Elements Wilderness Program (2008-present) Huntington, UT

Wilderness Program

History and Background Information

Elements Wilderness Program is a behavior modification program that opened in 2008. It is marketed as a Wilderness Program for teenage boys (13-17) who are struggling with anger, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, mood dysregulation, being withdrawn, taking little or no responsibility for their actions, avoiding their responsibilities, shutting down, blaming others, and engaging in “maladaptive mechanisms” such as gaming, substance abuse, or overuse of electronics. The program has a maximum enrollment of 50 boys who are divided into smaller groups, and the average length of stay is reported to be between 8 and 10 weeks. The cost of the program’s tuition is reported to be $525 per day ($50,850 for 90 days). Although Elements is not a member of NATSAP, the program states on their site that they are a NATSAP research designated program. The program is also a member of the Outdoor Behavioral Health Council.

The address associated with the program is 1190 N Mohrland Rd, Huntington, UT 84528. However, because Elements is a wilderness program, the teens actually spend the duration of the program backpacking around the area of Huntington State Park.

This program participates in the University Of New Hampshire’s Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research, along with other known questionable programs: Anasazi Foundation, Open Sky Wilderness Program, RedCliff Ascent Wilderness Program and New Vision Wilderness. Elements also operates a separate program for young adults (18+) called Elements Traverse, which was founded in 2016.

Founders and Notable Staff

John Karren is the Co-Founder, Co-Owner, and Admissions Consultant at Elements Wilderness Program. Prior to creating Elements, John worked as the Admissions Director of the reportedly abusive Second Nature Uintas from 1999 until 2008.

Karen Scrafford is the Co-Founder of Elements Wilderness Program. Prior to this, she worked first as a field guide, assistant field guide, and then in admissions at the reportedly abusive Second Nature Uintas. In 2019, she was elected to be the vice-chair of the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council.

Lynn Smith is the Co-Founder and Co-Owner of Elements Wilderness Program. He also currently works as a Therapist at the program. Prior to this, he worked at the confirmedly abusive Aspen Achievement Academy beginning in 1994. He also worked at a variety of unidentified residential treatment centers, therapeutic boarding schools, and group homes.

Andrew Powell is the CEO and Co-Owner of Elements Wilderness Program. Prior to working at Elements, he worked in a number of roles at the reportedly abusive Outback Therapeutic Expeditions from 2006 until 2014. These roled include Senior Field Supervisor, Staff Supervisor, Field Director, Program Director, and Executive Director. He began working at Elements in January of 2014.

Neal Christensen is the Co-Owner and Clinical Director of Elements Wilderness Program. Prior to joining Elements in 2013, he worked as a Therapist and later the Clinical Director of the reportedly abusive Outback Therapeutic Expeditions from 2004 until 2007, and then from 2008 until 2013.

Tara Stireman current works as a Primary Therapist and the Associate Clinical Director of Elements Wilderness Program. She reportedly began working at the reportedly abusive Second Nature Uintas in 2003. While pursuing her Master’s degree in Social Work, she worked as an intern at the reportedly abusive Vista Adolescent Treatment Center and at the confirmedly abusive Copper Hills Youth Center. According to HEAL, she has only been licensed since March 28th, 2011 and has been working under the title “therapist” at this program since at least 2010.

Kate Lierd (née Kate Brown) currently works as the Admissions Director of Elements Wilderness Program. She has worked at Elements since 2015. She began her career in the TTI working as the Human Resources Manager at the reportedly abusive Passages To Recovery from 2004 until 2011. During this time, she also worked as the Human Resources Manager at the confirmedly abusive Aspen Achievement Academy from 2009 until 2011. She then worked as the Human Resources Manager at the reportedly abusive Oakley School from 2011 until 2015, when she joined Elements. All three of these programs were owned by the confirmedly abusive Aspen Education Group.

Jeff “JJ” Freedlund currently works as a Primary Therapist at Elements Wilderness Program. He previously worked as a Field Instructor at the reportedly abusive Second Nature Uintas from 2010 until 2013. He then went on to work as an Outdoor Experiential Education Staff at the reportedly abusive Gateway Academy from 2013 until 2014. During this time, he also worked as a House Coach at the reportedly abusive Oakley School from 2013 until 2015. He then briefly worked as a Clinical Assistant at the reportedly abusive Evoke Entrada and Evoke Cascades from May until August of 2015. He began working at Elements in May of 2016.

Mike Dibasio formerly worked as a Lead Field Guide at Elements Wilderness Program. He is also featured on the University of New Hampshire’s Outdoor Behavioral Program alumni page. UNH’s Outdoor Behavioral program conducts research on behalf of the Troubled Teen Industry, and is known to be pro-TTI.

