parents are essential to the change

Treatment Philosophy

The Learning Process

Teenagers crave independence and autonomy even though they do not understand how to effectively and productively obtain and maintain them. WinGate has created a Natural Consequence based model that allows teens to experience outcomes for choices. Because, the ability to place and impose boundaries on teenagers is significantly different then when they were children and almost impossible to enforce now, the theory of “lecture based”, “do as I say, not as I do” demands for compliance fail miserably, the inevitable outcomes are hostility, tension and additional defiance.

To learn by, Experience Based Methods allows teenagers the authentic ability to understand outcomes, learn from mistakes, and accept accountability and progress forward in the growth process with greater ease and appreciation. By empowering teenagers with “choice” they will then gain a sense of accomplishment, build confidence and self esteem improves. “We intentionally remove ourselves from the equation,” Which in turn keeps students engaged in the learning process, thus placing student/staff on an equal operating field. “Rules don’t define a student’s experience at WinGate,” The laws are already there- they’re the laws of nature. The experience is confined to natural consequences but is still safe and extremely effective. We’re not asking for compliance, we’re asking for better thought process.

Treatment philosphy: Parents are essential to the change

Past experiences teach valuable lessons in the present. A particular student who repeatedly cursed at staff and one day refused to hike to the next campsite. The group continued to tear down and clean camp in preparation for the day’s journey. The group hiked anyway leaving a field staff behind with the rebellious student. As this student began to realize that the desired effect of her actions were not coming to fruition she made the decision to hike faster longer and harder in order to catch the group to apologize for her actions.

Had the field instructors forced the issue, she would have achieved the desired negative attention, maintained a victimized, self betrayal and sabotaging role and successfully carry a negative influence within the group culture. Instead, the instructor looked at the student and said, “It’s ok, you don’t hurt my feelings with your behaviors. However; this is one of the reasons you’re getting in trouble at home. It’s likely that you’re going to have a tough life if you don’t learn to get motivated without being hurtful to others.” Because our staff choose not put themselves in the way, students are far more receptive to feedback and to understanding the big-picture lessons.

A New Philosophy at Home

Parents are an essential component of the change that occurs through wilderness therapy. At WinGate we provide parents with information, resources, and weekly therapy sessions so that parents are learning and growing at the same time as their child. Parents are also invited to attend an early-stay visit to WinGate’s offices in Kanab, Utah to learn about program philosophy, reflect on their relationship with their child, and take an honest look at their child’s progress and the challenges that lie ahead. By meeting in the beginning of their child’s program, both the parents and students still have time to effect lasting changes and make critical decisions about the next steps in their family’s healing process.

The family is an incredibly powerful ally in the wilderness. When parents and child are stuck, they’re often stuck together. The work the parents do, and their conviction that WinGate is an opportunity rather than a punishment, is often the key to letting the student release their resistance to change and commit to the program.

Though it may feel like the ultimate affront, resistance from teenagers is often a call for help. If your child is acting out, your family has lost its way; wilderness therapy may be the ideal environment for lasting, healthy, and positive change. Through the commitments of the family our students will develop trust, appreciation, and a healthy respect for boundaries. When your child is the one who chooses change, the entire family benefits from a breakthrough that can last a lifetime.

WinGate’s Wilderness Program blends the best of the “ancient cultural systems” while utilizing the healing elements of the earth to unite the hearts of families. We teach through love and understanding, empower change, and ignite a renewed commitment to life. Your troubled teen will experience the highest standards of safety and therapy in the context of one of the most powerful settings for real change.

The WinGate Model

Here at WinGate, we've created a Strengths Based/Natural Consequence Model that empowers teenagers in constructive ways. It helps them look beyond their negative behaviors and struggles to see who they really are.

They learn to get along with others and cooperate while working toward common goals. Positive natural consequences serve as rewards for positive actions; hence, teenagers become internally motivated to act in constructive ways.

Other programs often establish a set of strict rules, demand adherence to those rules, and then impose negative consequences when the demands aren't met. Basically, it's like boot camp.

WinGate Wilderness Therapy is designed to provide experiences that help students motivate themselves rather than trying to force compliance and adherence to a set of rules. When students experience direct and natural consequences for their choices—positive as well as negative—they begin to act accordingly.

Modeling Appropriate Behavior

WinGate’s wilderness program is particularly effective because its staff members adopt the program’s philosophy in their own lives and serve as role models to students. Rather than demanding change or punishing students with writing assignments or physical tasks, our staff and therapists invite students to see the need for change in their lives and illustrate how the process of change has positively impacted their own lives.

Even compared to other wilderness therapy programs, WinGate has a unique philosophy and a diverse group of professionals with a range of talents who are all constantly trying to improve themselves in the same way they’re asking their students to improve. “Combined, these pieces create an environment in which there’s nothing to resist against. There are only people willing to push with you.”

