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The Pitfalls of EBP: A Case for Integrative Rites of Passage

Freedom Writers

Rites of Passage (ROP) is a term used to describe many major changes in life, such as the beginning or end of adolescence, marriage, having children, elder hood and so on. The term rose from watching indigenous cultures ease their youth through adolescence with as little drama as possible. They are based on merit and performance, rising to the challenge at hand and growing healthily from them. Having let go of ROPs in modern times because many consider them quaint and archaic, we have inadvertently taken the longest running, most successful teen prevention model in history and broken it.

The ROP model basically takes an inherent need to grow and guides the aspects of adolescence we often believe in modern times to be negative into a healthy adult. Since letting go of ROPs in favor of becoming ‘civilized’ we have inadvertently created an entire industry dedicated to trying to fix broken or uncooperative teens. By deciding that ROPs were quaint and archaic, we have come to pathologize adolescence as something to fix, not nurture. Rather than prevent the problem at its source with models and programs based on proven ROP growth dynamics, we now are largely mandated to use Evidence Based Practices with scientific data proving they change uncooperative youth. Rather than preventing the problem as ROPs did for millennia, we attempt to fix them after the problem has manifested. In lieu of using the community for support, we now often send the youth away from his or her community for treatment.

I realize I’m not here to dispute the validity of EBP per se but to put them in perspective as one who has been immersed in those programs for a number of years. Thus I’m not here to argue EBP validity, but to put them in context for you. They are not totally exclusive of each other. A youth who has attended an out-of-state residential treatment program with EBP programming has, in essence, been through a rite of passage.

Rite of Passage specialists struggle to unanimously describe ROPs, but for our purposes an ROP is a community acknowledged effort or challenge that is structured to help youth make developmental jumps forward in a healthy way. While ROPs vary from high school graduation to manhood/womanhood initiations, they use elder mentors to help youth grow from the common struggles of adolescence. Rites of Passage are universal across the globe and throughout history, an impressive statistic on its own.

For those not familiar with the Evidence Based Practice trend dominating youth care right now, many programs working with youth are being essentially forced to use approaches and treatments that have some empirical evidence of success data behind them. For example, probably the treatment with the longest data is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). What CBT proposes is common sense to most of us not having major problems in life like so many of the teens I work with. It says that what we think and/or feel affects how we respond to a problem or situation, or our behavior. Then we evaluate the results and reaffirm our beliefs or change them.

One model below is pretty simple after 50 years or so of data. Your thoughts create a feeling, like fear or anger, then your feelings generate some behavior like yelling or punching a wall, and that (inappropriate) behavior further reinforces one’s thoughts especially if there were no consequences for the outburst.



The next model is more detailed. First we need some sort of trigger or situation to get the cycle rolling. This model tends to treat our Thoughts and Feelings as equal partners in creating a responsive behavior, good or bad. Then if we are able, we evaluate our behavior and Think about the outcome. If we get some release, it worked. If we broke a couple knuckles, we may need to rethink our anger outlets. If we don’t change the cognitive belief that punching walls is better than people, we’ll keep hitting walls, for example.



The simplest way to visualize this for me is the graphic below. We can easily imagine what behaviors these feelings might create in teens or anyone else. Some will handle them well and I make a living at the ones who can’t or won’t, two aspects of the same problem.



My issue with Evidence Based Practices like CBT, Aggression Replacement Training (ART) and other canned curricula is twofold. First is more about the prevention of needing these tools in the first place. The Rite of Passage model is about preventing problems such as these, not trying to treat them after the fact. That makes much more sense to me. Secondly, my experience with 13 years of residential treatment settings, six years of probation group homes, and 27 years with at-risk and high-risk teens overall is that EBPs don’t work near as well as everyone hopes.

This is not necessarily a problem with the curriculum, but the delivery. My recent decade with two facilities housing almost 500 teen boys between them is that too often these skills are being taught by untrained, unmotivated staff. Like any curriculum, it is only as good as its teacher. Otherwise we might as just give the textbook or workbook directly to the kid and say, “read this.”  Day after day, Positive Skill Development group after another, role modeling without enthusiasm, doing it because it is supposed to be done, obviously detracts from the curriculum’s ability to work as designed. Just because an organization implements an EBP does not guarantee it will work.

There are basically three aspects to problem solving: Prevention, Intervention and Treatment. Preventing a problem in the first place is the easiest, fastest and least expensive way to deal with the problem. If you cannot prevent the problem, then some sort of intervening behavior is required, necessitating more resources, time and money to eliminate the problem. Finally, if you can’t prevent or initially stop a problem, you have to Treat it—the longest, hardest, most expensive way to solve the problem at hand. It is easier to prevent pollution than treat it. Same thing with the hole in the ozone, cancer, oil spills, juvenile delinquency, and so on. This process reminds me of an old quote: Why is there never enough time [or resources] to do it right but always enough time to do it over again?

