Clinical Approach & Phases

Treatment – not the development of hiking or survival skills – is the primary focus at SUWS of the Carolinas. Students progress through a sophisticated level system designed to assist them in mastering age-appropriate developmental goals.

Our Approach

Treatment is most successful when an individualized approach is employed. Therefore, each child’s length of stay and therapeutic assignments are personalized to address individual needs. Parents, referring professionals, and SUWS therapists review progress, emotional issues, and length of stay during weekly treatment planning sessions.

Peer pressure is a powerful influence during adolescence. SUWS of the Carolinas uses this influence in a positive manner. Upon arrival, students join an existing group with an established positive peer culture in which leadership positions are earned through achievement, rather than posturing. Groups are supervised by a core treatment team comprised of a therapist and three counselors, and are overseen by the program’s clinical director. With a student-to-staff ratio of 3 to 1, students receive the personal attention and care they need.

Program Curriculum

Groups are involved in ongoing expeditions that vary in length. While on the trail, students participate in outdoor activities and take part in daily group processing sessions, and staff / peer counseling. During intensive therapy or “layover,” students participate in individual and group therapy sessions while completing program curricula and therapy assignments.


  • Individualized Treatment Plans
  • Flexible Lengths of Stay
  • Master’s and Licensed Therapists
  • Rolling Admissions – Positive Peer Model
  • Intensive Therapy, both Individual & Group
  • Clothing, Gear & Equipment Included
  • Optional Psychological & Educational Testing
  • Weekly Therapist-Parent Sessions by phone
  • Weekly Treatment Planning Sessions
  • Referral Source Conferences on Weekly Basis
  • Search & Rescue Team Metaphor
  • Family Program
  • Low Student to Staff ratio

Program Phases

We know that young people need and want to contribute to a larger cause. At SUWS, the search and rescue metaphor and an intensive hands-on curriculum are the vehicles by which we help them accomplish this.

On the Trail

SAFETY PHASE – Focus on Accepting Placement

Students join the program at the Safety level. This is a brief, focused observation and assessment period, typically lasting 24 to 48 hours, during which time they will have a physical and meet with a member of the clinical team. During this phase students focus on accepting the placement, observing the group, and interacting with counselors. On this level, adolescents begin the program curricula and complete a series of simple tasks to demonstrate a desire to join the group.” Allowing a student to observe group dynamics reduces fear and assists them in making a positive transition.

INDIVIDUAL PHASE – Focus on Personal Responsibility

A core issue during adolescence is the transition from childhood to adulthood, yet they often lack the skills required to make responsible choices. Many youths mistakenly equate this part of maturation with personal freedom and attempt to assert themselves in the family system, frequently with negative behaviors. The Individual level guides students towards an understanding of how freedom relates to responsibility. Throughout this step, students develop an awareness of behavioral habits and coping skills. This knowledge helps them to avoid blaming and to recognize patterns of entitlement. Upon entering this level, students begin individual therapy, participate in daily group processing, and learn low impact camping skills. As students gain an understanding of actions and consequences, they reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to choose to act differently. Mastering personal responsibility helps students gain control over themselves and their environment.

COMMUNITY PHASE – Focus on Relationship Skills

Having identified coping skills during the Individual phase, students now begin practicing healthy relationship skills. They start to integrate new behaviors and capabilities, as well as new beliefs about themselves and others.

Community students are given specific responsibilities chosen to challenge their individual development needs. These responsibilities also assist in the care and welfare of the group.

With a focus on relationship skills, Community is a natural time to re-establish appropriate family communication.

RESPONDER PHASE – Focus on Leadership & Character

Students that achieve Responder assume leadership roles within the group. Responder students and staff assist new students through the Safety level, helping them transition into the program.

Responder students are expected to be role models. They actively participate and take a leadership role in the feedback process. Responders organize setting up and breaking down camp, lead hikes, teach curriculum assignments, and assume an active role in the daily group process. Being a role model helps students begin to internalize success and understand personal integrity. This ongoing exercise in character development helps students to begin experiencing healthy self-esteem through actual accomplishments.

I went into this program scared out of my mind. At SUWS, I learned the tools I needed to work through my issues and I'm forever grateful.

– Anonymous Patient