“Trailhead Wilderness School’s Residential Treatment Program is a wilderness therapy and education program for youth between12 and 18” who may be “struggling with relationship and behavioral issues” that may include substance abuse and anger management issues. Historically, Trailhead has worked with clients from various social services agencies. Recently they have re-directed their program to place a greater emphasis on private, out-of-state placements, while offering a strong Gestalt orientation to their therapeutic approach. This has also changed the length of time students remain in their program and their fee structure. Participant’s length of stay is now determined on an individual basis by the parents and counselors, and fees are based on a daily rate. Typically students stay from 30 to 60 days, living outside, in tents.
Youth are placed throughout the year and are equipped by Trailhead Wilderness School. They use wilderness and backcountry settings in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Their education program is approved by the Colorado Department of Education, and “academic credit is usually transferable to home school districts… Students enrolled in the Residential program receive an individualized education that meets them where they are academically… Academic instruction in the field is delivered by a variety of methods including hands-on-experiential, self-paced, group and individual instruction.”
Their program involves Wilderness Therapy and Gestalt Therapy, and is based on the philosophy that “there are constant and powerful lessons/teachable moments and metaphors for life that arise naturally as part of the environment.” Because Gestalt is experientially based, they have chosen to integrate these therapeutic principles into their wilderness program. Also Gestalt emphasizes and teaches an awareness of what is happening in the “here and now and with our physical bodies.”
Trailhead Wilderness School uses backcountry living, peak ascents, therapeutic games and initiatives to challenge students in effective communication, self-analysis, healthy competition, teamwork and conflict resolution. This both builds self-confidences and helps participants “identify treatment issues and how they relate to behaviors” so that they can “connect behaviors to feelings and accept the need to change current behaviors.” Another of the program’s goals is to “identify and address gaps in emotional development, and facilitate the advancement to the appropriate developmental phase.” They use Gestalt therapeutic approaches to accomplish this goal.
In addition to the Wilderness Therapy, Master’s level Field Therapists meet individually with students at least once each week. Also, at least one group each day is conducted either by the field Therapist or by the field instructors. Their staff to student ratio is 1:4 and their staff members receive on-going, intensive training as well as compensation that is at the top of the pay range for comparable programs in the field.