The Summit Blog

Does Summit Achievement work with troubled teens by using a “scared straight” model of intervention?

Summit Achievement has achieved being one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious accredited programs for struggling teens by providing our students and their families with high quality treatment, challenging academics and outdoor experiences. At times we are asked if we “scare straight troubled teens.”  We use the term “struggling teens“ versus “troubled teens” as we see our students struggling with issues that cause them to, at times, get into trouble at home, school or work. We find these struggles that lead to troubling behavior by young people are often driven by undiagnosed learning difficulties and/or undiagnosed mental health issues.  We work on identifying and addressing these issue so students can go on to have independent, healthy and successful lives.

Our relational model encourages an allied based approach where we work alongside students versus a punitive approach which is commonly seen in adjudicated programs where students are mandated to attend. Our sophisticated clinical approach provides the highest quality treatment provided by  licensed clinicians and a caring staff who work diligently to connect with our students. Our approach comes from a place of care and not control.

While there are programs in the country that are about being “tough” on young people such as a “scared straight” programs or military influenced “boot camps” that is not what Summit Achievement is or has ever been about.  There have been several research articles that reveal the confrontational tactics do not work well with struggling teens.   That type of approach to working with teens often causes young people to get in to more trouble after discharging from a program.

Summit Achievement is about making connection with young people in order to help young people and their families’ change.  Our outcome studies show that we are extremely effective in treating mental health disorders including anxiety and depression.  Our approach comes from a place of care and not control.  Please come visit us to see what we have to offer.

Why Summit Achievement Recommends parents hire a Therapeutic Educational Consultant

Therapeutic Educational Consultants are professionals who assist parents in finding the right therapeutic and/or academic setting for their adolescent or young adults before, and after, Summit Achievement.  Summit recommends parents hire a Therapeutic Educational Consultant in order to help ensure that a parent has access to the most up to date information about schools and programs for aftercare planning.   Enlisting a consultant at the beginning of a students’ stay at Summit helps keep parents informed of all the options that are available after Summit.

Therapeutic Educational Consultants, are most likely members of the following associations:

To be a member of either of these organizations educational consultants must adhere to ethical standards to help ensure unbiased and objective advice to parents and are not receiving any sort of compensation or quid pro quo from programs.  Professionals associated with these two organization attend conferences and trainings to keep up to date on best practices.

Therapeutic Educational Consultants regularly visit programs (like Summit) to keep up to date on any changes that may occur.  Some therapeutic educational consultants have worked in therapeutic programs in the past and many have advanced mental health degrees, certifications and training. Summit recommends that parents interview several Therapeutic Consultants to find out how they work with families as well as how they charge for their services.

If you do not have an educational consultant and are considering Summit or you are currently a parent of a student at Summit please ask our Admissions Director or your child’s assigned clinician and they will give you a list of therapeutic consultants in your area.

Is Summit Achievement Like Outward Bound?

On a regular bases the Summit admissions team is asked, “Are you like Outward Bound?”

Our response is “Yes and no”.

How Summit Achievement And Outward Bound Are Similar

We respond “Yes” as Outward Bound and Summit Achievement combine experiential education and outdoor education programs to help young people create change in their lives. Both organizations are strongly committed to assisting young people grow to be better people and contributors to their families and communities. Both organizations utilize multi-day expeditions with high quality gear led by qualified and highly trained guide staff to help give young people the guidance they need to grow as individuals as well as being part of a team.

Both organizations see the multiple challenges facing youth today and strongly feel that being outdoors and participating in adventurous activities is good for the mind, body and soul. These are the underpinnings of both of our organizations.

One of the influences of both organizations was Kurt Hahn who founded Outward Bound in 1941. Hahn gave a lecture in 1960 that identified the following “social diseases that Outward Bound addresses”:

  • There is the decline in fitness due to the modern methods of locomotion.
  • The decline in initiative, due to the widespread disease of spectatoritis.
  • The decline in care and skill, due to the weakened tradition of craftsmanship.
  • The decline in self-discipline, due to the ever-present availability of tranquilizers and stimulants.
  • The decline of compassion, which William Temple called “spiritual death.”