Sarah Gallimore currently works as a Field Supervisor at Elements Wilderness Program. She is another featured alumna of the UNH’s Outdoor program- a biased, pro-TTI program.

Program Structure

Like other behavior modification programs, Elements uses a level system consiting of five levels, as reported on their website. The levels are:

  • Acclimation: This is the first phase of the program at Elements. During this phase, the student spends time away from the “social distractions of the group” and has time to begin to acclimate to their new surroundings. On this phase, the students are assigned a peer mentor and a staff mentor to help their transition into the wilderness setting. The new student is also given reading and writing assignments that “promote reflection on the past and help the student understand and anticipate the process of change.”
  • Exploration: The purpose of the exploration phase is to “promote initial self-awareness” and “foster therapeutic skills that will be a foundation for ongoing success.” During this phase, the students also receive an intervention letter from their parents.
  • Discovery: According to the program’s website, on this phase the assignments are “designed to promote a deeper understanding of some of the underlying motives for past behavior and help students move towards finding healthier ways of coping. The student continues to gain confidence as he becomes proficient at living outdoors and less dependent on others for external motivation.”
  • Mastery: When students reach the mastery phase they have progressed from “superficial motivation” to more active and invested participation. At this phase students have “devised a method for change and are actively modifying their habits and engaging their environment.”
  • Mentor: This is the final phase at Elements. The students who reach mentor status are able to “use their skills and motivation for the betterment of the group.” They essentially act as junior staff. Teens graduate from the program on this level.

Abuse Allegations

Many survivors have reported that Elements Wildernes Program is an abusive program. Allegations of abuse and neglect that have been reported by survivors include violent and excessive use of physical restraints, communication restrictions, deceptive/fraudulent marketing practices, food deprivation, psychological/emotional abuse, brainwashing techniques, and isolation tactics. Many survivors report developing PTSD as a result of their time at Elements. In addition, it has been reported that Elements attempts to manipulate the parents of residents into sending their son to a longer-term Therapeutic Boarding School or Residential Treatment Center after completing the program, regardless of the teen’s issues/diagnoses.

According to the human-rights organization HEAL, Elements Wilderness Program is a Confirmedly Abusive program. As per HEAL’s definition, “a program categorized as “Confirmedly Abusive” matches multiple warning signs of an abusive facility, has been sued or faced official complaints, and/or HEAL has received two or more substantiated reports of fraud and abuse regarding the facility.”

Survivor/Parent Testimonials

April 2021: (SURVIVOR) “If you wanna traffic your kid Elements is your kind of place. I still have nightmares every night about this place and i am 22 years old. People post fake reviews to hide the real ones. Take it from a kid that went there i suffer ptsd and i am not just saying this because i am bored i am trying to help another kid from being tortured and abused in the woods.” – Matt (Google Reviews)

9/29/2020: (SURVIVOR) “This place is an absolute joke. Your money would better be thrown down a drainage pipe than handed over to those in charge at Elements. Once a student myself, I vividly remember that after hearing about Trump winning, over half of the staff members began crying. This memory was a stark reminder at how emotionally unstable some of the employees here are. Hey Elements- please keep politics and work separate this go around. My name is Ford and I was once a student at Elements during 2016. If you are debating upon sending your child to this place, please shoot me a text at +1615. I will be able to clearly and concisely explain to you, with ease, why chaining your child to the pillar in your crawl space would be safer, more efficient, and cheaper than letting that prick named Kevin Gonzalez Boas have any say and control over how to parent said child. All jokes aside, Kevin Gonzalez Boas and elements as a whole are extremely manipulative. That is in fact my number and you can in fact direct any questions you may have about my experience through it.” – Ford (Yelp)

2020: (SURVIVOR) “The main problem with Elements isn’t how the therapeutic element is structured, but their deeply troubling admissions policies. On my first day at Elements, I was told by a staff member that the program will generally accept anyone, even if the issues that they are going through aren’t very serious. As someone who was enrolled in the program, it seems highly unethical to not make more clear to parents that Elements, which costs $20,000 and involves conditions such as calling your name when you go to the bathroom, making your own shelter, and earning a pillow as a reward, may not be the best fit for a child going through less serious problems, like slipping grades or family issues. Additionally, while I was there, there was one student whose mother wasn’t even informed that her son would be taken to Elements (the father did it all on his own accord) and yet the program accepted him anyway, even though his mother didn’t know anything about him being admitted. As a parent, I would be incredibly, incredibly wary and careful about sending your child to this program without getting solid outside opinions first.” – Tyler (Google Reviews)

