Catherine Freer

company_name = Catherine Freer
company_type = Privately held company
foundation = flagicon|USA Albany, Oregon, USA (1988)
location = flagicon|USA Albany, Oregon, USA
key_people = Robert Cooley
industry = Wilderness Therapy Program
homepage = []

Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Programs is an organization based in Albany, Oregon, that operates a variety of adolescent treatment programs. Founded in 1988, the program initially offered wilderness therapy expeditions; the company later founded Santiam Crossing School and Oregon Transition Homes.


Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Programs was founded in 1988 by Robert Cooley, Ph.D. Cooley grew up running rivers in Oregon and hiking in the state's forests and desert country. He is a visionary who reached back to his roots and the passions that spring from them: rivers, outdoors, teaching, guiding, family, and helping kids, to create a company that empowers troubled teens to create a strong foundation from which they can create a healthy future.

The company is named after Catherine Freer. In the late 1980s Freer was the best American woman climber. She, her longtime partner Todd Bibler, Sandy Stewart, and Renny Jackson made the cutting-edge first ascent of the North Face of Cholatse, alpine-style, when that style was just evolving in the Himalayas; she attempted Dhaulagiri, K2, and Everest. She and Todd did a winter ascent of the East Face of Longs Peak in Colorado, the second ascent of Zenyatta Mondatta on El Cap, the West Ridge of the Moose's Tooth to the Middle Summit, the North Face of Mount Sir Donald in the Canadian Rockies, and many other hard and varied routes.

Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Program founder Robert Cooley, Ph.D., met Catherine Freer sitting on a fence at Baker City Ranch Rodeo. They were trying to decide whether to take up a rancher's offer to ride one of his huge Hereford bulls. She was 22, just getting started as a climbing guide; he was a newly promoted head river guide for the same outfit, which was running a two-week camp for patients from the Oregon State Mental Hospital. They began discussing the place of women in the outdoor adventure world while putting off deciding about a ride on those bulls. The talk led to a 15-year friendship. Between climbing guide jobs, Freer ran baggage barge on the river trips Cooley led for several years; and, when he started his own whitewater rafting company in 1976, she became Cooley's business partner.

As Catherine Freer became one of the elite climbers in the world, one of the best alpinists in the United States and the best female alpinist and big-wall rock climber, she was increasingly in demand for Himalayan expeditions as a woman who could fully carry her own weight. The Himalayas are climbed in the summer, and Catherine could no longer work on the rivers.

It was at that point that Cooley and Freer began to plan a wilderness treatment program for adolescents that would combine her outdoor skills with his therapy skills. Freer never got to see this plan come to fruition. Catherine Freer died, with her climbing partner, trying to climb the kind of almost-impossible ridge that world-class climbers try. A snow cornice they were apparently camped on collapsed and they fell 5,000 feet, leaving their tent dangling from the edge of the knife ridge. Freer was 37 when she and Dave Cheesmond vanished on the Hummingbird Ridge of Mount Logan in 1987. In her honor, Cooley named his program after Catherine Freer.

Cooley believed that Freer would have been the ideal wilderness treatment guide: a rock of strength, a model of the tough survivor of a hard life, warm and tender and accessible, incredibly physically competent and also emotionally aware and mature. She would have saved some kids by sheer force of personality, becoming a central beacon in their lives. She was one of those people who emit a special kind of light that illuminates dark corners and brightens the world for those who encounter them.


Wilderness Therapy Expeditions

Each week a group of no more than eight participants depart on a wilderness therapy expedition. Each expedition is made up of three staff members. One of these staff members is either a master's level therapist or a certified alcohol and drug counselor. A seasoned wilderness guide, with advanced wilderness medical training and certification, directs the outdoor portion of the expedition. The other staff member is a support guide. The average length of stay is seven weeks and the groups are typically co-ed.

Counseling focuses on current issues: resolving conflicts, discussing strong feelings, processing solutions (as issues come up), seeing behavior objectively, gaining a sense of control over their behavior, and finding sources of self-confidence. Work also takes place to help resolve frustrations, fears, angers, and felt inadequacies. These issues are explored through individual and group therapy sessions, daily journal writing, and in psychoeducation sessions.

antiam Crossing

Santiam Crossing was founded in September 2004. It is an outdoor therapeutic school for troubled teens located on 157-acres in the Oregon foothills of the Cascade Mountains. The curriculum integrates academics, therapy, family counseling, and wilderness experiences. The program is co-educational and the average length of stay is six months to one year. Graduates leave the school ready to make appropriate and healthy lifestyle choices, are committed to their recovery, and are able to experience academic success in another setting.

The school's academic program is accredited by the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools and is licensed by the Oregon Department of Human Services as an Outdoor Youth Program, licensed by the Oregon Department of Health as an Organizational Camp, registered as a private school.

Oregon Transition Homes

This program is designed for adolescents' ages 13 to 18 that have completed a wilderness therapy program. Ideal candidates are youth who want to make healthy and appropriate changes, but still require support. It is probable that if these children returned directly to their home community it is unlikely that they would make appropriate behavioral changes.

Oregon Transition Homes provide participants with the opportunity to live in an emotionally safe, highly structured, home-like environment. Adolescents benefit from living in a home where there are clear and consistent rules and expectations. Participants live in a private home with a highly qualified and trained family and one to two other participants. Many of the transition homes are rural ranches and have mules and other livestock which provide adolescents the opportunity to learn a variety of new skills. Participants are actively involved in the daily operations of the ranch, including feeding and caring for animals.