At Summit we see many of the same challenges for youth enrolling in our program that Hahn identified many years ago. Many are struggling with physical health as they are no longer or never committed to being physically healthy. Others are losing initiative as they spend far too much time looking at technology (spectatoritis).

Many are unable to put the skills together to take care of themselves or others. Some students exhibit a lack of self-discipline and others struggle with substance use. All benefit from structured activities with competent leaders assisting them. We also add to the mix licensed mental health professionals and accredited academics.

Several of Summit Achievements founding team were former Outward Bound instructors and program directors in the late 1980’s. They decided to take what they learned at Outward Bound and add a clinically sophisticated mental health program and a vigorous academic program.

How Summit Achievement And Outward Bound Are Different

Summit is a licensed residential treatment program that provides mental health treatment by licensed mental health professionals. Outward Bound is an experiential learning organization that does not address mental health issues.

Outward Bound works with over 200,000 students in a year and operates all over the world including a sailing based program in Maine called Hurricane Island Outward Bound. Summit Achievement works with around 100 students in a year and operates only in Maine.

Outward Bound has fixed length courses which mean the programs start and end on certain days while Summit can enroll a student any week and the length of stay is dependent on progress in the program.

Summit Achievement is accredited as an Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Program while Outward Bound programs are accredited in many ways but not as an Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare program.

Summit Achievement is influenced by Kurt Hahn and Outward Bound and we are grateful for the influence. While Summit is influenced by Outward Bound we also have other influences.

Like Kurt Hahn once said, “In education, as in medicine, you must harvest the wisdom of a thousand years. If you ever come across a surgeon and he wants to extract your appendix in the most original manner possible, I would strongly advise you to go to another surgeon.”

Summit Achievement harvested the wisdom of a thousand years including the wisdom/influence of Outward Bound as well as many others!

How To Receive Insurance Reimbursement For Summit Achievement Services

We receive insurance type questions quite often at Summit Achievement. While Summit does not have direct contracts with any insurance companies, some parents have been able to get reimbursed for part, or all of their child’s stay in the program.

It is best to call your insurance company first before enrolling into the program if you are dependent on your insurance company to pay for services and check on your “out-of-network” services for residential placement.

Persistence Prevails

It is important to recognize that there are thousands of insurance companies and each one has its own unique ways to reimburse or deny payment. Summit does not deal directly with insurance companies but will provide you with forms that you can submit for reimbursement.

We have found with persistence that many of our parents do get some reimbursement, so don’t give up.

How To Begin The Reimbursement Process

The best way for families to begin the reimbursement process is to engage with one of these two claims assistance companies, Denials Management or Axis Services in the early stages of your child’s stay at Summit or prior to enrollment.

They both provide excellent assistance in helping families get reimbursement and have helped many Summit families. Both of these companies will be clear with you from the start if they think you have a case for reimbursement. Their fee structures are different and it is important to consider before engaging one of these companies.

Denials Management charges an hourly fee, whereas Axis takes a percentage of anything they recoup from the insurance company.

Sky’s The Limit Fund

If you do not think you will get insurance reimburse for services but feel you meet the criteria for financial aid then Summit has a fund that is administered by another organization called the Sky’s the Limit Fund. They do the financial vetting for families to see if they fit the criteria for a grant. After your child is accepted into the Summit program, and before we enroll your child, please  contact Sky’s the Limit Fund.

After two to three days they will inform you if you qualify for a grant and how much you will be given.

Summit will match grants from the Sky’s The Limit Fund.

Contact Summit

We want to help and will do our best to steer you in the right direction. Summit Achievement is a licensed and accredited medium length residential treatment program that operates in Maine. We do all we can to assist families gain access to Summit’s care.

So please connect with us if there are financials hurdles in the way.


Tips For Parents With Children Who Are Refusing or Anxious About Going To Summit

Summit has been providing wilderness therapy and education at our residential facility in the mountains of western Maine since 1996. Summit is unique in the field as 98% of our students come with their parents for enrollment.

One of the key components in our program is helping parents through the process of informing and bringing their children to Summit once the decision is made.