1/2/2020: (SURVIVOR) “I was sent here for 3 months and this was the beginning of my downward spiral. They lie and manipulate parents into sending there kids to “aftercare” or aka a “therapeutic” boarding school. Fuck this place.” – Tom (Yelp)

11/27/2019: (SURVIVOR) “This place is and always will be a nightmare just waiting to be shut down. The therapists are delusional to say the least and use food as rewards and will punish you by making you eat your food cold or even making you eat uncooked rice. You can be “kicked out of the group” which means the group of kids you are with are not allowed to communicate with you in any way whatsoever, even a look. Do you want your child to be manipulated into doing whatever just to eat food or stop being ignored for days at a time? Then send them here. If you look close, a majority of the 5 star reviews on Google are from accounts that have only posted once before; you decide for yourself whether they are fake reviews or not.” – Nicholas (Yelp)

10/31/2019: (PARENT) “I agreed to sending my 14 year old son to Elements this past summer after pressure from my x-wife, sister and older son. The program was recommended by a “educational consultant” K—-. K—- has worked for years with local psychiatrists and phycologists where therapy isn’t making much of a difference with teens. She is there to speak to families about the therapeutic boarding schools and wilderness program options. My son was not a drug addict, did try vaping one or twice and had behavioral issues, mostly with his mother who was a stay at home helicopter mom. I agreed to try Elements wilderness program for the summer, like most parents as a “tough love” program to help my son improve his coping skills. The hiking, camping, starting fires without modern devices, cooking outside, following a strict regime of chores and rules was the good thing about the wilderness program. The horrible thing about the program was the manipulation and “up sell” after my son got there. I like most parents thought the program was for the summer, 8 weeks of tough love. The first letter I sent to my son described why I choose to send him to Elements, with plenty of examples where he made bad choices, was disrespectful towards his mother, sisters and other family members. I said, your mom and I hope this camp for the summer will help you learn “coping skills” so when you get home, you will be a better brother to your sister and overall student and family member. All the letters from the parents are screened by the licensed social worker, E, who was highly recommended by K as my son’s therapist while he was at the Wilderness program. After reading my letter by E, he wrote back to me and said “can you take out the reference you made about Cole coming home. We would rather have you say “after leaving elements”. I thought that was strange that I couldn’t say to my son after you return home from the program. After only 2 weeks into the program E and K recommended that my son be tested by a neurophycologists, Dr. C, who comes out to evaluate my son at the cost of $3500 for a few hours of work. After paying over $30,000 for the Wilderness program $4000 to K for her work in finding the “right program”. After getting Dr. C’s report, which included the MMPI-A analysis he concluded that my son was mildly depressed but had no significant behavioral or phycology disorders but did have a non-verbal learning disorder, which he read from a previous neurophycologists test results conducted 4 weeks before my son attended the program. The strange thing about Dr. C’s report was that 2 different times in his report he “strongly recommended” my son attend a therapeutic boarding school after leaving elements. Of course both E and K also agreed with Dr. C’s recommendation and K was charging another $4,000 to find the appropriate boarding school for my son. At this point and after I visited my son in the wilderness program for a parents visit, my son pulled me aside and said “dad everyone here automatically goes to a therapeutic boarding school after leaving Elements”. By now I was pretty suspicious that the Elements program was nothing more than a set up to send my son to a $140,000 per year boarding school with no serious diagnosis. It was also clear that K, E and Dr. C who have all worked together for years seemed to “strongly agree that my son attend another 4 weeks at Elements then go directly to the therapeutic boarding school. K then recommended 3 boarding schools for us to choose from. I dug in and began my research on the schools and read 2 different books about these “wilderness programs and therapeutic boarding schools”. The information out there is startling. My son was told he had a non-verbal learning disorder and needed an educational therapist and additionally needed ADD medication to help with his focusing. He was also tested and granted an IEP in the public school system. After researching K’s schools, none of them offered an IEP program, nor educational therapist and in fact one of the science teachers previously teaching at one of the recommended schools was arrested for Child Pornography and sentenced to many years in prison. The books, one of them titled “institutional persuasion”, graphically describes the abuse that occurs in these schools and the damage they can do to the majority of troubled teens sent there by their rich parents. These schools are mostly in Utah or states with very little if any regulation or over-site, which in my opinion leads to this abuse. Interestingly, I have heard that 80% of the kids sent to these programs and schools are adopted. You will see some reviews from parents or kids who have benefited but clearly there is no data to prove it works for everyone. For my son who is home now on ADD meds and receiving educational therapy, is thriving in public school. Is he perfect, no he’s a teenager, duh.” – Robert (Yelp)

