Outback Therapeutic Expeditions (2001-present) Lehi, UT

Wilderness Therapy Program

History and Background Information

Outback Therapeutic Expeditions is a behavior-modification program founded in 2001 and owned by Aspen Education Group. It was originally named “Walkabout” but changed its name to Outback Therapeutic Expeditions in 2004. It is marketed as a “wilderness therapy” program for teenagers aged 13-17 who are dealing with a multitude of issues including: Depression, Anxiety, Learning disabilities, Social isolation, Identity Development, Academic Issues, Dangerous/Risky Behaviors, Peer Dependence, Defiance, Emotional Outbursts, Electronics Addictions, Substance Abuse, Traumatic Events, and Bullying. The average length of stay is reported to be between 6 and 10 weeks. It has been a member of NATSAP since 2002. It also claims to be accredited by the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council (OBHIC).

The address associated with Outback Therapeutic Expeditions is 50 N 200 E, Lehi, UT 84043, but the program actually operates roughly one hour southwest of Lehi between the Sheeprock and Simpson Mountain Ranges.

In 2005, the tuition was reported to be $380 per day ($21,280 for 8 weeks), which included gear. In 2006, the price had been raised to $445 per day ($24,920 for 8 weeks) plus a one-time $1,450 enrollment/gear fee, bringing the total cost to $26,370 total for 8 weeks. In 2020, they no longer list their daily rate for tuition on their website, but they do note that they have an additional one-time enrollment fee of $3,500, so it is likely that the daily rate has also increased substantially. There is now also a fee for a physical examination upon enrollment.

In Episode 2 of Lifetime’s “Teen Trouble”, 17-year-old Jacob is sent to Outback Therapeutic Expeditions for lying, stealing, and “smoking a massive amount of dope (meaning cannabis)”.

In 2011, six other Aspen Education Group programs (Aspen Achievement Academy, New Leaf Academy of Oregon, Aspen Ranch, Bromley Brook School, SunHawk Academy, and NorthStar Center) merged into Outback Therapeutic Expeditions. Outback Therapeutic Expeditions remains in operation today.

Founders and Notable Staff

McKay Deveraux is the current Executive Director of Outback Therapeutic Expeditions. He has worked at the program since 2002 in several positions, including Primary Therapist, Program Director, Field Director, and Field Staff. He reports that he was a “troubled youth” which is partially what drew him to begin working in wilderness programs. Prior to joining OTE, he worked at an unnamed wilderness program for roughly 3 years.

Greg Burnham is the current Clinical Director and a Primary Therapist at Outback Therapeutic Expeditions. He began his career in the TTI as a Therapist at the confirmedly abusive Cedar Ridge RTC, where he worked from 1999 until 2002. He then worked at an outpatient counseling center from 2002 until 2005. After this, he worked as a Therapist and later as the Assistant Clinical Director of the confirmedly abusive New Haven RTC from 2005 until 2013. He then went on to work as a Therapist and Clinical Director of the reportedly abusive Wingate Wilderness from 2014 until 2017, when he joined OTE.

Richard Meeves is the current Co-Owner and CEO of Outback Therapeutic Expeditions. He formerly worked as the Executive Director of the program. He had previously worked as as Primary Therapist at Second Nature Wilderness in Duchesne, UT and Aspen Achievement Academy in Loa, UT. He also worked as the Clinical Director at Aspen Ranch in Loa, UT. He is now the Director of Clinical Services for CRC Health Group, Aspen Education Group’s parent company, as well as the CEO of Aspiro Wilderness.

Theresa Wardle is the current Admissions Director of Outback Therapeutic Expeditions. She began her career in the TTI working at several notorious and confirmedly abusive CEDU programs. She worked as a Therapist at CEDU’s Rocky Mountain Academy and Northwest Academy, and later worked as the Admissions Director of Boulder Creek Academy. Around 2003, Theresa and her husband, Patrick, opened a “therapeutic foster care” program for teenage girls called The Wardle Home in Naples, Idaho. She has worked at OTE since April of 2018.

Daniel Hazen is the current Program Director of Outback Therapeutic Expeditions. His prior employment is presently unknown.

Jason Scott Calder worked as the Director of Outback Therapeutic Expeditions in 2015. In 2017, he was arrested on counts of rape, forcible sodomy, and forcible sexual abuse in connection to a several incidents that occured at another residential treatment program, New Haven RTC, where he had been working as a therapist. Calder had also previously worked at La Europa.

