emotionally, spiritually and physically.

Copyright 1992, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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