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Stories from the Field: Mental Health and the Outdoors

Nov 25, 2019

L. Jay Mitchell is one of the elders in the field of wilderness therapy as he co-founded the School of Urban and Wilderness Survival (SUWS) in Idaho and Alldredge Academy in West Virginia. SUWS was the first for-profit, private pay primitive skills wilderness therapy program in the U.S. and helped spawn the movement of wilderness therapy in the west. L. Jay shares his stunning story of leaving a troubled home as a teen to working his way through college and the many influences and people who started SUWS.

From L. Jays Mitchell's LinkedIn page:

Co-founder/owner of 3 highly successful residential programs for emotionally challenged adolescents, L Jay has a nationwide reputation as an innovator and entrepreneur in this industry. My program/schools have over 10,000 graduates from all 50 states and 24 foreign countries.

My career began as an attorney (JAG) in the US Air Force where I defended hundreds of armed forces personnel in criminal proceedings and administrative discharges. In doing so I frequently worked with forensic psychologists and psychiatrists, where I developed a comprehensive interest and empathy for victims of psychological injuries. This continued into MY civil law practice.
The interest evolved into a passion, and I used MY skills and research to harness wilderness therapy as a viable option to assist troubled teens. In 1981 I co-founded The SUWS Adolescent Program which is a pioneer in creating not only a wilderness therapy model that was low cost, short term and effective, but had a viable business model to perpetuate itself. This was a disruptive innovation to conventional residential care providing an affordable, alternative treatment model that did not exist in the public arena.
These innovations led to founding The Alldredge Academy, a semester-long program for Adolescents that included a new therapeutic model and context, The Village. In an indigenous type setting students experienced the transforming power of virtue/ethics, life purpose, existential questioning, and self-identity.
Next, I founded the Greenbrier Academy for Girls, a therapeutic/academic boarding school that includes its own Village and the creation of the therapeutic model, Applied Relationality.
My book, "Decide Now-The Good Life or the Best Life", explains some of the assumptions of this model. My entity, TAS Development, continues to create collaborations and research to find new and better ways to good mental health.