Link to archived staff list for Outback Therapeutic Expeditions (2005)

Program Structure

Very little is known about the program structure at Outback Therapeutic Expeditions. It likely uses a level-system which is common in many behavior-modification programs.

Daily Life

As described by a survivor who spent 347 days at Outback, the typical daily schedule is as follows:

  • 8AM: Wake up call from staff. You have five minutes to get dressed and ready and take down your shelter if you’re moving camp that day.
  • 8:05ish: Go to main portion of camp (about 150 yards away from shelters) and make breakfast, morning chores (digging a sump for food waste), brush teeth, eat.
  • 845ish (and I say ish because we were not allowed to have watches and most of the time, field staff wouldn’t tell us what time it was): break down camp. Bury latrine and sump, break down ashes and coals from fire and scatter them. It was a “leave no trace” kind of thing so we had to make it look like we weren’t there. Collect water jugs and place in pick up location along with trash.
  • 10AM: start hiking if it was a hike day. We would generally stop for 2-5 minute breaks every 1.5 hours.
  • 1ish: 20-30 minutes for lunch and rest.
  • 1:30PM: start hiking again. Hike until we reached our destination. Some days we only hiked maybe 5-6 miles, other days, we’d be hiking well into the night if we’d been slow on chores and gotten a late start or if someone refused to move.
    • If it was a shorter hike, we’d get to our camp site and set up camp and do work in work books, school work, meet with therapists (once a week usually).
  • 5-6 depending on the day: dinner. During dinner and after field staff usually held group discussions about stuff and depending on where you were in your stay, you’d have certain assignments that had to be shared with the group and that would be done at this time and after dinner.
  • 7ish-bed: In winter, generally just worked on our assignments in our shelters, but in summer when there was light, we’d do some group, team building activity.
  • 10-11: bed. Sometimes we’d get woken up in the middle of the night to break camp and do a night hike.

Abuse/Neglect Allegations

Several survivors report that abuse and neglect has taken place at Outback Therapeutic Expeditions. Allegations include restricting the teenagers’ food and water intakes, making teenagers carry packs that are extremely heavy, refusal of medical care, and use of violent restraints. It has been reported that many survivors of OTE have been diagnosed with PTSD following their time there, have overdosed, or have even taken their own lives.

In 2017 it was revealed that Jason Scott Calder, who later was charged with rape, forcible sodomy and forcible sexual abuse, had been working at the Outback Therapeutic Expeditions. As of October 2017, there was no information that he had taken advantage of teenagers at Outback Therapeutic Expeditions but investigation is ongoing.

Survivor Testimonies

5/25/2020: (SURVIVOR) “There’s so much I could say about this place, but parents, if you are truly hopeless about your child and their behaviors, DO NOT send your kids to programs like Outback. This place has done more damage to people like me than good and the trauma hasn’t left me. I already had severe PTSD before coming to Outback and I left wanting to commit suicide more then I did before. I even wanted to commit suicide at Outback and I almost did after my parent visit. I was threatened restraints if I didn’t get out of the truck that we drove with into the field. I was isolated from all of my school friends and my boyfriend, I nearly died from heat exhaustion/dehydration, my therapist threatened to send me to a lockdown facility all because I was “uncomfortable” when she read me the BS home contract my parents had to write, and this place made me COMPLETELY dissociate and depersonalize my past and my emotional abuse from my home that I endured since childhood, AND that I still had to endure after Outback. I missed my cousin’s wedding, which was on my 18th birthday, and I missed events and opportunities at my school that I wanted to experience and go to. The food was very unhealthy and they didn’t give us enough, and because of how unhealthy the food is I left with MAJOR digestive problems and weight gain all in my stomach when I was already self-conscious. I remember eating raw bread dough because I hardly had any food. I couldn’t come off my horrible meds at this place because THERE WAS NO PSYCHIATRIST. WHAT KIND OF “MENTAL HEALTH” PROGRAM HAS NO PSYCHIATRIST AT ALL. I begged my parents to take me home but they couldn’t, and my letters were always looked over by my therapist just to make sure “she’s not missing anything.” I was told by a peer that a migraine was not an excuse to do my work. I felt like a slave, and the therapists, staff, and even my PEERS all tried to convince me that it was “normal” to feel that way. If that’s not abuse, then I don’t know what is. We couldn’t even shower every day and I developed a yeast infection TWICE because this place is so unhygienic. The winters are also so cold to the point where my hands were immobile here and there. Oh, and you are literally forced to hike in packs that are extremely heavy regardless of your medical problems or strength. And if you don’t bust a coal, you can’t eat hot and are left with cold food which is hardly anything. You also sleep under a tarp held by ropes which hardly keep you warm in the winter or cold in the summer, and it hardly protects you from the rain. My parents were also lied to about how great I was doing when my already bad mental health WAS LITERALLY DETERIORATING. There’s so much I could rant about this place, but let me tell you, my boyfriend AND my friends were so angry about my treatment here and wanted me to file complaints, but hell, I should get an attorney to sue this place for their abuse. All that programs like Outback want and what educational consultants want are money. My parents had to take money out of their 401Ks just to pay for this fraudulent program. This place needs to be shut down and so does other fraudulent, abusive wilderness programs like Outback.” – Flóra (Yelp)

