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Stories from the Field: Mental Health and the Outdoors

Feb 9, 2022

Dr. Madolyn ("Maddy") Liebing is the Clinical Director of Legacy Outdoor Adventures and Juniper Recovery Center for Women. Maddy is a historical figure in wilderness therapy and has worked in the field since the 1970s. She was the first licensed psychologist to work in a primitive skills-oriented wilderness therapy program and helped develop many accreditation standards. She shares several stories, including the co-founding Wilderness Academy (later known as Aspen Achievement Academy) in 1988 and the challenges she has faced as a professional and a woman in the field. Maddy shares how Legacy and Juniper Canyon have been working with insurance companies to get reimbursement for services and her thoughts on where the wilderness field is heading. Bio from Legacy Website:
Dr. Madolyn (“Maddy”) spent her childhood traveling and moving throughout The West. Her family spent time in many of the western states before settling in Southern Utah. Dr. Maddy grew up appreciating the outdoors and spending as much time as possible outside. 

She grew up to become an educator, teaching both English and history at a high school in Utah. She loved getting to know her students and was inspired to become a school counselor. While working as a high school counselor, Dr. Maddy started leading short wilderness trips as a drop-out prevention program in 1978. She was struck by the powerful experience her students had in the wilderness and while earning her Ph.D. wrote her dissertation about these “survival trips,” noting the positive impact they had on adolescents. What she might not have realized at the time, was that she was developing and shaping what would become the field of Wilderness Therapy. 

In 1988, Dr. Maddy was part of the team that founded Aspen Achievement Academy. She was integral in establishing that program and went on to advise the State of Utah as they created systems and regulations for the emerging field of Wilderness Therapy. Over the course of the next several decades, Maddy continued her work in the field, only taking time off to raise her own family. 

Dr. Maddy still finds time to get outside herself, and enjoys being with her children and grandchildren.