Elements Wilderness


801 505-8481

John Karren


Boys Only

Call admissions department for current tuition.

Based on Student needs


Elements wilderness therapy program has brought hundreds of young men and their families from confusion to clarity and from pain to hope. Combining the power of wilderness therapy with cutting-edge treatment approaches, we help young men find their way forward and families heal.


If your son is struggling with anger, depression, substance abuse or other emotional or behavioral challenges, call or email me directly to discuss his situation. I’m always happy to answer any questions you may have about wilderness treatment in general or Elements in particular. If your son sounds like an appropriate candidate for our wilderness treatment program, I can walk you through the application process and help you understand exactly what you and your son will experience if you choose to move forward with us. If your son is not a fit, I will tell you specifically why so that you’re even better equipped to find the perfect treatment option for him.

To expedite the admissions review process, you may wish to send in a completed application immediately. Just go to parent portal, create a new account, and begin filling out the application. You may save your progress and come back to it any time. Upon completion, submit the application and begin filling out the supplemental pages. These will need to be hand written and faxed to me directly for review.

Good luck as you search for solutions for your son. Having done this work for many years, I can tell you with confidence—there is hope.


John Karren, Admissions Director and Co-Founder
Direct Line 801-505-8481
Fax 801-998-3635

Elements specializes in treating young men, ages 13 – 17, who are struggling with emotional or behavioral issues such as low self-esteem, mood dysregulation, anger and defiance, or poor relationships with peers, family or authority figures. Many of our students have begun to experiment with or abuse drugs or alcohol as the result of peer pressure and/or in an attempt to manage their own painful emotions.

The young men we work with have a wide range of issues but share in common the intelligence and internal resources to engage productively in therapy, form new pro-social ways of dealing with life’s challenges, and enter into healthy, independent adulthood. They just need the right support. We’re here to provide that support.

Elements works with a wide range of diagnostic profiles and we evaluate applicants on a case by case basis to ensure an optimal match. Please call John Karren (801-505-8481), Founder and Admissions Director, to discuss whether your son or client is a fit for Elements. We only accept students who can really benefit from our approach, so if we feel that another program would be more appropriate, we’ll tell you! Once a student is admitted, we conduct a thorough assessment to determine the exact nature of his challenges so that we can construct an ideal treatment plan. Our treatment approach is designed to address emotional and behavioral difficulties while tapping powerfully into each young man’s unique constellation of personal strengths and internal resources. A strengths-based approach allows for the deepest and most sustainable change.

Elements has great success working with:
•Mood disorders and mood dysregulation (depression, anxiety, explosiveness)
•Self-esteem issues
•Anger, defiance and oppositional behavior (ODD)
•Substance abuse or other addictive behavior (internet, etc.)
•Learning differences and academic underperformance
•Difficulty with family relationships
•Difficulty with peer relationships
•Blame shifting and difficulty accepting responsibility for actions
•Grief or loss
•High risk behavior
To make sure that our program is safe and highly effective for the young men we serve, we are careful to only accept students who fit our profile. We will let you know if your son would benefit from a different type of program. Elements students are not currently or chronically:

•In need of intensive psychiatric management or hospitalization
•Personality disordered
•In a severely advanced addiction cycle (i.e. in need of detox or hospitalization)
•At high risk for serious self-harm or violence

Hiking and experential activities

The wilderness has been used as a therapeutic tool for centuries, with US treatment programs formally researching, advancing and documenting its power as a treatment milieu for over 100 years. For the right young man at the right time, a wilderness program can accelerate the treatment process, providing powerful intervention, assessment, stabilization and first-phase treatment for emotional and behavioral problems. Elements is designed specifically to meet the needs of 13 - 17 year old boys—especially those who are struggling with mood dysregulation, oppositional-defiance, low self-esteem, difficulty with family and/or peer relationships, or early to mid-stage substance abuse. By focusing on this highly wilderness-responsive population and selecting treatment modalities specially suited to these young men, Elements achieves faster results than most short-term treatment programs. Our success is partly the result of specializing on a specific population and designing approaches just for that population. Our affordability allows families to continue the treatment process more easily, which is part of our mission at Elements.

One of the keys to our effective treatment program is its balance of intensive whole-staff training, a consistent core therapeutic curriculum and the ability to customize based on individual need. Our small size makes frequent, intensive, whole-staff training possible so that the entire team is synchronized in their application of core treatment approaches, wilderness safety and risk management. Team members all receive the same in-services, field trainings, and certifications, along with ongoing peer review and mentorship. This helps our team continuously improve and ensures that we are on exactly the same page regarding best treatment practices.