We know it’s not always easy or comfortable for parents. So this article was written to help parents deal with common situations that may arise when preparing to bring their child to Summit.

Make Sure You Are Committed First

The first step in getting your child to agree to go to Summit is being ready yourself, and we are here to help you. Making sure you are fully committed to this process will make a significant difference in what you do next.

After reviewing the website, talking with our admissions person and filling out an application, we know you still may have questions. If so, please do not hesitate to contact us. We’re here to help and want to make sure we guide you each step of the way.

History Of Not Following Through

Once your child is accepted, if you have not already done so, you should tell them that they are going to a program.

One challenge we have heard from families is parents saying, “Many times I have told my child they are going to a program but I never followed through.” If this is the case, then your child is likely to think they you will not follow through again.

Your response should be something like this,

“I know I have said many times you are going to a program, but this time I prepared to follow through. Things are not getting better for you, and I care deeply about you. Things are not working at home, and you have been accepted into Summit. We are leaving tomorrow. This program is one that works primarily with voluntary students and we think this is the best way to go. There are other programs that take young people against their will, but that is not the route we want to go.”

Do not get caught up in the emotional whirlwind that many young people exhibit after being told they are going to do something they don’t want to do. Most young people don’t want to go to the dentist or school and parents have to put up the boundary and take the responsibility to make it happen.

Dealing With Anxiety

Anxiety is pervasive for young people and many of our students struggle with it. Parents of highly anxious students regularly ask, “I can’t even get him to leave the house to go to school so how do you expect me to get them to you?”

We encourage parents to sit down with their child and say something like this,

“For a while you have been overcome with anxiety and not attending school. We need to change this pattern for you to have opportunities in your life. We love you. We cannot do it as it has not been working for you at home. If it was working at home you would not be stuck here not going out. Your anxiety has created a jail for you and we have found a program that will help you learn how to unlock the jail and get out. We will be leaving…..”

Frame it as a statement not a question and inform them you, as the parent, have made the decision. Be positive, caring and direct. You, as a parent, have to make changes to make it happen and that starts with being clear and direct.

The Threat Of Running Away

Another challenge parents’ state when approaching their child about going to a program is the child responding to being told they are going to a program, “I will just run away or get kicked out.”

We encourage parents to be clear of how Summit operates compared to other options you have as a parent.

You can inform your child something like this,

“Summit takes 98% of their students via their parents. If you are going to run away or act in a way to get kicked out we should really be looking at a much more restrictive program in which the majority of students are transported by other people and that works with people who use threats to get their way. At Summit we will talk with you each week and visit you after three to four weeks. They are the only program in the country with school and a wilderness component that operates this way. The others you will not be talking with us nor visiting for a much longer period of time.”

As stated in the first paragraph, on a rare occasion we will take students via transport. Those students are individually considered which is at our discretion. Please see the blog “who can come to Summit Achievement by transport.” We have had good success in these situations but that is not the primary way students come to Summit due to our model of regular interaction with parents while in the program.

When To Tell Your Child

Another questions is “how soon should I tell my child that we are going?” We answer that by stating to parents that, “every young person is different and you, as a parent, know your child best. What do you think?”

  • Do they need a long time to process the change?
  • Is it better for them to be told the night before or morning of?
  • Some young people would benefit from seeing our website
  • Others may want to call us.
  • Would a neutral location be better?

Some families decide to tell their child and then go to a neutral location, like a relative’s house or a hotel closer to Summit to remove some of the triggers and temptations that exist at home.

Think about how your child is likely to react and then consider the different approaches to work with your child. If you need guidance call us and you can talk with our admission director or your referring professional or other supporters.

We’re Here To Help

We know this is a difficult process. However, any change is difficult, and this is for the better. Things are not going well for your child and you at home and that is why you are reaching out to us.

You have applied to Summit, and your child has been accepted. Now is the time to help them get here for the help they need. When you arrive on campus our team will help your child to adjust to the program and do all that we can to make them feel welcome and safe upon arrival.

It won’t take your child long to realize that you have brought them somewhere that has kind people ready to help them.

