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Ten Years of Recovery Through Nature

For 10 years, Back2Basics Outdoor Adventure Recovery has been using the natural environment to help young men recover from addiction. The Flagstaff-based program engages men, ages 18 to 35, in a variety of wilderness experiences that are emotionally and physically safe, combined with more traditional therapies such as process groups and one-on-one counseling with a clinician.

“We’re a hybrid, beginning with the expeditions for half the week, and the other half of the week focusing on counseling and life-skills development,” said Roy DuPrez, founder and CEO of Back2Basics. “We raft the Colorado, San Juan and Verde river systems. We also hike in Moab, Zion, Grand Canyon and Sedona, where we may base camp, keeping our gear in one place and coming back, or backpack, where we set up camps at different sites every night.”

Indoor climbing gyms, mountain biking and rock climbing are also added to the mix.

Utilizing this experiential approach of wilderness therapy can be challenging, as clients may resist being placed outside their comfort zones. “We’re dealing with young adults who think they are invincible,” he said. “For a period of time there’s a lack of surrender, with irritability and wanting to leave. We work to get them to a place to ride out discomfort.”

Fear can also be a factor. “We all have our own fears,” said DuPrez. “Somebody might not be afraid of jumping off a cliff into the water. Another might be afraid of backpacking for 10 miles because they’re a city kid, and they’ve never been outdoors. It depends on the individual and what they see as their challenge.”

Mindfulness therapies like yoga and meditation, EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) and breath work are also incorporated in the overall strategy for recovery.

“Various therapies can be implemented. It keeps us from being redundant in our approach. These guys have a kind of menu of different modalities that keep them engaged. Or, maybe somebody just wants to be heard.”

The program can be covered through insurance and other private-pay options.

Typically there are about 20 to 25 people on staff, including five clinicians, a medical director and psychiatrist, expedition leaders, administrators and residential staff.

“We’ve won a few awards, and our success rate is really high,” DuPrez noted. “We are Arizona-state licensed, Joint Commission accredited [as a para-hospital], and also accredited by NATSAP [National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs].”

Entry into the program is voluntary. There are between 18 and 20 young men in the program at any given time. “Most of our clients are families in crisis. That’s how a family can discover us, with therapists across the country that they may already be working with.”

Program participants live full time in several private residential homes in Flagstaff. In addition, the program operates a clinic on University Avenue for daytime therapeutic services, including medication management. “We don’t want to keep clients medicated as a singular approach to addressing addiction, but as supplemental if and when needed,” he said.

Staying in the program can yield many benefits, including elevated self-confidence and feelings of hope and empowerment. In the Beyond the Basics transition program, clients look ahead to their futures, acquiring skills that will be needed in leading a more mature, adult lifestyle, such as paying rent and bills. “We are working closely with these guys to be self supporting on their own contributions, with the first six months concentrated on getting their bearings. Many of these guys are coming into the program not knowing how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They’ve been living on mom and dad’s couch for a long time and haven’t been exposed to being responsible and accountable.

The second six months is about getting an internship, getting jobs, going back to school. “They’re building on what they had before, which is very little. Chronologically, maybe they’re adults, but they haven’t been living up to that role.”

Through the years, a few clients have struggled to complete the program. “We’ve had a couple of retreads,” Du Prez said. “I think that’s a testimony to us as well – even though somebody has had a relapse, that their family, with umpteen-thousand options, has come back to us and felt they could trust us to work with their son again.”

The pandemic has caused some changes in the Back2Basics format, especially in the area of community service. Such service has historically been an important component of the program and has included helping at food banks and community gardens, stocking warehouses, moving furniture, shoveling snow and volunteering at Habitat for Humanity and Grand Canyon Youth.

“The intent for us is to still be of service in the time of COVID,” said DuPrez. “The things we would do in the community that have more visibility have tapered back. We try to make choices for activities that will be safest for all with regard to social distancing. We’ve been doing more trail cleanups, and every week we are cooking in our commercial kitchens and delivering various meals for families in the community that may be experiencing hardships.”

DuPrez has been working in the field of rehabilitation for more than 20 years. He has developed adolescent programs and community centers in Flagstaff. He has also worked in local charter schools, promoting experiential learning. He also has worked at orphanages in Mexico.

DuPrez, who is 45 and has been sober for 20 years, said his own alcoholism influenced the development of Back2Basics. “Coincidentally, I’ve been in the social work field while getting sober myself. The program is based on my own successes in recovery as a young adult. I have always had a hard time in the classroom environment. That’s why I’ve focused more on an experiential approach, rather than a cinder-block, hospital 30-day setting. It’s more of a real-life routine.”

Facing new challenges during the epidemic has caused DuPrez to think in the last few months about what is important and what is not. “Our culture in America is to expand and grow and be more profitable. For me, the only thing I’d like to do is continue to improve on what we were already continuing to improve in the program. Philosophically, we needed to scale back all the fluff; there is no magic bullet, and it’s a matter of time and consistency.”

Looking back over the last 10 years, DuPrez believes the Back2Basics formula has worked well. “There are whole generations of clients and their families that continue to be in recovery, and fortunately we were the program that allowed them to stop the cycle. We’ve had a decade of continued success.” FBN

By Betsey Bruner, FBN

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