Our core therapeutic curriculum means that all of our boys benefit from the expert delivery of several treatment approaches we believe to be critical for this population. Our core approaches include milieu-based Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, the Seven Challenges approach to substance abuse management and recovery, a phase system, and other treatment approaches that we consistently train our staff to implement and support. A core treatment curriculum gives us a solid foundation of quality treatment upon which to build the customized plan that each boy needs.

Balancing the consistency of a staff training program and a core treatment curriculum is our emphasis on customizing treatment to meet each young man’s unique needs. Again, it’s our size that allows us to do this, since individualized treatment strategies require a highly coordinated approach involving team members who know each other and every student in the program quite well.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT, is a powerful multi-modal treatment approach that Elements uses to address the extreme emotional intensity and dysregulation that many of our students struggle with. It’s this intense emotionality that often leads to angry, destructive or counterproductive behaviors. DBT emphasizes personal responsibility and helps our students examine how they deal with conflict and negative feelings. The goals of our DBT program include identifying maladaptive coping patterns and providing students with adaptive coping strategies to promote healthier behaviors and psychological well-being.

DBT combines the basic strategies of cognitive-behavioral therapy with mindfulness practices. DBT calls on students to accept current reality while maintaining a strong and conscious commitment to change. DBT has also been modified so that it can be used with other difficulties such as substance use, self-harm and anger management. DBT targets the issues that cause distress and teaches skills to deal with them without having to resort to self-defeating behaviors. It does so in a structured framework that helps us understand that, on the one hand, we are doing the best we can and, on the other hand, even though we can and need to learn better ways of dealing with challenges.

Specific DBT foci include:

•Mindfulness: Focusing the mind, directing attention and understanding how you feel.
•Emotional Regulation: Reducing emotional intensity that can lead to impulsivity and destructive behaviors.
•Distress Tolerance: Reducing impulsivity and managing personal crises.
•Interpersonal Effectiveness: Keeping relationships steady, getting what is needed and maintaining your self-respect.

Northern UT Wilderness


American Health Care Lending


Experience and passion are the most critical elements for success as a wilderness therapist. When John, Karen and Lynn founded Elements, they already had over 40 years of combined wilderness-therapy experience to inform their program design and treatment philosophy. From the beginning, they have only hired experienced, master’s level wilderness therapists and seasoned field staff with a demonstrated love for this uniquely demanding and rewarding work. Elements builds on this strong foundation of experience and passion by offering continuous on the job training, certifications and supervision in wilderness therapy, DBT, Seven Challenges, wilderness safety and emergency medicine. We know that even the best treatment team is never done learning and growing.

Under the clinical leadership of clinical director and Elements co-founder, Lynn Smith, our team of experienced therapists combines a love for the wilderness with the highest level of clinical sophistication.

Jennifer Rapp, CPCI

Jen is driven by the excitement of personal growth and the opportunity to help others explore themselves in a wilderness setting. She has witnessed firsthand the power of the wilderness therapy approach to engender lasting change through challenge and perseverance. Jen began working in the wilderness at Second Nature Wilderness Program as a field instructor and senior-level therapist in 2001, later joining the Stone Mountain School for Boys in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Jen loved the mountains of the east coast and being close to her family, but felt her home was in Utah and returned to work at Gateway Academy, located in Salt Lake City. She worked in many arenas at Gateway and eventually worked her way up to the lead staff position which included duties such as being the educational liaison, leading recreation trips, and staff supervision at the Salt Lake house.

In her free time Jen is an avid mountain biker and snowboarder. Her parents moved to London, England when she was 15 years old, which allowed her the opportunity to attend a portion of her high school in London and travel throughout Europe. She enjoys traveling outside the country and finds a spontaneous bike trip to the desert equally as exciting. On her father's 60th birthday, they ran across the Grand Canyon together.

Tara Feeney, CSW

Tara has been working with children and adolescents in the outdoors for over 10 years. She learned early in her career about the power of wilderness to create positive change in the lives of young people. She believes we go to wilderness to better prepare ourselves to live in modern society and continue the journey of self awareness and change. Wilderness is the ideal setting to engage and motivate adolescents, conduct an accurate assessment and opportunities for growth and insight.

Originally from northeastern Ohio, Tara began working in wilderness in New York at Ramapo for Children. There she was the assistant director of an adventure therapy program following two years of service with Americorps focused on providing therapeutic wilderness experiences to youth, families and groups. Tara moved to Utah in 2003 to work in wilderness therapy. She began as a field instructor at another wilderness program and knew immediately that wilderness therapy was a natural fit. She worked as a senior wilderness field instructor until pursuing her graduate degree.