Summit Achievement Re-Accredited As An Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Program

Summit Achievement is proud to be one of only two wilderness therapy programs in the country to have completed this vigorous re-accreditation process.

Association for Experiential Education for Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Programs

We, at Summit Achievement, have just completed the vigorous re-accreditation process by the Association for Experiential Education for Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Programs. By completing this process, Summit Achievement has been awarded accreditation for another three years.

Why did we chose to be an Accredited Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Program?
Accredited Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare programs demonstrate to impartial reviewers that they operate above industry standards of ethical care, treatment evaluation, and risk management practices.

We believe that choosing to be accredited reinforces our commitment to the families we serve to continually strive to be the best in the field as we have for over 22 years.

The Process To Becoming An Accredited Program
During the AEE reaccreditation process a team of outdoor education/adventure therapy professionals spend three days in order to conduct an on-site review of programs. The team reviews policy and procedures as well as interviews staff and inspects facilities.

The outstanding team that reviewed our program included Jed Williamson, one of the authors of the original set of standards for adventure programs and former President of Sterling College as well as Dr. Michael Gass  from the University of New Hampshire and the Outdoor Behavioral Health Research Cooperation and Leah McDonald, formerly the Youth Program Director from Rippleffect of Maine.

The Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council has 21 members and Summit (being one of the longest standing programs) is one of 15 that has met the standard of AEE/OBH accreditation. We are one of the first programs in the country to become accredited by AEE/OBH and the only one in the Northeast.

AEE/OBH accreditation adds to the many credentials we already have, including being a licensed by the State of Maine as residential treatment center with all licensed clinicians and a licensed non-traditional private school with a certified Special Educator on staff.

We are also a Research Designated Program awarded by the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs.

Mindfulness at Summit Achievement

Summit Achievement incorporates mindfulness, as well as mindfulness meditation, in different segments of the program. Every day there are periods of time of silent reflection with the most notable being before each meal when the community stands in a circle in silence for a period of time. Spending Thursday through Sunday out in nature without distractions helps increase mindfulness for both staff and students. At times, while on expedition, a team may just hike in silence and just watch their minds.  Other students are educated by their clinician, or guide, on mindfulness meditation techniques as treatment planning. By the time a student reaches the end of the wilderness experience they have an option to go on a solo which is a 24-hour period of silence and self-reflection. The solo experience has been researched and shown to be one of the most powerful experiences in a wilderness program (Kalisch, Bobilya, Daniel, 2011)

The term “mindfulness” has become quite popular in the press, books and other forms of media.  Similarly mental health professionals are encouraging clients to practice “mindfulness” techniques in order to address cognitive challenges such as anxiety, emotional regulation, and depression.  This is also the case for Summit Achievement clinicians as they often assign treatment goals that include a mindfulness practice to students with anxiety or other mood disorders. But what is “mindfulness” and why does it seem that everyone is talking about it?

“Mindfulness” is often used to refer to a cognitive state of awareness, a practice that promotes awareness, a way to process information and even a characterological trait (Davis and Hayes, 2011)  The simplest way to define “mindfulness” is “moment to moment awareness” (Gernes, et al 2005)   Mindfulness is a state of mind that can be promoted by practices.  Practices the promote mindfulness including yoga, breathing exercises, sitting in silence, and prayer.  Others have written that mindfulness can be enhanced by long distance running, gardening, surfing, rock climbing or any activity that can one can get into a ‘Flow” state (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008)  Time in nature has also been shown to increase mindfulness especially for young people (Louv, 2008)

The most well-known of the mindfulness practices is referred to as “mindfulness meditation.”  Mindfulness meditation is the practice of attending to the wide range of changing objects of attention while maintaining moment to moment awareness (Goldstein, Kornfield, 1987).   Mindfulness meditation is the process of sitting in silence and focusing on breathing while not being caught up in the distractions of thoughts and emotions.  When thoughts and emotions occur the meditator just labels those mental intrusions as “thoughts” and goes back to the process of focusing on the breath. It sounds simple but the actual process is quite difficult as our minds, are often distracted by thoughts and feelings and we don’t realize how busy our minds are until we start to meditate.