WinGate field instructors build the foundation for strong therapeutic relationships by teaching the students skills that are fun and useful to them, such as building flutes, moccasins, possible bags, creating fire for hot meals, and properly setting up camp to stay safe and dry. After a few weeks in the field, the students and staff have experienced a full range of emotions together, building a sense of camaraderie within the group.

Nurturing relationships is a process made easier by the fact that field instructors are not trying to push their own agenda on the students and don’t become personally offended when a teen acts out. “The program is all about the student.” Because they understand that we come from a place of caring and compassion, they are more willing to accept us as mentors and guides. When the time comes to challenge them, the strong relationships we’ve built give us firm ground to stand on.

Research Study Treatment Outcomes

Based on an independant study by Keith C. Russell, Ph.D., of the University of Idaho’s Wilderness Research Center. Outdoor behavioral healthcare (OBH) is an emerging treatment that utilizes wilderness therapy to help adolescents struggling with behavioral and emotional problems.

The approach involves immersion in wilderness or comparable lands, group living with wilderness leaders and peers, and individual and group therapy sessions facilitated by licensed therapists in the field. The study was designed to measure treatment effectiveness in outdoor behavioral healthcare using the Youth Outcome Quotient (Y-OQ).

The Y-OQ is an industry accepted outcome instrument designed to measure symptom reduction in psychotherapy.

Study included:

858 Participants – 589 Males (69%) and 269 Females (31%)

Previous Treatment History:

(Indicating possible treatment resistance)

  • 491 (57%) – Prior Outpatient Treatment
  • 149 (17%) – Prior Inpatient Treatment
  • 115 (13%) – Both Prior Inpatient and Outpatient

The study concluded that participation in outdoor behavioral healthcare resulted in clinically significant reductions in severity of behavioral and emotional symptoms.

  • 83% of participants made clinically significant improvement
  • *Average score change was a 51.6 point reduction
  • Almost half of participants (46%) returned to a NORMAL RANGE
  • Parent assessment of 13 year olds was the highest reduction of all age groups
Y-OQ Scores by Age Group
Age GroupAdmission Y-OQ ScoreDischarge Y-OQ Score

12 Month Follow-Up: Participants have not only maintained outcomes, but reported continued improvement.

24 Month Follow-Up: Over 80% of parents and 95% of participants believed that treatment was effective 24 months after the process.

*The Y-OQ defines improvement as clinically significant change when the measure drops by 13 points.
**Recovered, or within the normal range for adolescents, is when the total score is 46 or below.

By empowering teenagers with choice, they gain a sense of accomplishment, self-confidence, and self esteem. They exercise their independence and act autonomously while complying to rules and guidelines at the same time.

Typical day for WinGate experience
Typical Day for WinGate Experience

A Typical Week for WinGate wilderness experience is exciting, refreshing, and awesome. Almost every day, time is set aside for the student to have time to create and practice your own morning routine of contemplation, meditation, or prayer. The place where this is done we call 'personal circles.' You will have opportunities to do therapy assignments, reading, and other work during Personal Mentoring Time (PMT), which also happens every day.

PMT is also a time for staff to check in with students personally. Students will keep track of what they do every day and get in the habit of setting goals during 'Day Track.' They choose what they will listen to, participate in, and sometimes conduct 'WindSpeaks' (Group Discussions) on topics that will help them become more mentally and emotionally self-aware.

And they will get the chance to make primitive wilderness living things like spoons, fire, moccasins, leather goods, and maybe even a bow and arrows. Interspersed in all of this will be recovery work and recovery meetings that focus their attention on what they came to wilderness to work on.

Mondays and Tuesdays are typically 'layover days.' On these days, the group doesn't hike. These are also the therapy days- your therapist will come out to do individual sessions and therapy groups. This is also the time when current staff rotate out and the new staff rotate in. Layover days are a good opportunity to make goals for, and prepare for the week, make items, finish letters to parents, work on therapeutic assignments tailored specifically to you, and to otherwise get things done without having a hike as part of the day.

The rest of the days of the week are typically "hiking days." On these days, the group packs up camp and hikes to a new camp. There are chores to attend to in cleaning up camp and in setting up the new site. Hikes vary in length according to the capabilities of the group members, the weather, and the season. Much of what can be accomplished on the non-hiking days can also be done on the hiking days as well.

Typical Day
  • Wakeup
  • Personal Circles
  • Day Track
  • Recovery Meeting
  • Hygiene
  • Breakfast
  • Camp Cleanup
  • Hike
  • Setup Personal Sites
  • PMT/Skills
  • Hygiene
  • Dinner
  • Windspeak
  • Bed