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Schools & Program Visits - Oct, 2000 Issue #74 

Wilderness Treatment Center
Marion, Montana
Mike DuHoux, Clinical Director

Visit Report by Lon Woodbury
August 28, 2000
Phone: 208-267-5550

From a distance, the Wilderness Treatment Center (WTC) looks like a village in the center of a rural Montana valley. Located just west of Kalispell, Montana, it was once used for a camp for East coast girls, and still has some of the old western camp look, even with its newly constructed buildings and current remodeling projects. Even so, the term “Montana Big Sky Country “ fits the feel of the place very well, providing the boys with an experience of living close to nature in wide-open spaces that give a sense of freedom and upliftment.

It also has the look and feel of a Montana cattle ranch, because it actually IS a working cattle ranch. Sometimes the boys can participate in helping brand and otherwise work with the cattle, if they have achieved the required level of trust and responsibility. In addition, each boy is able to participate in at least one weekend of furniture making in the well-equipped wood workshop. Using local wood with “personality,” the boys have made most of the furniture, bunks, tables, etc. in use throughout the campus. While some boys really get interested in this activity, one thing it accomplishes for all the boys is to provide a feeling of real accomplishment, enabling them to leave behind something tangible for the community’s use after they have completed the program.

WTC is a fully licensed 60-day drug and alcohol treatment center for boys of 14 to 24 years of age. It uses a powerful combination of traditional AA therapeutic techniques in a working-ranch environment, with a fully equipped wilderness expedition. Not only are they effective in helping parents collect on their medical insurance policies, they also purposely keep their prices relatively low, to be competitive with more traditional drug treatment programs that are half the length.

They are very specific about working only with addicted young boys, recognizing the difference between simple abuse and addiction. In fact, they want some acceptable evaluation that indicates the child actually has an addiction problem, before they will admit him. They refer those with behavioral problems only, to other more suitable programs. Although WTC’s focus is on addictions, they are also very effective in working concurrently with the other attitude and behavior problems that often accompany drug and alcohol abuse and addictive behavior.

The students looked pretty good; there seemed to be good energy among the boys, both in the lunch-room, and playing basketball during an after lunch break. Although the boys have a very tight schedule, there was still a sense of being relaxed within a tight structure, in contrast to a strict and controlled environment. The staff tended to be rather young; it was not easy to determine which basketball players were students and who were staff. This is often the case with most schools and programs I review. The boy’s rooms were clean and orderly, but also looked lived in, indicating that in this aspect of the program, the structure was not as tight as in some of the more highly structured boarding schools.

In general, the boys stay at the ranch for about three to four weeks, participating in ranch activities and group and individual counseling, and preparing for their wilderness experience. The next three weeks are spent on a wilderness trek. Since the expeditions are fully outfitted, they are not a survival experience; instead, the purpose is for them to take what they have learned at the ranch into the wilderness, where Mother Nature is an unrelenting teacher. After the wilderness, the student comes back to the ranch for roughly a week. At that point they are expected to take leadership positions with the newer students, while consolidating the lessons they have learned, and making arrangements for their next step, which well might be a long term residential school or program.

Parent week occurs once a month. Typically a boy will have a week with his parents to work on specific family issues before going into the wilderness, which helps him to better clarify the work he needs to do while on the wilderness trek.

The program is designed for 35 boys, and they are usually full, although they have a continuing rotation, so there are always spots opening up within a short time.

There are two changes that have occurred over the years that especially interested me as a consultant. For one, they do not have as many adjudicated students as they used to since they have gradually expanded the private and insurance-pay population over the years.

The other change is that they are anxious to work with consultants in both the original admissions recommendation, and more importantly, in follow-up planning. In the past, it had been my experience that WTC would tend to ignore my recommendations regarding what schools or programs were an appropriate next step after completing WTC. Often they would direct the parents to half-way houses that were heavily in the 12-step network, that in my view, sometimes were not completely effective in providing the intense experiences students often needed. Lately, however, they have expanded the kind of programs they use for follow-up planning and have successfully cooperated with educational consultants, listening to their recommendations when making follow-up plans.

It was explained to me that in the early years of the program, outside professionals often made inappropriate follow-up recommendations. WTC would not always follow their recommendations in an attempt to use what they thought were more appropriate aftercare programs. Anyone who has worked in this network of Emotional Growth Schools and Programs for a number of years will remember many instances in which outside professionals just didn’t “get it” in terms of making realistic recommendations. Unfortunately, for a time, independent educational consultants were seen as just another group of professionals who had an inadequate understanding of the real needs of the boys. That has changed, and WTC now recognizes how independent educational consultants are vital team players, to the benefit of the child.

Copyright © 2000, 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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