Mindfulness meditation has been researched for several decades and the positive outcomes of this practice cannot be overstated.   Research studies have shown that mindfulness meditation helps develop effective emotional regulation of the brain (Siegel 2007), decreases ruminative thoughts (Chamber, et al 2008), helps to reduce anxiety and depression while increasing positive affect (Hoffman, Sawyer, Witt, Oh 2010)).   Other studies have shown the meditation practice have increased cognitive flexibility and attentional functioning (Moor, Malinowski 2009).   If mindfulness meditation was a drug every physician would be prescribing it!  Mindfulness meditation is being talked about because it works and evidenced based research has proven it.

“Mindfulness” is a term that is widely bantered about and yet it is really about simple practices of slowing oneself down enough to see how busy our minds are.  Summit Achievement by its very nature, due to incorporating the wilderness aspects and times of reflection in the program, is a program that promotes mindfulness for all who participate.  Mindfulness promotes a peaceful and reflective mind.

To see some of Summit Achievement’s outcome research, click here

To contact us with further questions, or to discuss a particular case, click here

Outcome Research and Outdoor Behavioral Health

Summit Achievement has been a member of the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council (OBH) since 2000 (to go to the OBH website, click here).  We have participated in ongoing research to promote the field and prove the efficacy of our work.  Below is a video recently published by OBH about this work.   To see outcome research specific to Summit Achievement, please click here.

Summit Achievement works with students on the Autism Spectrum

For many years, Summit Achievement has been known by professionals as a great placement for clients who struggle with high-functioning autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Level 1. While individuals with this diagnosis are unique more than they are similar, some typical characteristics include:

  •         Impairment in social functioning
  •         Difficulty with reading and managing both verbal and non-verbal social cues
  •         Patterns of repetitive behavior
  •         Rigid thinking
  •         Difficulty with transitions
  •         Sensory and executive functioning challenges


In some cases, a student may enroll with features of ASD but it has been previously unclear if a diagnosis is appropriate.  This lack of clarity in a student’s life can often lead to secondary struggles including:

  •         Social anxiety
  •         Poor performance in school despite high intelligence
  •         A lack of close friends and relationships
  •         Excessive video game or internet use
  •         Disorganization
  •         Family conflict
  •         Oppositional behavior
  •         Substance use   

Here are some of the ways in which Summit Achievement works effectively with these students:

Social Skills Development

The teams at Summit Achievement consist of a maximum of 8 students.  A team of 8 would have 3 full-time direct care staff and a full-time therapist.  The staff and therapist always work to develop rapport and build a relationship with any client that joins the team.  This relationship is then the platform from which all therapeutic work is conducted. We want students to feel safe and know that our staff will help keep them both physically and emotionally safe throughout the program.  These groups may have a few individuals on the autism spectrum, but will always include students that do not have this diagnosis as well. This creates a more realistic social setting for students on the spectrum to practice social skills.  With constant supervision, as well as daily process groups and regular individual therapy, there are many opportunities for students to work on social skills such as active listening, appropriate use of humor, body language, eye contact, and paraverbal communication.  Furthermore, the structure of the program provides many proscribed yet socially intense encounters with peers, such as doing assigned chores in the wilderness on a cold morning, working together to make it to the top of a summit, or conducting a process group beneath the stars.   The intense, structured therapeutic setting allows for a safe space for students to be themselves and for other students to accept each other’s weaknesses while celebrating the strengths that inevitably emerge. As students move through the level system and new students join the team, each student gets to practice their skills as a leader and teacher for others.   We see significant gains in social skills over a 6-8 week period as well as dramatic increases in self-confidence in social situations and correlating decreases in social anxiety.