ROPs are historically and universally known practices that helped older cultures Prevent many of the modern youth behavioral problems we currently deal with. Indeed, my job didn’t exist when I was born, but then neither did pre-school, after-school programs, and so on. Those are modern inventions caused by the breakdown of extended family. The ROP concept is to learn a healthy way to approach challenges and difficulties, guided by elders who have previously walked the same paths, and not become victims to circumstances but grow from them. Below is a simple model of the ROP cycle, first described a century ago by Arnold van Gennep.



Van Gennep initially described a rite of passage as three stages: Separation, (liminal) Transition and Reincorporation. This graphic adds Preparation to help make the youth successful before the challenge. Here is CBT in its infancy within a person, either learning or not how to appropriately respond to negative or difficult stimuli. I’ll assume that from here on out most people reading this article will have a grasp of rites of passage so I won’t bother with more on that for now.

My first real point is that while CBT has a good 50+ years of data behind it as an effective treatment option for many negative thoughts and behaviors, rites of passage have tens of thousands of years in prevention data. What data many will ask? Right now America has what many call the Youth Industry, the sad and huge machine behind trying to get modern teens off drugs, out of gangs, stopping cyber-bullying, and many other antisocial behaviors. America has more youth violence than the next 25 countries combined. A culture should never make an industry of its children.

By ROP prevention data, I refer to the fact that indigenous cultures, dealing with adolescence for millennia, never had to invent juvenile hall, pre-school, after-school programs, residential treatment, group homes, and the rest of America’s multi-billion dollar Youth Industry mechanisms. By effectively preventing most adolescent problems with rite of passage dynamics, our indigenous neighbors never needed to invent major interventions or treatment. Why? Because ROPs were discovered worldwide and historically to help youth cross into adulthood healthily, and indigenous cultures don’t have time or resources to donate to methods that don’t work. But modern youth care seems determined not to look at prevention data because there really is no hard data for ROPs as they didn’t create any problems to document. The ROP cycle, archetypal and universal across the globe, helped teens mature in a healthy way.

My next issue with Evidence Based Practices is, if you take the term literally, that we can no longer be creative, intuitive, adaptive or experimental in our work with youth. If I have to use CBT groups, ART curriculum, Pathways drug curriculum and so on, how will we ever get to see if we can’t find something better than what is currently on the table? The most success I’ve had in 27 years of high-risk teens is with ROP dynamics. Now that I’m forced to use the EBP approved approaches, I feel handcuffed and my kids feel like part of an assembly line, which is what the Youth Industry is. I find it boring for both parties, although I admit some kids avail themselves of the growth opportunity, but I believe that is more of an internal trait than the curriculum breaking down barriers. The longer these curricula run, the older they become and often feel outdated by state-of-the-art teens. Printed curriculum is costly to edit.

Like many, I stumbled across rites of passage model after I’d worked with kids for a while. As a corporate crossover in the late 80s, I did not come into the field with a clue, much less an agenda. I tried everything people suggested like anyone new to a field. After I was luckily exposed to teens from more than 100 countries via half a dozen international youth conferences I facilitated, I started seeing a maturity and responsibility from the initiation cultures vs. modern teens. I pursued that and it worked better than what else I was doing so I adopted it. That simple.

The third problem I have with the modern trend is that to maintain a Youth Industry, we need a never ending supply of youth to “fix” and run through the assembly line of making money at damaged and neglected youth. The CEO of the residential treatment program I just left told me a while back the company was grossing $70 million annually, and he couldn’t wait until they reached $100 million. I tried to do the math on how many hundreds of damaged and traumatized teens that would take, but gave up as too depressing.

There’s an inherent Jungian Shadow piece in any service-based approach. Be it teen residential care, women’s centers, or even cancer surgeons, the problem is that often unconsciously people in these fields are not willing to give up their jobs to fully solve the problem. Residential care needs a stream of wild kids. Women’s centers, God bless them, still depend on battered women and abused children to keep their doors open. Solve domestic violence and child abuse and they go out of business. The dedicated cancer surgeon who tries to extend life must fear, at some level, prevention for cancer.

So for this CEO who claims to be doing everything possible to help disadvantaged youth, is it really in his best interest to find a Prevention or Cure? Sadly, no, so they do enough to meet the requirements of the people paying them but make mostly unconscious choices that inhibit any real, lasting success. For example, having entry level, untrained staff in charge of CBT aspects. The teen that recycles through the facility 3-4 times is the problem to be fixed, and another $40,000 for more EBP.

This is the problem with “programs,” even ROP programs, I’m sad to say. They need more people to come to their programs to stay afloat, offset expenses, pay employees. We keep pathologizing adolescence as something to be fixed, not guided to a healthier outcome. Parents continue to send their wayward youth to wilderness treatment and ROP programs to help refocus these teens. This model completes two of Van Gennep’s stages: Separation (if only for a day or more) and a Transition model to help change them internally. But there is no Reincorporation into their home community without the full ROP model, and this is, in my experience, where almost every program I’ve seen falls short, although more often than not, not in their control.

