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Wilderness therapy info

Aspen Achievement Academy

Aspen Achievement Academy is a wilderness therapy program based in Loa, Utah with a minimum stay of 35 days.

It is a part of Aspen Education Group and was found in 1989

The target group is adolescent males and females, ages 13-17, with a history of moderate to severe emotional and behavioral problems, low self-esteem, academic underachievement, substance abuse and family conflict. They offer contact to a Teen escort company if needed.

It is JCAHO certified and licensed as an ''Outdoor Treatment Program'' by the State of Utah Department of Human Services.

According to the data on NATSAP for the program they keep single gender groups of 8 persons.

Program structure


When the detainee arrives, the person will undergo an Diagnostic Assessment phase, which consist of a review of the student's medical history and medication status, a physical examination, urine drug screen and lab work. The purpose is to find out whether the detainee has any medically based problems that must be treated prior to entering the program. It should also asses the detainee physical ability to handle the demands of the field.

If a detainee has recently completed a psychological evaluation, the staff will use them to formulate a individualized treatment plan. Otherwise the staff will do the evaluation themselves.

Mouse phase:

The detainee are taken to camp site of one of the team, where ceremony of introduction is undertaken. People in Mouse phase are not allowed to talk during this phase which can take about 48 hours. After a short introduction they are taken to a place where they must remain isolated at a shelter and observe how the group function. Any need and food is cared for by the group. They must write about why they think that they are sent there and what they expect to offer the group and what they thinks need to altered in themselves. With the help of a staff person, they have selected, they will undergo a second ceremony blindfolded after they have shown desire to move up to the next phase. A lot historical incorrect references toward prehistoric Indian embrace the phase. Upon the acceptance of the group, the detainee can join the team as Coyote member.

Coyote phase:

During this phase, which normal last about 14 days, the detainee must do chores and that behavior has consequences. It is also in this phase where the student must read the impact letter to the group. A letter from the parents which given the poor family structure of a typical detainee often is the first time the detainee learns of the motive for forcing the person to the program.

As listed on the program website the tasks that a detainee must be able to handle are:

Complete a bow drill fire on five separate days.  Cooks meals for oneself. Takes appropriate care for gear, clothes, and other possessions.
 Demonstrates good personal hygiene. Practices safe behavior. Follows directions appropriately.
Uses time wisely to complete daily tasks. Demonstrates basic communication skills. Learning how to respect self and others.
Reads impact letter from parents in group. Complete all required curriculum activities in a timely manner. Participates and demonstrates competency in daily reviews of yesterday's activities.
Begins to identify issues that brought you to Aspen. Participates in group therapy. Participates in individual therapy.
Completes assignments given by therapist in a timely manner. Write two letters home to your parents, including sharing experiences you are having at Aspen. Create three goals to work toward while at Aspen.

Buffalo phase:

This phase also last about 14 days and after the old self image of the detainee should have broken down, it is time for the person to develop a kind of family / community relation to the team and a higher sense of consequence. Tasks in this phase are:

Demonstrates improved communication skills Calls groups when conflict arises Communicates without profanity.
Confronts others appropriately. Asks for help and guidance from others appropriately. Gives and receives appropriate feedback to/from others.
Assists new Coyotes in adjusting to group. Demonstrates respect toward others. Works toward growth for self rather than external reasons.
Promotes teamwork within the group. Write a letter of responsibility to parents and share in group. Assist in the teaching of other detainees in at least two bow drill fire methods.
Plans and cooks one meal for the entire group. Make a gift that will be useful to the whole group. Begins to take responsibility for behavior that resulted in being sent to Aspen.
Takes more active role in individual therapy. Takes more active role in group therapy. Write at least one letter home to your parents, including the identification of issues that you and your family can work on.
Create and commit in writing, two goals for the future in each of the following five categories: physical, intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual.    

Eagle phase:

Based on the new inflicted self-image, this phase focus on transition them into the home settings. This phase last about 14 days. Tasks in this phase are:

Assist in teaching one curriculum lesson makes gifts for family members Be responsible for leading group in completing a service project. Provides appropriate leadership to other group members.
Assist in facilitating one process group. Assist other students with their skill development. Promotes trustworthiness in group.
Actively participates in daily process groups. Takes initiative in organizing daily activities. Leads group without exhibiting dominating or controlling qualities
 Is truthful Admits mistakes, takes ownership. Gives and receives constructive feedback regarding strengths and weaknesses


In this phase the detainee clean up the camp, clothes and body, so the family members don't face the harsh reality of a detainee being paced 7 weeks in the wilderness with limited possibilities of attending personal hygiene. After a good-bye to the group, the detainee runs about a mile down the track where the family waits. The physical exertion keeps the anger caused by the placement in the program to a minimum. United the family participate in family therapy, parent workshop, family solos, multifamily workshop to delay any kind of PTSD based on the ordeal. The phase end with graduation meal and ceremony, which marks the end of the program.

News, reports and articles

The book: "Shouting at the Sky: Troubled Teens and the Promise of the Wild" by Gary Ferguson, ISBN 0-312-20008-0 is based on the author following a team.

The third season of the TV-show Brat Camp was shot at Aspen Achievement Academy.

A number of incidents involving suicide attempts [1], molestation of a child [2] and even riots by some detainees [3].

The riot made the authorities reconsider Aspen's license because other parties like tourists, hikers and vacationists frequent the public lands around Capitol Reef National Park. They could be at large if they were assaulted by renegade youths  [4].


On their homepage the program states that they use a "soft approach" when the detainee resist the program [5]. However, video clips linked from Community Alliance for the Fair and Ethical Treatment of Youth (Cafety) show another story about confrontations and take-downs [6]

Some detainees don't benefit at all from being in the program. Issues that existed before the stay in the program increases due to the feeling of anger and abandonees of being put in the program. A girl participating in a Dr. Phil show (Kimberlee) ran away from home after completing the program [7]. The girl was later recovered and detained by the police unharmed.


1) Child Attempts Suicide at Aspen Achievement Academy, (Salt Lake Tribune October 1993)
2) Mother sues, accuses ex-wilderness therapist of abusing daughter, (Salt Lake Tribune 1991)
3) [Teens Face Charges In S. Utah Beating, (Salt Lake Tribune 1996)
4) Tough love proves too tough (High Country News 1996, Christopher Smith)
5) Safety Net, (Aspen Achievement Academy homepage)
6) Media files from cafety.
7) Search underway for missing Bacliff teen(abc13.com, November 2006)

External Links

Type Description
Info Program homepage
Corporate homepage
International Survivor Action Committee
Survivor Group Aspen Achievement Academy (Myspace)
Aspen Achievement Academy - staff (Myspace)
Forum Fornits.com about Aspen Education Group
Channel4 forum about Brat Camp. Season 3 of the UK version was filmed at AAA (Registration required)


Video-clip of a typical takedown, (MPG file, Cafety link)]
Video-clip of the use of hourlong wristlock, (MPG file, Cafety link)

Those clips is a part of the third season of Brat Camp. The girl who is forced down is Georgie Turnbull-Atkinson - presently looked up at Excel Academy in order to improve the positive statistic of the program. Is to be released sometime late 2007. The wrist-lock victim is Lucy Tyson, who went to Turnabout Ranch, when the "therapists" could not handle her at AAA.