Cognitive Rigidity

Cognitive rigidity and a tendency to view things as “all good” or “all bad” can be a hallmark of individuals with ASD, particularly when in a new setting.  Summit’s supportive staff are trained to be patient and work with individuals to slowly ease them out of their comfort zone in order to experience new things while challenging patterns of thinking that lead to rigidity.  Perhaps the best teacher of this cognitive flexibility is the wilderness. Plans change due to weather, a campsite being taken by another group, a team hiking slower or faster than anticipated or a sudden lightning storm.  All of these things require individuals to learn how to adapt, adjust and become more flexible. As individuals with ASD learn to adapt and adjust, and view those around them doing the same, it is the job of the therapist and direct care staff to help these individuals draw on these unique experiences and generalize them. Once these generalizations are realized, the can be connected and applied to experiences each week in the classroom, on a family session or on a family visit.


This also requires that we are flexible when we can be, helping students manage sensory issues, whether around types of food, required clothing, or personal hygiene.  It also may require staff intervention around social interactions or allowing an individual to take space. Our staff are trained to work with individuals with ASD and view rigidity as a symptom, rather than as a form of opposition or defiance.



Times of transition and change can be difficult for individuals on the spectrum.  Our program is designed to have many natural transitions. Our students transition each week from attending school for three days to going out in the wilderness for four days, and then back again.  Direct care staff transition in and out each week. With rolling admission students are often graduating and leaving the team or new students are enrolling. All of these transition points can be stressful for all, but particularly for individuals on the spectrum.  In an effort to help our clients manage transitions and change we make sure that all transitions are always accompanied by frontloading, acknowledgment and processing after the fact. By making an individual aware of a coming transition, taking the time to develop a plan of how to manage it, acknowledging when the transition is occurring and then following up afterwards, clients begin to develop the skills to manage transitions and gain confidence in their ability to handle change in the future.   Again it becomes the job of the direct care staff and therapist to help individuals generalize this skill to future situations.


Addictive Behaviors

It is common for individuals on the spectrum to lack the understanding and knowledge of how to manage their unique selves in the world and many have developed negative coping strategies to help them manage social anxiety.  This can often lead to addiction to video-games, internet and/or substances (often marijuana). While at Summit Achievement students will not have access to any of these negative coping strategies and will work with their therapist and staff to gain insight into understanding their addiction, gain insight into the underlying causes of this addiction and develop healthy, positive strategies for the future.  

If you have a particular question or a particular case you would like to discuss with us, please click here.   


Why I moved to New England for Summit Achievement

I work for a program located in Maine, but I am not from New England. I’m a southerner, born and raised in North Carolina.  In the summer of 2014, I packed up my things (and family) and moved from North Carolina to the White Mountains of New England for the very purpose of working for Summit Achievement as the Admissions Director.  It is not uncommon for me to be asked why.

As an outdoor enthusiast, could it be that I wanted to live somewhere that has four real seasons, both Alpine and Nordic skiing, amazing hiking, and beautiful coastline?  Well that didn’t hurt.  Truthfully, after years of experience working in admissions, I realized that to do my job well and love doing it, the program I represented had to compliment my own passions and beliefs.  Due to my personal love of the wilderness along with my background in adventure guiding and working at a therapeutic boarding school, it was very intriguing for me to learn that there was a wilderness therapy program that offered exciting adventure-based expeditions along with a truly individualized and supportive school.  Better yet, they were looking for a new Admissions Director. Could that be me?

When you take a job in Admissions, an important question to ask yourself is, “Can I represent this program with integrity, passion and confidence?” I flew to Maine to find out.    

When I came to Summit Achievement for the first time, I immediately fell in love with the beautiful setting.  I was impressed by the unique hybrid model which offered both school and wilderness, the twenty years of successful programming and outcomes, the compassionate staff, and the commitment of the students.  I met staff who had been with the program for over a decade and still loved what they did. Many of the students expressed newfound confidence and a gratitude for the program in which they were participating in.  As for other important details, the gear the students were outfitted with was top-notch, the food was tasty and nutritious, the campus was clean and orderly, and the students were clearly well cared for.

It was time to ask the question. Could I represent this program? In the end, my answer was yes.  

Making the move to New England certainly came with its own adjustments, yet it was one of the best decisions I ever made.  I have the honor of being part of a unique program and a dynamic team.  I am also privileged to meet each family I work with in admissions, and witness the results of our program first hand.  As a bonus, I get to live in the beautiful White Mountains, where my family and I seek out our own adventures as often as we can.