Blog Article

Phoenix Outdoor: A Case Study in Virtual Family Support

Article from Phoenix Outdoor Founder Carolyn Bradfield

In 2004, two technology entrepreneurs founded Phoenix Outdoor, a North Carolina licensed outdoor behavioral program for adolescents ages 13-17.  Inspired and motivated by the difficulty in getting family support when their adolescents went through treatment, the team committed to a robust program that parents could participate in on a weekly basis while their adolescents were in treatment.  Because program participants came from all over the country, leadership used their technology backgrounds to launch one of the first family support virtual care programs in the country.

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Inspired by Their Personal Experience

The founders had placed their 15-year old daughter in an outdoor behavioral program, but received no counseling or support during her 6-week stay.  After being traumatized by the difficulty in finding treatment for their daughter, they were called on to make a long-term strategic aftercare choice to enroll her in a therapeutic boarding school.  After meeting 20 families enrolling their adolescents in the same school, it became clear that family support was almost non-existent no matter what pathway each family took to get their child into long-term care. Families came to the orientation traumatized, confused and devastated.

The Phoenix Outdoor Family Support Program

Families enrolling their adolescents in the Phoenix program were given a plan and process for treating their child, but also were asked to participate in the weekly family support program.  The goals of the program were to reduce their anxiety and stress, uncover the challenges that the family struggled with as a result of their adolescent's behavior and equip them with the tools to make a long term decision for their child and family.

The Parent Coordinator

Within 24 hours of enrollment, the family received an outreach from a dedicated parent coordinator to explain the process the program engaged in to treat each individual, how the outdoor program worked, and how the program was designed for safety.  The coordinator's job was to let parents know what to expect from Phoenix, what we expected from them, and to reconfirm that they had made an appropriate treatment decision for their child.

The Parent Portal

Parents had access to an online portal where the program uploaded letters from their child, their daily schedule, what they would be eating, the weather report, and any pictures we had taken in their outdoor treatment setting.  The program would post messages and notes for the parents to access at their convenience.

Parent Support Group

Before there was Zoom, the parent support group met via GlobalMeet webinar technology each Monday night, lead by a clinical specialist.  Conversations were wide ranging, but included topics such as how to manage and support siblings, how to communicate decisions with friends and family, and long-term care strategies.  Parents would attend these groups even after their children had been discharged.

Psycho-Educational Classes

An online class was held each Tuesday, lead by the Clinical Director and focused on a specific topic relevant to the family.  Families were educated about the disease of addiction, the roles that family members play that affect  how they function or managing co-existing mental health disorders.

The Family Therapist

Each adolescent had an assigned therapist, but a different therapist was also assigned to the family.  Each week a family therapy session was held with parents and siblings to have them process through family issues and equip them with the tools they needed to support themselves and their adolescent in treatment.


Over 90% of all adolescent participants were diagnosed with a substance use disorder, and as such, families were asked to participate in at least one weekly ALANON meeting to find support outside of the Phoenix Outdoor community


Phoenix Outdoor had one of the most innovative and respected approaches to family care by using technology to allow families to participate, no matter where they lived.  The adolescents knew that their families were working as hard as they were to find a solution that lead to health and wellness.  The same strategy that served Phoenix in the mid 2000s is still relevant today to produce better outcomes for the person in treatment as well as their family.

Get Started with InterAct LifeLine

InterAct LifeLine provides treatment programs and organizations with easily accessible, effective, and affordable technology for virtual care and education programs.  We empower state and local governments and organizations offering opioid abatement programs with efficient ways to inform, engaged and reach their audiences. Reach out to us for more information about our digital mental health and addiction treatment technology.

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