Four phases, one journey

Pine River Institute is the only treatment centre of its kind in Canada. Our program encompasses four seamless phases that support a youth’s and family’s gradual development, allowing time to learn, practice and mature. Our students progress through the phases as they are ready. There is no set length of stay (the average is 12-14 months), and each family’s needs are unique. We offer continuous intake and operate 365 days a year, 24 hours per day.

Phase 1: Outdoor Leadership Experience (OLE), Algonquin Park

The OLE phase, lasting 6-8 weeks, is the starting place for change. The wilderness exposes and calls upon the strengths of the mind, body, spirit and emotions, thus creating opportunities to begin rebuilding. Daily aspects of the OLE include canoeing, hiking or snowshoeing, group games and initiatives, group processing, individual therapy and journaling. Students live and work in nature, with groups of up to eight students and three staff.

Phase 2: Residence, Pine River Campus, Shelburne

During the residence phase, students live at the Pine River campus. The average daily schedule covers two to three hours of academics, two hours of physical activity, two hours of group therapy, one hour of expressive arts such as art, music or drama, free time and chores. There is special programming throughout the week, community service, and family activity days on weekends. 

Approved by the Ontario Ministry of Education and in conjunction with the Upper Grand District School Board, the certified teachers at Pine River Institute help our students complete their Ontario Secondary School Diploma. Our unique academic program is a combination of the traditional classroom, credit recovery, experiential education, wilderness experience, supported distance education and individual tutoring.  A personal education plan is developed for each student based on academic strengths and needs. 

Phase 3: Transition, Pine River Campus and Home 

The transition phase is a time to start taking the lessons home. Students and families are closely supported as a student transitions from campus life to home. An example is a week on campus and weekends at home, or vice versa. During this period, families develop a detailed Aftercare Plan to prepare for the next phase.

Phase 4: Aftercare, Home

We are committed to remaining supportive of our families after a student leaves the residential part of the program. The Aftercare Plan is designed by the student and family with the Aftercare Coordinator. It details supports, concerns, triggers, commitments and goals. Aspects may include daily or weekly check-ins, mentoring new students and families, and student and parent coaching with the Aftercare Coordinator.

Our unique approach

Our unique treatment and educational model is based on the developmental needs of adolescents, and grounded in best practices for addiction treatment for youth. 

These basic assumptions underlie our therapeutic approach:

  • Adolescents are not ‘smaller adults’; they are in a developmental transition.
  • Youth in crisis are experiencing obstacles to their maturation, such as mental illness, chronic intoxication or trauma.
  • The adolescent brain is plastic, and this neuroplasticity is an opportunity to change negative neural pathways and destructive thinking.
  • These youth are part of a family system and a peer system.
  • Adolescent addiction is a symptom of underlying issues, and a maladaptive coping strategy. Addressing just the addictive behaviour is not enough.

This understanding informs our therapeutic approach:

  • We support the developmental transition towards maturity – empathy, lack of narcissism, the ability to be separate in relationships, future orientation, social ethics, regulation of emotion and abstract thought.
  • We address the obstacles to maturation; the issues underlying the destructive behaviour.
  • We do this through therapeutic relationships that are accurately attuned, and set limits within an adult team of therapists, team leaders, front-line staff and parents.
  • We work within the family system through family therapy, coaching, retreats and workshops, support groups, multi-family groups and activities.
  • We work within the peer system, providing a therapeutic milieu with structure and boundaries that promote a positive peer culture – a safe environment in which to learn, practice and mature.

Each student and family has an individualized plan to meet their unique needs, which is designed, delivered and reviewed regularly by a professional, multi-disciplinary team. This plan is divided into stages – each with specific guidelines, expectations and privileges.  

“Stage work” begins during the initial wilderness experience. Under the guidance of a therapist, the student then moves at his or her own pace through the subsequent stages of recovery.  Work on behaviour and self-awareness takes place in the residence setting, while work on relationships with others and transitioning home occurs while both in residence at Pine River and at home. 

Parent Involvement – The Parallel Process

Parents have a very important role in the therapeutic process. We work with students and families to make shifts over time which come with increased social and emotional maturity. Our experience and our evaluation outcomes have taught us that the greater the engagement and self-growth of parents/guardians, the greater the success a youth will experience after Pine River. We refer to this as the Parallel Process, and stress its importance to the success of the program. It is not our intent to blame parents for their child’s difficulties, but rather to walk alongside parents as they courageously learn about themselves, look at their past relationships within their own families, and begin a new relationship with their child.

Pine River works

Our success rates have been excellent since welcoming our first student and family in 2006, with the majority of our students who complete the program experiencing success. Our outcome evaluation is based on achieving sustainable quality of life for our students and their families, measured as follows:

  • Have we addressed the issues underlying the addictive behaviours? 
  • Is there a reduction or absence of problematic drug and/or alcohol use? 
  • Is there an increase in functional living (re-engagement with academics, improved family relationships, increased quality of life, improved physical and mental well-being, reduction in or absence of hospitalizations, police contact or running away)? 

Ongoing evaluation and outcome analysis

Ongoing evaluation and outcome analysis are built in to Pine River Institute’s (PRI) vision and mission, and we are leaders in this area. In addition to process evaluation (inquiry, admissions, and program engagement), client-centered outcome evaluation is central to the Pine River program. Using both qualitative and quantitative measures, we gather data at several critical points throughout the program, starting from the initial inquiry and continuing for several years post-program. The data collected from PRI families allow us to understand the health and behaviour of youth and their families before and after Pine River, including quality of life, functionality, and substance use information. Our data and findings are published annually, and used to refine and improve our program.

PRI is committed to making a meaningful contribution to best practices knowledge with regard to helping adolescents and families deal effectively with mental health and addiction issues.

Read more about PRI’s ever-expanding research agenda.

You will find our Annual Evaluation Report here

We are proud to share with you here the 2017 Social Return on Investment (SROI) for Pine River Institute prepared by McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business. Working with a decade of outcome evaluation data from Pine River, study authors applied a rigorous methodology to measure the broader socio-economic impact of our program, concluding that its SROI averaged 7:1. Simply put, every dollar invested in Pine River Institute results in a 700 per cent return.