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SUWS (The School of Urban and Wilderness Survival) is an old wilderness therapy program.


It started out as a outdoor education program and developed into a wilderness therapy program located in Idaho's desert.

The first program for youth aged 14 to 18 was started in 1981 in Idaho. In 1997 they started a second program for a younger target-group. In 2000 a program was started in North Carolina.

In 2006 they began to market a program aimed to youth with Aspergers diseases which they felt could benefit from their program <Ref>Aspergers advertisment, program homepage</Ref>



There are three ways for the detainees to arrive to the place for the intake.

  • The youth can travel there voluntary
  • Children are tricked there. According to, which is a kind of marketing paper for the industry, it is not seldom to receive a child with a newly bought snowboard in his or her hand, when the child is received at the airport. The parents simply trick the child into a belief that the child is going on holiday rather than being sent to the wilderness until <Ref> visit to SUWS,</Ref>. Many students wouldn't choose to come to a wilderness therapy program voluntarily.
  • They use teen escort firms.

Level system[redigér]

The various programs in Idaho and South Carolina varies a little.

The programs has the following levels:

Level Idaho North Carolina Description
1 Safety Safety The goal is to make the youth accept that they are in the desert and to teach them some basic wilderness skills so they become oriented to the desert and are able to take care of themselves.
2 Individual Individual The youth spends time by themselves, sitting alone with some with some written assignments and contemplating their life. They are isolated from the group and receive little peer feedback during this time, which encourages them to face their problems and take accountability for their past actions.
3 Family Community This phase focused of interacting with the other youth. They work to take care of themselves and take care of those in their family group. They learn more advanced backpacking and outdoor skills.
4 Venturer Explorer Navigator Guide Responder
5 Search & Rescue Search & Rescue In this phase students work to continue taking care of themselves and their families, and additionally work to take care of the desert and their larger community.
6 Family program


Some teenagers complete SUWS by taking accountability for their actions and working to improve their lives by achieving sobriety, making positive decisions for their futures, and working on positive and pro-active communication with those around them. Most leave SUWS with a greater level of self-confidence and self-respect.

Many teenagers do not return home after the struggle in the wilderness. Many go on to other aftercare programs or Boarding Schools. The number of teenagers returning home are lower at SUWS than many other programs <Ref>Theoretical Basis, process and reported Outcomes of Wilderness Therapy as an Intervention and Treatment for problem behavior in Adolescents, by Keith C. Russell, Idaho University, page 23</Ref>

In the news[redigér]


Two known deaths are recorded:

  • Rocco Magliozzi - aged 12 died July 2006 when he contracted the West Nile Virus. The program sent Rocco to the doctor, who cleared him to return to the desert. When he was taken to the doctor a second time, he never returned to the desert and passed away in the hospital <Ref>Rocco Magliozzi, 12; loved sports, Boston Globe</Ref>

Other news[redigér]

External links[redigér]

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