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Opinion & Essays - Apr, 1996 Issue #39 

WILDERNESS PROGRAMS 

(The following is taken from the brochure of Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Expeditions, (503) 926-7252, with headquarters in Albany, Oregon. -LON) 

Frequently Asked Questions 

How safe is the program? How do you handle emergencies? Given the inherent risks of any adventure programs, we believe our program does a good job of managing the risk involved. All the staff on our trip are trained, at minimum, in basic first aid and we always have at least one staff person with an EMT or Wilderness First Responder training. (Wilderness First Responder 'WFR' is an advanced first aid training that deals specifically with wilderness medical issues.) Planning for treks includes evacuation plans and the treks are designed to be within reasonable distance of the vehicles. We never food deprive, sleep deprive, or clothing deprive our clients. There are natural consequences that staff may allow where kids will be uncomfortable but not where they will be unsafe. When necessary, we base-camp, spoon-feed, and nurture clients who have trouble eating enough. 

How strenuous is the program? How strong/athletic do the clients need to be? Out treks are challenging. The clients are hiking with 25-40 lb. packs from 3 - 12 miles a day almost every day. They are responsible for setting up individual camps which includes setting up their shelter every night and building a fire with flint and steel. Due to the fact that many of the kids have been using or abusing substance and their bodies, we find that there are always a percentage of kids who find the hikes difficult. They eventually get stronger as they continue to hike daily and eat a healthy diet that consists of whole grains, legumes, salami, cheese, vegetables, and fruit. There is no caffeine or sugar in their diet and they are not allowed to smoke or chew tobacco. Although many kids start the program fairly out of shape and unhealthy, they go through a cleansing process, with the diet and exercise and come out at the end feeling better, typically, than they have in quite some time. 

Have you done any outcome studies? The Freer Program conducted a follow-up study examining the effectiveness of our treatment model. The results found that 70% of those who participated on a Freer trek showed marked improvement in their overall functioning in the long term (over 1 1/2 years). The first 3-4 weeks following a trek, the percentage for improvement was much higher, at 90% and then went down to just below 50% before rising again. This makes sense in that the first few months after such an intense treatment experience are spent integrating what was learned on trek with previous lifestyles and relationships. We find that if the family is supportive, the peer group is changed, and the client has structured activities when they leave our program, their success in the program is higher. If the family does not follow the after- care program that is recommended by the clinical staff the success rate is much lower. 

Copyright 1996, 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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