When an adolescent or teenager enrolls in a therapeutic wilderness program for help with an addiction, behavior disorder, or other such challenge, the effort affects the entire family – and lasting success is often a matter of the level and quality of support that parents and siblings are able to provide.
Changes That Complement & Enhance
To help families make the necessary changes that will complement and enhance the lessons that their children learn in the wilderness, SUWS of the Carolinas has been inviting the parents of all students to participate in two-day workshops that are conducted at a lodge on the program’s North Carolina campus.
Built around three core principles – experience, education, and support – the two-day workshops give parents a glimpse into the challenges and opportunities that their children are encountering in the wilderness, and help them to develop the skills and strategies that will enable them to support their children’s continued progress when they return home.
“I notice a marked change in the parents after they’ve attend a workshop,” said Lynn Wadsworth, SUWS Family Program Manager. “They’re more attentive to the ways they can work together to support their child, and they’ve got a greater understanding that the entire family needs to make some changes.”
Establishing a Foundation of Support
Conducted at least twice each month – and designed for parents whose children are about halfway through their SUWS enrollment.
Trail’s End reunion experience marks a student’s graduation from SUWS, the midpoint workshops give parents extra opportunities to practice new skills while their children are still in the wilderness, and SUWS therapists are still working closely with the families.
Creating Better Communicators
The SUWS two-day parent workshops pack a considerable amount of information into a relatively short period of time, but almost every activity is designed to support one overriding objective: helping family members communicate more effectively and more successfully.
This effort pays immediate and lasting benefits, which become evident even before the children complete their time in the wilderness.
“After a couple of days in the workshops, the lights switch on,” Ms. Wadsworth said. “The parents have better questions, they listen more closely to what our staff members tell them, and they get more involved in their kids’ progress. The workshops help parents get a little further along in terms of being better prepared to support their children and help their families.”
Helping Parents Succeed
In addition to learning and practicing communication skills such as active listening and the use of “I feel” statements, workshop participants also have the opportunity to analyze and evaluate the techniques that they employ as parents.
Ending the Isolation
Parents who complete the two-day workshops will learn a great deal about effective parenting, and will practice a number of specific skills that will help them support their children and reunite their families. But for many participants, the most empowering aspect of the experience isn’t what they learn, but who they learn with.
Ms. Wadsworth noted that the relationships that develop among workshop participants are among the most beneficial and long-lasting aspects of the experience.
“The power of the workshops is the community that gets created,” she said. “Our parents are more connected now, and are part of a community that extends beyond the time that their kids are with us. I know that a lot of the parents stay in touch, and continue supporting and learning from each other.”