2018: (SURVIVOR) “To this day, I still suffer from PTSD from this program and their deceptive practices to keep the children in their program as long as possible. They used food as reward and will give you uncooked rice as punishments. I was forced to eat uncooked rice several times for disobeying orders; if you do not eat the uncooked rice they will further punish you. There were also night where, if you could not get a bow-drill fire started, you were not entitled to eating hot food and would have to wait 10 minutes while watching the others enjoy their dinner. I was told that I have a severe addiction to marijuana while attending this program although I was only smoking about once each week at age 17. My parents eventually discovered that there is no study which proves that marijuana is neurologically addictive although the therapists will continue to tell you this. I was also strip searched before entering the program and was told to “bend over and spread your cheeks” at their Utah facility before entering the program. I had flown to Utah and already gone through TSA security and I did not feel comfortable being strip searched as a 17 year old child. After completing the program, they will try their hardest to make sure you send your child to one of their partnered therapeutic boarding schools. Luckily, my parents had only sent me for the wilderness program and were not sold on the boarding schools. They also suggested to my parents that I should sign over my adulthood to them until age 19 instead of 18 so they can have the control they want over me.” – Aaron (Google Reviews)

10/25/2018: (PARENT) “I enrolled my son in elements and after a therapeutic boarding school based on Elements suggestion. I found after Wilderness my son had zero trust in me and had went from expressing himself in office therapy to none at all. This experience damaged our relationship. I believe this resulted in him checking himself out of his therapeutic boarding school and severing ties with us.” – David (Yelp)

2018: (SURVIVOR) “I just found out that another inmate-student that spent time incarcerated at Elements has committed suicide. Yet another one has been on a severe downspin with arrests and drugs since he was released. Severe PTSD. The boys that he is in contact with ( which is against Elements policies) are all suffering with PTSD. I am almost 28yrs sober and have dealt with a lot of teens going thru hard times in life. This will be one of the worst decisions you ever make as a parent if you decide to send your child here. I now know of multiple suicides from inmates leaving wilderness programs.” – Tony (Google Reviews)

2017: (SURVIVOR) “DO NOT SEND YOUR KID HERE they lied to my parents just to try and get them to sign me up, i came back with horrible back pain due to the 100 pound packs that we had to hike with, ive tried many things for the pain. Now i have to live with back pain that sometimes prevents me from walking for the rest of my life.” – Antonio (Google Reviews)

2017: (UNCLEAR) “I would give this place a negative rating if possible.its all about the money. Being sober for 27+ years, I see these programs as some of the worst abuse possible. The boy I know that went here has severe PTSD from this program. He still keeps in touch with other boys who went with him. They all feel the same. He witnessed a boy being staked to the ground, another get “fondled” by a councilor, and was forced to write a letter stating it was accidental contact. They make it like it’s a life long bonding mission with the other boys. But they forbid you to exchange info with one another. Kevin Powell, head psych at the place, talks out of both sides of his mouth. They will try to get you to put your boy in an RTC program or lose him completely. Kevin said that there is a 90% failure rate with boys that don’t go to an RTC after wilderness. Being sober as long as I am, I questioned why even send a child there with such a failure rate. If anyone wants to see evidence on what I am saying, I willl gladly supply it. You will get the same results if you chain your boy in your basement. But that would be abuse against you.” – A.W. (Google Reviews)

2016: (PARENT) “My son attended this “camp” and upon turning 18 he legally walked out of the program. That was 4 years ago and I have not seen him since. While you might think this is the best thing for your child, it will make them develop a more timid and drawn back nature. They are trapped against their own will in an unknown area for weeks, not knowing when they will be under a roof again.” – Doug (Google Reviews)

7/24/2010: (SURVIVOR) “This place was not beneficial. The therapists are overly cruel that work with the children. They are also extremely manipulative and it seemed like they were only in it for the $$$. During a visit, I observed how hungry the boys are…constantly they are hungry because there isnt a single time where they are “full” or satisfied from a meal. The field mentors are really great with the kids however seeing as they are in their early 20’s and close in age. The kids themselves are the ones that realize the change that must be initiated; the therapists are just there to criticize there every move it seems..and after some research the Head Therapist at Elements came from another wilderness program that was shutdown by the state government because of child abuse…YES child abuse! I strongly advise anyone interested in Elements to find a different program as I was extremely disappointed in this program. Inspirations for Youth in Fort Lauderdale, FL is an awesome program that worked!” – Anonymous (Camp Ratingz)

Related Media

Elements Wilderness Program Website Homepage

HEAL Program Information

Elements Wilderness Program Employment FAQ’s

Elements DHS Records

Reddit Thread about Elements Wilderness Program