The program length of stay varies depending on the needs of each individual and his or her family. On average, these clients generally stay for four months. Participants leave the program feeling confident in their ability to maintain and uphold their treatment and recovery goals in any environment.


The Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council (OBHIC) and the University of Idaho Wilderness Research Center formed a contractual research cooperative in 1999 to do formal research on the efficacy and processes of wilderness treatment. Dr. Keith Russell, then a professor at the University of Idaho, has been the primary researcher involved. (He is now at the University of Minnesota.)

The first effort was a pre- and post-treatment study using the Youth Outcome Questionnaire (YOQ), a well designed and established research instrument on therapy effectiveness. [OBHIC Research: "The Youth Outcome Questionnaire," Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research Cooperative (OBHRC) at the University of Idaho] Published in November 2001, this research on 850 young people queried both parents and the adolescent participants. [Russell, K.: "Assessment of Treatment Outcomes in Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare," University of Idaho, Technical Report 27, November 2001] The data indicates that clients entered wilderness programs with about the same level of dysfunction as adolescent patients entering psychiatric hospitals. At graduation (the programs ranged from three to eight weeks in length), their average scores were slightly above the normal adolescent range. To understand the full importance of this result, it is essential to note that the participating wilderness programs have 97 percent program completion rates. Most adolescent chemical dependency and psychiatric treatment programs have high drop-out/early discharge rates, and outcome studies typically do not include those clients in their follow-up results.

The research continued, with follow-up data on the Youth Outcome Questionnaire for three, six and 12 months post-treatment. The question here was whether brief, intensive programs like wilderness treatment lose their effectiveness after a brief period of time. The answer from this research is quite clear: there is probably a slight deterioration at six months (as judged by parents); but at 12 months, both parents and their children believe the young people are functioning better than at program graduation, and at the high end of the average range for normal adolescents. This trend is especially clear for Catherine Freer, a briefer, more intensive program.

A third phase of this study called a sample of 144 of the study participants at two to three years following program graduation. A structured phone interview with parents and treatment participants asked how the kids and their families are doing in school, at home, with friends and with their sobriety, and what elements of wilderness treatment were most and least helpful to them. The responses by parents and youth suggest that the majority is doing well 24 months after treatment. More than 80 percent of parents and over 90 percent of graduates contacted believed that their wilderness treatment experience was effective two years after the process.

OBHIC plans to contact these clients again at five years after graduation, both to learn how graduates are faring in the long run, and how their development into their twenties compares with that of ordinary adolescents. More information at [ OBHIC Website] .

OBHIC Substance Abuse Treatment Study
The Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council (OBHIC) member programs began collecting data in the summer of 2003 for a large-scale research effort with approximately 2,000 clients. This will be a multi-dimensional study of substance abuse treatment and effectiveness, using diagnostic information and several test instruments, and include a six-month follow-up. A depression and anxiety-screening inventory, a questionnaire on client-staff relationship quality, and a client satisfaction survey are included.

Effectiveness of Catherine Freer's Therapy for Personality Disorders
Dr. Jeff Clark completed a doctoral dissertation in 2002, which examined the effectiveness of Catherine Freer's therapy approach for treating incipient personality disorder characteristics in adolescents. His study used the Millon (MAPI), as well as the Youth Outcome Questionnaire (YOQ), with a sample of 70 clients. He concluded that the Catherine Freer program was effective in treating standard clinical syndromes such as depression and anxiety and, more importantly, was also effective in treating character disorders such as incipient borderline, narcissistic and obsessive personality disorders. Effect sizes for most character issues were large. This is the first research Dr. Clark was able to find in the literature that showed any success in short-term treatment for these problems in adolescents.

Customer Satisfaction/Outcome Study, 1999
Jackie Cupples, M.S., completed her internship project requirement for her master's degree by designing and conducting a questionnaire and telephone interview study. She found that 90 percent of parents said they would recommend a Catherine Freer program to others. On a three-point scale, the average satisfaction score for understanding admission information was 2.94, for their child being treated with dignity and respect, 2.84. On a four-point scale (an "extremely serious problem" to "not a problem"), parents rated their children on 13 behavior items with an average pre-trek score of 1.81, a one-month post-trek score of 3.38, and a one-year post-trek score of 3.45. Scores on particular items included:

Scores on "child eating with family" ("never" to "often") improved from 2.3 to 3.2 to 3.3 at one-year post trek. Parents reported 81 percent of their children in outpatient treatment or 12-step meetings at one month, and 90 percent at one year.

Accreditation and Licensing


Accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations


* Licensed as a Youth Center for Intensive Residential Treatment by the Oregon Office of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs
* Licensed as a Non-Inpatient Provider* by the Oregon Office of Mental Health Services
* Licensed as an Outdoor Youth Treatment Program by the State of Oregon
* In Oregon, this includes residential, day treatment, and intensive outpatient care


* Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council, Founding Member
* National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, Founding Member
* Association for Experiential Education, Member
* Operates under special use permits with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service


* [ Oregon State University - Working with troubled teens]
* [ Standout Grads 2006 - Tough-love decision prods Kalama grad to success]
* [ Wild Healing]
* [ Social Work Today - Mother Nature's Medicine — Wilderness Therapy]
* [ Lebanon Express - Long trek to royalty for Queen Erin]
* [ Sobriety Grows in Trees: Wilderness Therapy Continues to Gain Credibility ]
* [ ABC News Coverage]
* [ Truth of Programs including and like this one]


External links

* [ Santiam Crossing School]
* [ Oregon Transition Homes]
* [ National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs]
* [ Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council]
* [ Truth of Programs like this and including incidents here]

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