Wilderness Therapy in the Media
For those who have experienced trauma, in any context, we remain committed to acknowledging your story and holding space for you.
We believe that sharing your story with someone who can empathically and authentically listen is essential to healing. With any feedback we receive, we will continue to evaluate our practices, philosophy, and protocols to ensure that each participant has a positive experience while in the care of our program.
If you have experienced abuse or mistreatment in any program, we encourage you to report concerns to the state licensing board that oversees the program.
Telling our story
Wilderness therapy programs have been operating for nearly 40 years. In 1998 the founders of Evoke helped form a new kind of wilderness therapy program – an attachment-based model that promotes healing, connection, individualized treatment, with extensive parent involvement. Wilderness and experiential therapy is the delivery method, or the setting, but the therapy is rooted in Attachment Theory, Developmental Psychology, Motivational Interviewing, Family Systems Theory, Play Therapy, Relational Therapy, and the Growth Mindset.
Evoke has served thousands of individuals and families who have shared how their time with us proved to be a transformative, life-changing experience. While research and anecdotal experiences show the vast majority of wilderness therapy participants experience healing, there are some who report otherwise. We understand that when working with so many participants, there may be some who are still struggling to navigate their way through this world, still living with anger, resentment, anxiety, depression, trauma, or other mental health challenges.
There has been some press recently about negative experiences in residential and in wilderness therapy programs partly due to Paris Hilton speaking out about her experiences while in a treatment facility during the 1990s. Since then, others have joined her coming forward to share their experiences and raise awareness about abuses in these facilities. The media has also largely focused on negative experiences in its coverage of therapeutic programs, without sharing a balanced perspective from those who experienced lifesaving help. The simple and subtle healing process just doesn’t make for compelling news.
Some individuals have spoken loudly in the form of negative reviews about programs, including Evoke. Several of those individuals have never participated in our program or any other therapeutic program but are voicing their support for those who have been in treatment.
Where is this coming from?
We believe that each individual story is unique and should be considered carefully, respectfully, and individually. While no two stories are the same, some of the reasons for the recent increase in negative reviews may include the following:
- They are not aware of the appropriate channels to register their experience.
- Feelings of powerlessness: they want others to feel the way they feel.
- Boundaries: when certain personalities experience limits and boundaries, they respond with rage.
- Not feeling heard: when people don’t feel heard, they may exaggerate or distort the truth to make their point.
- Mental health issues and social media: many people use social media (and traditional media) to seek validation. In this light, many former clients have reported that when they shared positive experiences about their time in wilderness therapy, they have been the victims of bullying.
- While we encourage anyone who experiences mistreatment or abuse in any program to report these offenses to the proper authorities, in such cases there is almost never a report to the licensing bodies that oversee these programs.
- News agencies are willing to take a story at face value. This is the easiest path to satisfy someone that wants to be heard, and it also makes for “enticing news”.
One stark example of this is a recent news article that chronicled a former client’s experience in wilderness who painted it in a negative light, but that same client previously published an article extolling the healing power of wilderness therapy and how much they had gained from their experience.
Why aren’t more voices heard about their positive experiences?
- Some people don’t want to be advocates.
- It is a private and delicate family matter.
- Those sharing positive experiences in treatment are often bullied, especially online.
- Online forums and websites sponsored by certain groups don’t allow for positive experiences to be shared, and even declare that “there are no good treatment programs in existence.”
We promote healing, and that can only happen in the context of emotional safety. Anybody who experiences abuse from any program should have their voice heard. Any program that practices punitive, shameful, coercive, or intimidating behavior should be reported and reprimanded, if not shut down.
Licensure & Accreditation
Evoke is licensed and regulated through the State of Utah, Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Licensing. In addition to Evoke’s ongoing program innovations, The State of Utah has recently implemented several changes in rules in order to create greater regulation and oversight. You can review those rules here: https://dlbc.utah.gov/rules. Evoke’s license requires a minimum of four site visits a year with at least two of them unannounced. Additionally, Evoke maintains the most recent State inspection results at our office and available to the public. Evoke is in good standing with the State of Utah Department of Health and Human services and we encourage any families with concerns to request a copy of our most recent inspection results either directly from the State or through Evoke.
Evoke is also accredited through an independent organization, the Association of Experiential Education (AEE)/Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare. In order to remain in good standing with the accreditation body, Evoke meets the many accreditation standards ranging from clinical, administrative, programming, and record-keeping. Evoke is also required to submit annual reports that demonstrate attention to risk management that is reviewed by AEE. In addition to annual reports, Evoke facilitates regularly scheduled on-site visits from AEE, or any time AEE deems it necessary.
