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Posted June 17, 2003 

Adirondack Leadership Expeditions
Jeff Johnson,
Admissions Director
Saranac Lake, New York

Adirondack Leadership Expeditions is a character development program with a focus on assessment, intervention, and aftercare. It combines insight-oriented counseling with a highly individualized level system in a forested, camp-like setting. This new program has been developed by the Aspen Education Group, which has been providing “guidance and support to at-risk youth and their families for over twenty years.” This intensive program specializes in working with adolescents who have a history of emotional and behavioral problems, low self-esteem, depression, school problems, substance use, ADD/ADHD, and family conflicts. They do not intend, however, to serve adjudicated youth and have no state contracts.

“The goal of the Adirondack Leadership expeditions is to teach participants to think more insightfully, assess their abilities, improve communication skills and practice healthy behavioral habits.” Being in the wilderness removes students from their “emotional comfort zone”, requiring them to care for themselves. “The simplicity of the wilderness environment helps them recognize the results of their behavioral choices and encourages them to try different coping strategies.”

While each participant participates in both individual counseling and group processing, the program is also individualized in terms of the program curricula, emotional growth assignments, and flexible lengths of stay. They accept adolescents between the ages of 14-17, with single gender or coed groups available. Although the program has a minimum of 28 days, they stay may be extended for clinical or logistical needs.

Masters or doctorate level counselors directly supervise all the groups, and if requested, students may also be given a comprehensive battery of psychological, neurological and educational testing by licensed testing professionals. Family involvement is an integral part of the program, and parents participate in weekly progress sessions by telephone, write letters and may also be given counseling assignments. They also are given access to parenting and family resource modules. Parents and adolescents both take part in a family learning experience at the end of the program that includes a series of activities designed to address family dynamics and practice healthy communication.

The Aspen Education Group’s Outdoor Division recently participated in an independent research study by the University of Idaho, lead by Keith C. Russell PhD. The study concluded, “participation in outdoor behavioral healthcare resulted in clinically significant reductions in severity of behavioral and emotional symptoms.” Results of a 12-months follow-up study showed that “students not only maintained their outcomes, they had continued to improve after treatment.”

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