2/25/2020: (SURVIVOR) “I would like to say that in my previous review I spoke for my parents, but I would like to retract the point I made about how my dad feels about the program. I can’t speak for my dads experience as the person who sent me away, and all I can really speak for is myself and my 54 days at outback. Coming from someone that was there, and who knows many people who also went there and to other wilderness programs all over the country, I can say that even 12 years later the scars haven’t healed. Many of my friends I met through the troubled teen industry ended up worse off than when they got there. I’ve had to watch the friends I made in these programs go through terrible hardships when they were finally back in the real world. Every year, someone I befriended in these places will die from overdose, suicide, or murder. I’m not a parent myself at 30 years old. But I was a rowdy kid back then. Many of the other kids had more serious issues to deal with than myself, and I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. I feel that as a parent feeling like they’re out of options, you may come across this program and think it could really help. But I would like to warn you that this place doesn’t always help kids. That may be their intention, but the outcomes I’ve seen are horrific and just thinking about the friends I’ve lost after leaving these places breaks my heart. I’ve cried for them more than I could have ever imagined possible. Please explore every avenue you can before you even consider this place. There is a community of kids who have been through these places where you can reach out and have real conversations about their own experiences if you want to hear from them first-hand at Reddit.com/r/troubledteens. Lastly I just want to reiterate that my views are my own, and I do not speak for my parents who may have a different opinion.” – Nick (Yelp)

2/15/2019: (SURVIVOR) “Absolutely do not send your kids here. You may have an “educational advisor” or therapist referring you to one of these wilderness/therapeutic boarding schools but it will be incredibly harmful to your child. I was enrolled in Outback Therapeautic Expeditions in 2006, and it had been open for a good amount of time before that. I spent 54 days living under a tarp in the Western Utah desert being watched over by seemingly untrained adults who were not qualified for a job like that whatsoever. At times, I would actually see staff members break down in tears from the difficulty of traversing the desert from water can to water can. I’m almost 30 years old now, and while I am one of the lucky ones.. many of my friends from Outback and the following program I attended are either dead, or severely traumatized. I have had nightmares for over a decade about Outback, and have since been diagnosed with PTSD. And I can tell you from experience, that’s getting off easy. Many of my friends there committed suicide or overdosed from drug addictions that weren’t even present at the time they were sent away. It honestly blows my mind that Outback and programs like it (mostly in Utah, thanks to relaxed child custody laws) are legal and still in business. If you decide to send your child here, you will never forgive yourself and it may be the biggest mistake of yours and your childs life. I have forgiven my parents, and they have even apologized for this grave mistake of sending me here. PLEASE heed my warning. There are alternative ways to help your child through a difficult phase in their lives. Outback is not the answer. During my time at Outback, my entire group of kids and staff could have died on many occasions. We had been trapped in a blizzard and couldn’t get a fire started in -20 degree weather, while our water was frozen solid and unavailable to anybody for many hours while we were all delirious from dehydration and lack of food. This happened at least 4-5 times. I saw children become horribly hurt while the staff tried their hardest not to have to take them to a hospital, which I might add is literally hours drive away. Someone has to drive several hours to where your child is in the desert, and then hours back to the closest hospital. I should know, because on christmas day my entire group had come down with giardia. Being that my case was the most severe, I was eventually taken to the hospital, only to be brought right back after. The giardia persisted until well after I got out of Outback. Your child will spend most days hiking through dangerous terrain from one “bluey” or water container to another, with a small day or two break every week for a therapist and teacher to come out and speak to your child for no longer than 30 minutes to an hour. You will only be able to speak to your child through letters which will be closely monitored by the program. I heard that Outback had been under federal investigation at some point in the recent past, and I hope that is true. It will be a huge relief to me when Outback and all the other programs like it are finally discarded like the scams they are. I feel a deep pain for all the children trying to survive out there to this day. I think about them all the time. Please don’t let your children be one of them. You will be so happy you didn’t.” – Nick (Yelp)