Safety Protocols & Programming
We have listened and adopted various changes in the program over the years, including additional safety protocols, creature comforts, access to improved hygienic resources, improved confidential communication between parent and child, and additional phone calls and visits to the field. We believe that transparency is essential to the quality and improvement of our program. This is exactly why we subject ourselves to ongoing research and submit those results to peer-reviewed academic journals. In the same spirit of this transparency, parents regularly spend time in our groups, visiting their child, observing therapy and interactions between our staff and clients.
References & Reviews
Navigating reviews of a therapeutic program can be challenging. When considering placement in a program like Evoke, we recommend that parents conduct their own due diligence. Talk to other parents who actually experienced the program firsthand. Call the Department of Health and Human Services to verify whether a program is in good standing. Call the program and ask the tough questions. Visit the program in person. Don’t completely rely on online reviews, whether negative or positive.
As previously mentioned, the vast majority of families don’t post public reviews of their experiences, but it may be helpful to share just a few of the many comments we have received about Evoke:
"I was able to heal and learn more about myself. I discovered my love for the wilderness which gave me hope for my future."
"Evoke saved my son. when he went in he was depressed, filled with anxiety and binge eating for comfort. We didn't know how to reach him. During his three months in the wilderness he gained spiritual and physical health. He transformed and we gained valuable parenting skills to help him continue to thrive."
"The wilderness taught me that my true persona is someone who is optimistic, determined, compassionate, and loving. Thanks to Evoke, I have learned that I am a beautiful human being and that I don't need to hide behind the facade that displayed an angry and careless young woman."
"The friends I've made at Evoke will be in my life in the future. We are learning and growing together every day."
"I never thought I would get to a place where I could say, I really am capable."
"Evoke is literally the dopest program!"
"I'm feeling refreshed, renewed, hopeful and joyful"
"At first I felt really overwhelmed. I felt like I couldn't focus at all and I just needed to get away from it all. So I climbed up on the rocks nearby and sat down once I got to the top. As I looked around for miles in every direction, I realized that this place was truly beautiful. It all kinda clicked for me then. I realized that when I zoom out like that, the things I feel anxious about begin to feel small."
"I felt myself getting angry, but then I felt myself do something that I've never done before. I just listened. I didn't lash out. Experiencing that helped me realize that I am making progress, and that this place does really work!"
"One of our daughters dance teachers told her 'I can't really explain how you're different since you have been back, except to say that it's like you swallowed a star and you're glowing.'"
"Wilderness was the furthest thing from our plan. First of all, we thought it was for really “bad" kids and our 14-year-old was not. Her issues were anxiety, depression, suicide threats, and all sorts of attention seeking behavior. And second, our daughter hated anything to do with outdoors activities, she’s a “theatre kid,” and we didn't think wilderness would be a fit at all. But after months of bouncing between hospitals and unsuccessful RTC programs, we tried Evoke. Thank goodness we did. Evoke accomplished what no one else could. Our daughter actually really enjoyed the experience, especially the independence and sense of accomplishment, and we have been so happy to see her grow. A long review, but hopefully this gives enough context for other parents like us to take the plunge - you will be forever grateful that you did."
"The wilderness approach is wonderful. Constant learning and self-reflecting. It changed our family and our son’s pathway for life. Best intervention ever!"
"Everyone at Evoke went above and beyond in helping this journey be the most significant and successful experience possible."
"I can best describe our whole family’s experience in my daughter’s own words a “ten out of ten.” We felt from the first day she was safe and in excellent hands after a tumultuous time in high school and home. Our anxieties about how she would fare in the wilderness with rugged conditions and a prolonged separation were quickly dispelled. I can't say enough about the dedicated, professional, and supportive staff. They communicated with parents weekly about progress, stumbling blocks, and treatment plans including innovative approaches and outcomes when dealing with our daughter’s behaviors. They were always reassuring and went out of their way to accommodate students’ and parents’ needs. Communication between the staff and parents was excellent."
"Evoke has helped me bring my family together. I am forever grateful."
"I feel more accepted out here than in the front country. I don't feel pressured to meet others standards or needs."
"Evoke was a sensational experience for our entire family. Our son felt heard and able to work on his issues. He graduated the program feeling invigorated, inspired, and hopeful. The parent education webinars and books were invaluable resources for us and helped us kick start our personal growth in parallel with our son. We know we all have more work to do, but for the first time, it feels achievable. Evoke has been a revelation for our entire family."
"I wish everyone going through a difficult time with their teen had access to a place like Evoke."
"Evoke was the first place in 14 years I have felt comfortable being myself at."
"I feel like I was able to become the best version of myself throughout my time here."
"I didn't change, I just found myself."