October 1st, 2013

Program focuses on outdoor adventure therapy

Sending her teenage son to Summit Achievement in Stow, Maine, was the first step in getting him on the right path, says Amy Schwartz.

Her son, now 17, attended the licensed residential program for teens that focuses on outdoor adventure therapy, in 2010.

In his eighth grade year, her son was caught with marijuana during a school trip. He was suspended from school and had to go through a New Hampshire court ordered class that covered topics like anger management. “What he really learned was where all the bad kids are,” she says. “In my mind, it was not helpful at all.”

Her son, who loves to play football, kept it together for his first semester of high school but things started to get worse during the second semester of his freshman year. “He was really acting out, cutting class, cutting school,” she says. “I literally got phone calls and emails all day long from the school; I don’t know how I kept my job.”

After being prescribed medication for ADHD, Schwartz says her son’s behavior deteriorated. “It escalated to a point that we needed to do something drastic and that he couldn’t be here in our town because he had so many friends and connections and we couldn’t see how we could unknot all that,” she says.

After research, Schwartz pulled her son out of high school and drove him to Summit Achievement, a licensed residential treatment center in Maine for teens that focuses on outdoor adventure therapy.

Teens who attend Summit Achievement agree “to be on board,” says co-founder and clinical supervisor Will White, D.A., LCSW, LADC. “That’s an important piece, because we are doing family work.”

Summit Achievement, which opened in August 1997, is licensed by the state of Maine to provide mental health and substance abuse services. Located on 54 acres in the White Mountains region of Maine, students live in cabins and attend classes Monday through Wednesday, going on an expedition Thursday through Sunday. Students in each cabin work together as a team.

“In a group of up to eight students and three staff, one of the students will be a leader of the day; one will be a scribe, putting together who is in charge of what; there will also be a logistician who helps with directing, using the map skills they have,” says White.

Students go canoeing, backpacking, snowshoeing and rock climbing in Maine and New Hampshire. Students learn how to pack their pack, cook outside, how to get clean water, how to set up a tent safe from falling branches and other outdoor skills. Staff therapists will go out on the adventures at times and work with students. Students also attend group therapy and participate in family therapy – “also a cornerstone of our program,” White says.

The program is drug and alcohol free and also does not serve any sugar or caffeine. Smart phones are not allowed and Internet access is only available in the academic building. The program takes on a maximum of 32 students and accepts them on a rolling basis. Most kids spend six to eight weeks at the program, depending on the student’s treatment plan. Students gain skills to take back into school and home life, he says.

Schwartz said something clicked for her son at Summit Achievement. “He was succeeding on his own terms,” she says. Now, in his senior year at a boarding high school, her son is dorm captain, is captain of the football team, and maintains a solid “B” average, Schwartz says. “He’s really dropped that wanting to be cool thing. He’s doing great. His experience at Summit was the beginning.”

By Rivkela Brodsky

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