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News & Views - Feb, 1995 Issue #32 


by: Larry Wells
Wilderness Conquest
Monticello, Utah

Boot Camps have become the politically correct idea for improving adolescent antisocial behavior. Strict discipline is the war cry of 1995. For those of us ancient enough to remember the 1950's, we recall that when a juvenile delinquent came to court as a 17 year old or older, they were given a choice of going into the army or going to the Industrial School. 

The army worked for many young men, but it became too much for the army and by the 1970's they refused to take them. Not enough kids were responding to military discipline. During the last 20 plus years I have found that different individuals respond to different treatment models, but I have also found common ground rules: 

l. Love and Concern: If a client is to leave their life of self- destruction, it will be because someone cared, someone listened and understood, someone loved them unconditionally, just as they are, simply because they are. 

2. Cause and Effect: If an individual is allowed to make decisions, then allowed to live the results of those decisions and held accountable for those decisions, THEN the learning, maturing, and developing processes continue. If any of these steps are terminated, the maturation work stops. 

3. Uniting the Family: Unifying the family is not always possible, but I have found the most important factor in long term recovery is family support using cause and effect with generous doses of love and concern. Family involvement in treatment is critical. 

A state agency contacted me and asked if I would train staff in a program that was being too harsh in the treatment of their clients. My response was: AI can teach them proper skills, develop policy and procedures that outline caring and safety, but I cannot teach them a caring, safe attitude. 

In wilderness or residential treatment programs, staff attitude is basic to preventing injury. It is a fundamental component in the success of any treatment model. A boot camp attitude of breaking a person down to build them up, or convincing them they are rotten to the core before they can accept their own behavior and improve - is scary. It fosters a less than or damaged goods viewpoint by the staff toward the clients. It creates an atmosphere of distrust and a lack of respect. Only when a client feels respect and perceives trust, can they trust and respect in return. 

Military boot camp philosophy brings individuals to the belief they are less than human, and their sergeant is their only salvation. This is a necessity in wartime environments where fighting men must follow orders, putting their lives on the line without a second thought. This process however, does not necessarily create citizens who are responsible for their behavior or able to enjoy creative initiative. It does nothing to develop spirituality or unite l families. 

Copyright 1995, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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