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Schools & Program Visits - Apr, 1997 Issue #45

Condon, Montana
John Mercer, Headmaster
Gary Kent, Treatment Director

Visit report by Vicky Hartman, on June 5, 1996
staff at Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Expeditions
Albany, Oregon

Young women in need of a therapeutic, structured environment to acknowledge addiction issues around food, sex, drugs and alcohol would benefit from the Mission Mountain program most. These young women need to be able to handle intense confrontation, as no stone goes un-turned here. The School prefers 15 year old students though they accept students ranging in age from 13 to 18. The program can afford to be quite selective concerning their students as out of 800 applications/inquiries only 17 young women were admitted. 

The program here is intensive and quite inclusive. As Headmaster John Mercer told me, they try to make all their interactions intentional. Issues around food are explored, food is tightly monitored and residents fill out record sheets regarding what they are eating and their feelings about their food. Group sessions occur every evening. Emphasis is on development of a deeper understanding of each girls issues as well as skills to help them when they return to “life outside,” rather than merely managing behavior. 

Physical activity in and of itself and as a metaphor is used effectively throughout the program. Residents “get it” at the school, how every act they do effects the group and this gets translated into regular group consequences...In the extreme if there is the sense (by staff and/or students) that the community is in trouble.. (i.e. people are not doing their work, being open, etc.) The whole group will go on an “intervention.” Interventions translates into packing up, going to the woods, camping out no matter what the season, doing intense physical exercise and groups until things are worked out. The theory is that the folks that are doing their work will do well with the physical challenge, in fact enjoy it, and the ones that aren’t will be miserable and will be motivated/forced to get on with their issues. One of these occurred during graduation... John states this is evidence that these moves indicate to the kids that the staff will do what it takes to keep residents safe. 

The school’s all encompassing program is powerful. Upon my arrival I was shown around by two residents who were positive about their experience while being honest about the challenges of the program. 

I arrived in time for group on Wednesday evening. Group was held that night in the round corral with certain residents working through their issues via their ability to work with a particular horse. It is incredible to watch how evidence of their unhealthy relationship habits was acted out with the animal. The young women were able to acknowledge the power of the evening. The residents regularly accessed their feelings, were honest about their issues, and most seemed engaged in the process. 

Copyright © 1997, 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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