2019: (SURVIVOR) “note to any parent thinking of sending their child here. please instead of sending them away for months at a time try to just hold them closer because rather than sending them away to wilderness therapy and a different treatment center afterwards for even more months. i went to outback and the therapy and ideas are ingrained into our minds to the point that i completely disassociated my past while i was there. i also fell very ill and was not given proper medical treatment even though the illness persisted for more than 2 weeks i never saw a doctor and all they did was check my heart rate for “medical attention.” the worst part was the separation from my family and friends. even though you have a parent visit one day during your stay, you still feel very separated. when i finally came home because my parents had put me through that experience i struggled to talk to them. i was scared because i didnt know whether or not if i said something i would be sent away. my relationship with my parents spiraled downhill over the course of the time i was at outback.” – Wokkeisha (Google Reviews)

2019: (SURVIVOR) “It’s really funny that when you look at these reviews all the 5 stars are from parents and the 1 stars are from the kids. Really makes yall think about how messed up and traumatic this camp is. Parents, do not send your kids here if you value their mental health and future relationships with your child. Any parent who sends their child here ought to be ashamed of themselves for not being able to take care of their child themselve, or for being unable to love and support them through whatever “issues” they are going through. To parents still considering this: read the reviews by the teens who went here. The parents are seeing brainwashed and exhausted children. The teens who went through this program will tell you if it worked. Prayers for the kids who will be forced to go here by awful parents, and for the children who have gone here before.” – Laney (Google Reviews)

2018: (SURVIVOR) “this place is terrible. Barley any food, limited water, not helpful and they lie on their site. When I went, I was barley fed and i saw people have to eat clay because they were starved. We ran out of water multiple times. They forced us to make our own backpacks out of trees and leather and they absolutely destroyed your shoulders and people were passing out on hikes. You would have therapy 1 hour a day per week which was barley anything. They say you have it every day but thats a lie. People and broken gear that was not or it took a long time to replace. I personally ended up with a broken sleeping bag. This place shouldn’t even be legal, getting kidnapped in the middle of the night and stripped of your clothes and dropped in the middle of the desert for 10 weeks is what happened to me and it wasn’t a helpful place at all.” – Adam (Google Reviews)

2018: (SURVIVOR) “About 12 years ago, at 14, I was essentially abducted by strangers in the middle of the night (bounty hunters) and taken to this “program” using physical force; which outback staff continued to use in order to “subdue” me throughout the duration of my stay. The experience was so horrifying and traumatic that I attempted suicide because it seemed like the only way to make the insanity stop! Instead of therapy or proper medical care, I was isolated, improperly and brutally restrained, and had a needle stuck in my arm by field staff for an IV while my face was forced in the dirt, my arm was bent behind me, and I screamed in pain. This torture camp scarred me for life and made me an angry, unforgiving, hateful teenager and I ran from my parents the second I got home and never forgave them! As a mother of 2 I would NEVER EVEN CONSIDER INFLICTING THIS ABUSE ON ANYONE LET ALONE MY CHILDREN!!! I am completely appalled by the fact that this is still being allowed to go on!!! If YOU would not or could not do something you have no right to force your children to!!! You cannot imagine the things these kids are forced to endure at these places, get your child HELP! ABUSE IS NOT THE ANSWER!!!” – Alisa (Google Reviews)

1/11/2013: (SURVIVOR) “My whole group at outback developed a case of giardiasis about halfway through my stay there from the bad living conditions. If we were able to shower that probably would of never happened. I also went into hypothermia one time during my stay, as did several other kids in my group. The worst thing I think for me was bug season. Right about the end of June, early July, the bugs were terrible. There were mosquitoes everywhere. In your sleeping bag even. You could wear all the DEET in the world and long sleeves and pants and they’d still get you. When you went to the bathroom, the longer you went, the longer they’d bite. And I mean bite the butt, anus, vagina, anything available. I started to have trouble breathing and my heart rate went up really high so I was sent back to base camp to have the nurse look at me. I had something like 350 mosquito bites. It fucking sucked.” –u/2020204hourstogo (Reddit)

Related Media

Outback Therapeutic Expeditions Website Homepage

Outback Therapeutic Expeditions Website (archived 2005)

HEAL Program Information – Outback Therapeutic Expeditions

1000 Places You Don’t Want to be as a Teenager – Outback Therapeutic Expeditions