Research at NATSAP Programs

There is a variety of research done at NATSAP member programs. These studies cover a wide range of topics and have involved both single programs efforts as well as collaborative projects between multiple NATSAP members.

  • Outdoor Division of the Aspen Education Group: Wilderness Therapy Outcomes (See below)
  • Outdoor Behavior Healthcare Research Cooperative (OBHRC): Wilderness Therapy processes, outcomes, and risk management (See below)
  • Aspen Educational Group/Canyon Research and Consulting: Residential Treatment Outcomes (See below)
  • Alpine Academy/Utah Youth Village: Families First (See below)
  • Wilderness Quest, Monticello, UT and Life-Line, Inc., North Salt Lake, UT: comparison of residential treatment an Wilderness Therapy Outcomes (See below)
  • Wediko Children’s Services: Viewing Problem Behavior within its Social Context (See below)

Outdoor Division of the Aspen Education Group

In collaboration with the University of Arkansas, Sarah Lewis, Ph.D., Director of the Research Division at the Center for Research, Assessment, and Treatment Efficacy (CReATE) and three NATSAP member programs (SUWS, SUWS of the Carolinas, and Adirondack Leadership Expeditions) have undertaken a rigorous longitudinal study to evaluate the effectiveness of their programming. The study, which collects information from clients at the outset of the program, one-week after admission, at graduation, and then again at three- and 12-months post discharge, completed data collection in October 2008. Preliminary results have already been presented at NATSAP as well as several national venues, such as the American Psychological Association and the Association for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies. These preliminary findings, based on both standardized outcome instruments and individual process measures indicate that wilderness therapy, as practiced at these programs is associated with significant decreases in suicidality, anxiety and depression, substance abuse, social conflict, sleep disruption, violence, as well as an overall reduction in externalizing behaviors, such as impulsivity, defiance, and hostility. Further, participants are demonstrating improvements in work and academic functioning, during the follow-up portion of the study.

Lastly, the outdoor division of Aspen Educational Group, in collaboration with CReATE and the University of Arkansas are also collecting data on a second outcome study, examining the effectiveness of young adult substance abuse programs. Passages to Recovery and Four Circles Recovery Center are participating in this research endeavor and outcome data from these wilderness-based programs will be compared to data from a traditional residential drug and alcohol treatment program. Data collection will be complete in 2010. Preliminary data analyses strongly support wilderness therapy interventions in the treatment of substance dependency in young adults.

For Further Information:
Data collection (for the first study reviewed above) is projected to be completed by the fall of 2008 and full data analyses will be available in 2009; in the meantime, there is a Power Point presentation describing the adolescent study in more detail (click here to view the Power Point about the Aspen Education group/CReATE wilderness therapy study). Further information can also be obtained by contacting Dr. Lewis directly at [email protected], 828.278.0743, or

Outdoor Behavior Healthcare Research Cooperative (OBHRC):
A Research Collaborative with a number of NATSAP Outdoor programs as members and a number of accessible published studies and reports :

The purpose of the Outdoor Behavior Healthcare Research Cooperative (OBHRC) is to carry out a comprehensive research program on outdoor behavioral healthcare programs operating in North America.

Research began in 1999 with a major study of four wilderness therapy programs and has continued with collaboration on several studies and publications.

Two Research Reports of note (others are available at the OBHRC website):

  • Summary of Research from 1999 – 2006 and Update to 2000 Survey of Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Programs in North America Dr. Keith Russell, University of Minnesota
  • Incident Monitoring in Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Programs: A Four-Year Summary of Restraint, Runaway, Injury and Illness Rates Dr. Keith Russell, University of Minnesota

A privately owned company comprised of a team of psychologists and researchers, Canyon Research and Consulting conducted a  multi-center study of psychological, social, and familial outcomes for youth treated in private residential programs (a number of which were NATSAP members). It is the first large-scale, systematic exploration of outcomes in private residential treatment.

    • Report of Findings from a Multi-Center Study of Youth Outcomes in Private Residential Treatment – First Phase Dr. Ellen Behrens and Kristin Satterfield
    • A Multi-Center, Longitudinal Study of Youth Outcomes in Dr. Ellen Behrens and Dr. Kristin Satterfield

Alpine Academy/Utah Youth Village
Erda, UT

Youth Village
Erda, UT
(click here to visit Alpine Academy/Utah Youth Village)

A five-year independent study on Families First, was conducted by Dr. Robert Lewis, researcher for the Department of Human Services and Adjunct Professor at the University of Utah

The research paper was published by Children & Youth Services Review in October 2004.

Get a copy:

Wilderness Quest, Monticello, UT and
Life-Line, Inc., North Salt Lake, UT

(click here to visit Wilderness Quest, Monticello, UT)
(click here to visit Life-Line, Inc., North Salt Lake, UT)

A PhD dissertation comparing a outdoor/wilderness program and a residential treatment center.

Therapeutic Benefits of a Wilderness Therapy Program and a Therapeutic Community Program for Troubled Adolescents
Dissertation Abstract – Kreg J. Edgmon, Ph.D. 
[The first 24 pages of this 203 page dissertation can be viewed for free and the entire study can be purchased at]

Wediko Children’s Services
(click here to visit Wediko Children’s Services)

Wediko has a history of collaborating on rigorous research projects designed to better undersand the behavior and treatment of children at risk. An example of such research is the current work being done By Jack Wright, PhD of Brown University and Audry Zakriski, PhD of Connecticut College. Wright and Zakriski, in collaboration with Wediko staff, have published ground-breaking work that demonstrates the importance of viewing problem behavior within the social context in which it occurs rather than as an exclusively individualized trait.

For more, see:

Zakriski, A. L., Wright, J. C., & Parad, H. W. (2006). Intensive short-term residential treatment: A contextual evaluation of the “stop-gap” model. Brown University Child & Adolescent Behavior Letter, 22(6)

Zakriski, A. L., Wright, J. C., & Underwood, M. K. (2005). Gender similarities and differences in children’s social behavior: Finding personality in contextualized patterns of adaptation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88(5) p884-

Wright, J. C., & Zakriski, A. L. (2003). When syndromal similarity obscures functional dissimilarity: Distinctive evoked environments of externalizing and mixed syndrome boys. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71(3), p516-