Tara received her Master of Social Work Degree at the University of Utah. During the MSW program she completed internships at Vista Adolescent Treatment Center and Copperhills Youth Center, providing individual and family therapy to teens in residential treatment. She also worked at Valley Mental Health in an outpatient program specifically designed for women with children that have substance dependence and other mental health concerns. These experiences provided the catalyst to return to wilderness and accept a position at Elements. Tara is also part of a research team at the University of Utah assessing the prevalence rates of mental illness and substance use in Utah.

Tara spends much of her free time outdoors and sleeps better under the stars. She loves the mountain and desert surroundings that Utah provides and can often be found climbing, skiing, kayaking, hiking and traveling the western U.S. She also enjoys gardening, cooking and listening to live music.

Lynn Smith, LCSW
Clinical Director, Co-Founder

Working in therapeutic wilderness programs is a natural fit for Lynn as it combines his enthusiasm for outdoor recreation, passion for personal growth and graduate training in social work. Lynn’s specialty is using the wilderness to promote insight, motivation and change in adolescents. Lynn has worked with adolescents in many therapeutic settings, including residential treatment centers, therapeutic boarding schools, group homes and an outpatient substance abuse counseling clinics. Lynn started his career in wilderness therapy as a field instructor in 1994 for Aspen Achievement Academy. He later joined a multi-site wilderness therapy program where he trained new staff, mentored senior field instructors and served as a wilderness therapist.

In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in clinical social work at the University of Utah, Lynn also completed a one year substance abuse treatment certificate program. This training included an internship as a substance abuse counselor in a program that served inmates in the Utah state prison system. Substance abuse and dependence continue to be a focus of Lynn’s clinical practice and he believes the wilderness is an ideal setting to start the course of recovery.

While in graduate school he completed an advanced practicum working with children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and an additional practicum at the Veteran’s Hospital. In this setting, Lynn worked with veterans suffering from a wide variety of mental health issues. His most rewarding experience at the hospital was co-facilitating a therapy group for WWII veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Lynn has been able to use these experiences to identify and work with mild developmental disorders and to work effectively with young men who have experienced trauma.

Lynn is originally from Lodi, California and grew up playing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He spends much of his free time enjoying the mountains and deserts of Utah. He has spent the past 8 winters teaching and coaching snowboarding at Snowbird and currently coaches part-time for the Snowbird competition snowboard team. He also enjoys biking, rock climbing, mountaineering, fishing, scuba diving, backpacking and traveling. He is currently training for his second LOTOJA double century bike race

Under the direction of Karen Hesselman, our field team is responsible for experiential learning and for creating a safe, highly therapeutic milieu that supports each young man’s treatment plan. Field mentors create deep bonds with our students and create a life-changing, highly challenging and fun wilderness experience.

Todd Merrill
Field Director

Todd is originally from North Carolina where he attended Appalachian State University. There he completed studies in Outdoor Education as well as Psychology, learning from positive mentors. In the mountains of North Carolina, Todd developed an appreciation for the learning potential that exists in both a wilderness and adventure context. Since graduating ASU in 2000, Todd has gained valuable experience that has driven his passion to continually develop within this industry.
Some of what has shaped Todd's experiences can be attributed to working with some amazing people in a variety of settings. He has been challenged to grow and develop in roles like: a therapeutic wilderness mentor, outdoor educator, ski patrolman, snowboard instructor, river rafting guide, WFR/WFA instructor, climbing guide, swift-water rescue instructor, as well as a student of the outdoors. His latest area of development is focused on creating thoughtful facilitation of adventure based wilderness experiences.
Todd is joining Elements with a diverse background in facilitating wilderness/adventure based therapeutic experiences for youth and young adults. He has had the pleasure of working with many talented companies in amazing places across the U.S. some of those include: Second Nature (UT, GA, OR), Dragonfly Transitions (OR), Landmark Learning (NC), Three Rivers Montana (MT), SOLO Wilderness Medicine (Southeast), and Aspiro Adventures (UT). Todd has enjoyed the learning process of working with passionate people in awe inspiring landscapes, and has enjoyed combining his experiences with a successful program like Elements!

John Elliott
Shift Lead

John is originally from Rochester, NY where he spent much of his childhood and teenage years exploring the Finger Lakes Region, Adirondacks, and Thousand Island areas. John attended The State University of New York at Oneonta receiving a bachelors degree in Music Industry in August of 2008. He was also president of the mountain biking club at Oneonta and spent much of his time, riding, and advocating mountain biking through teaching, riding and community service. Being able to work outdoors was one of the most important aspects John sought after to pursue a career. John has been with Elements since September 2008. He feels wilderness really allows a person to see past many soci

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801 505-8481

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