What Parents Should Consider 

Many families are desperate to find enriching programs for their teens or young adults during the summer months as well as other times of the year. For over 50 years, Outward Bound has had a positive reputation for empowering young people and leaving them stronger and more resilient than before because of their challenging- but fun- approach to personal growth. However, there are some students, especially those with mental health issues, who might need something more therapeutic, and that is why Summit Achievement may just be a better fit for your teen. 

Both Outward Bound and Summit Achievement combine experiential education and outdoor education programs to help young people grow. Both organizations are strongly committed to assisting young people to grow to be better people and contributors to their families and communities. Both organizations utilize multi-day expeditions with high-quality gear led by qualified and highly trained guide staff to help give young people the guidance they need to grow as individuals as well as being part of a team. Both Summit Achievement and Outward Bound acknowledge the unique challenges facing youth today and strongly feel that being outdoors and participating in adventurous activities is good for the mind, body, and soul. These are the underpinnings of both of our organizations.

One of the influences of both organizations came from the educator Kurt Hahn who founded Outward Bound in 1941. Hahn believed in the combination of traditional academics and experiential education in order to create change for the student. Hahn gave a lecture in 1960 that identified the following “social diseases that Outward Bound addresses”:

·        A decline in fitness due to the modern methods of locomotion.

·        The decline in initiative, due to the widespread disease of spectatoritis. 

·        The decline in care and skill, due to the weakened tradition of craftsmanship.

·        The decline in self-discipline, due to the ever-present availability of tranquilizers and stimulants.

·        The decline of compassion, which William Temple called “spiritual death.”*

At Summit we see many of the same challenges for youth enrolling in our program that Hahn identified in the 1960’s. The effects of the COVID 19 Pandemic have exaggerated many of these challenges as well as mental health disorders because teens were isolated for so long. Many students who come to us are also struggling with physical health as they are no longer as active. Others are losing initiative as they spend far too much time looking at technology (spectatoritis).

Many students are unable to put the skills together to take care of themselves or others. Some exhibit a lack of self-discipline and others struggle with substance use. All benefit from structured activities with competent leaders assisting them, such as the kind that both Outward Bound and Summit Achievement offer. 

Several of Summit Achievements’ founding team were former Outward Bound instructors and program directors. They decided to take what they learned at Outward Bound and add a clinically sophisticated mental health program and a vigorous academic program.  Many of our field guides and therapists over our 26 years of operations have been either Outward Bound students and/or instructors.


So why would a family choose Summit over Outward Bound as an enriching experience? Summit is a licensed residential treatment program that provides mental health treatment by licensed mental health professionals. We specialize in working with young people who are struggling with mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and other challenges. Outward Bound is an experiential learning organization that does not address mental health issues.

Outward Bound works with over 200,000 students in a year and operates all over the world including a sailing-based program in Maine called Hurricane Island Outward Bound. Summit Achievement works with around 100 students a year and operates in Maine. The Summit experience is, therefore, more individualized for each student and includes parents in the process

Outward Bound has fixed-length courses which means the programs start and end on certain days, while Summit can enroll a student any week and the length of stay is dependent on progress in the program.

Summit Achievement and our expert staff and clinicians are qualified to work with students who have specific mental health needs and might struggle with the lack of supervision or individual support in a program like Outward Bound. In fact, Summit has quite successfully worked with some students who were asked to leave Outward Bound, or for whom Outward Bound was not a safe or viable option. This is because Summit Achievement is accredited as an Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Program. Outward Bound programs are accredited in many ways, but not as an Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare program–they are not intentionally therapeutic in nature.

Summit Achievement is influenced by Kurt Hahn and Outward Bound and we are grateful for the influence. While Summit is influenced by Outward Bound we also have other influences including evidence-based mental health treatment practices and family systems therapy.

Like Kurt Hahn once said, “In education, as in medicine, you must harvest the wisdom of a thousand years. If you ever come across a surgeon and he wants to extract your appendix in the most original manner possible, I would strongly advise you to go to another surgeon.” *

Summit Achievement harvested the wisdom of a thousand years including the wisdom/influence of Outward Bound as well as many others! There are many young people facing unique challenges right now. Summit Achievement might be just the place to help them thrive! 

*To learn more about how the history of Outward Bound, Summit Achievement, and wilderness therapy check out the book, Stories from the Field: A History of Wilderness Therapy written by Summit co-founder, Dr. Will White.