“Initiating” a teen for a month in Utah is great, and might actually mature and change them, but then we send them home to LA, Chicago, DC, or just an abusive or uncaring family that doesn’t fully embrace the changes. Even if the family sees the change in their son or daughter, the schools will still treat them the same as before their experience, so they have not really been promoted in the community. We don’t need more ROP programs; we need more Community to utilize ROP dynamics.

My final problem with Evidence Based Programs is that often we see the best successes by blatantly ignoring them. For example, think of the most popular of the “idealistic teacher helping resistant youth” movie genre like Freedom Writers, Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, Gridiron Gang, Remember the Titans, Coach Carter, and most recently Spare Parts. We cheer for the tenacious teacher who resists, who lacks of administrative support and comes up with unique ways to motivate unmotivated students. Rather than pathologizing the teens as many others have already done, these famous teachers and coaches have found creative, out-of-the-box ways to help youth and amaze adults.

If we dissect these movies, we’ll find these creative problem solvers were closer to ROP dynamics than EBP. They came up with a healthy challenge for the youth, got them to try something new and challenging, and supported their growth by creating a community of support with the class or team.

But my real question is this: If we recognize good mentoring when we see it, why don’t parents and other people involved in their children’s lives storm into the principal or superintendent of schools’ office and demand a Freedom Writers teacher? Why not further demand a Lean on Me principal, a Stand and Deliver math teacher or a Gridiron Gang coach? These movies, like the real efforts they portray are powerful enough to make us cry and cheer at the growth and success of resistant kids who now have a stronger sense of themselves for the experience. We need to stop relying on others to make decisions regarding our children. Schools should not be parents. Our government should not become parents. The solution, I believe, will be utilizing more basic ROP dynamics in all youth endeavors to prevent the need for Evidence Based Practices in the first place.

© Bret Stephenson  8/8/2015

About the Author: Bret Stephenson

Bret Stephenson M.A. is the author of From Boys to Men: Spiritual Rites of Passage in an Indulgent Age and The Undercurrents of Adolescence: Tracking the Evolution of Modern Adolescence and Delinquency Through Classic Cinema. He has been a counselor of at-risk and high-risk adolescents for twenty-seven years. Bret has worked in residential treatment, clinical counseling agencies, group homes, private counseling, foster parent training, Independent Living Program, and has managed mentoring and tutoring programs.

He has been a presenter and speaker at numerous national and international conferences and workshops, including being the teen coordinator at the International Transpersonal Association's Youth Conferences in America and Ireland, the United Nations World Peace Festival, Institute of Noetic Sciences, the World Children’s Summit and private workshops in Switzerland. Bret has worked with teens from more than 100 countries.

Bret is owner of the Adolescent Mind, a teen consulting business. He has trained and designed programs for numerous organizations including the Girl Scouts of America, Adirondack Leadership Expeditions and CASA. Bret is currently interested in creating youth employment and youth entrepreneurial models. Since the translation of From Boys to Men into Czech, he has been visiting Prague yearly to provide youth training to professionals. Currently Bret is the lead consultant on a project in the San Francisco Bay Area to bring services and mentoring to female victims of trafficking.


  1. Great post Bret! As a rite of passage guide, coach, and mental health clinician, your concerns with EBPs ring true for me. That being said, most of us live in a world that prizes empirical evidence. And in fact there is evidence-based research (including writings of David Blumenkrantz) on the efficacy of a variety of rite of passage programs. I wrote an article and research proposal about it. I am copying it here. It is long and the formatting is off, but I don’t see a way to include it as an attachment. If anyone wants it as a pdf, just let me know.


    Rites of passage mark transitions between states or stages of life, most often from childhood to adulthood. Although passage rites were once fundamental in all cultures, meaningful rites of passage are limited in contemporary cultures. The lack of cogent passage rites leaves adolescents enacting behaviors in misguided, peer-defined attempts to mark their adult status. Results of these erroneous efforts include drug use, risk taking, violence, gang involvement, rule breaking, self-harm, and dysfunctional male gender roles. Although research has been conducted on the limited contemporary rite of passage programs for adolescents, a majority has focused on African American and other culturally-specific rite of passage programs. Analysis has demonstrated largely positive outcomes for these programs, such as improved self-esteem, academic performance, attitudes toward school, and cultural knowledge as well as reductions in at-risk behaviors such as drug and alcohol consumption and violence. However, no research has been conducted on nature-based rite of passage programs. It is proposed that 21-day nature-based rite of passage programs offered by Rite of Passage Journeys be evaluated. Programs for middle- and high-school-age adolescents included wilderness backpacking, a ropes course, a sweat lodge, mentoring from guides and elders, and optional ceremonial fasting. Analysis of 175 pairs pre- and post-program surveys assess the programs’ impact on levels of current life satisfaction, self-esteem, communication skills, community involvement, appreciation for diversity, ease in the natural world, and spirituality. A related samples t-test will be used to assess significant changes in target outcomes. Conclusions would evaluate the efficacy of Rite of Passage Journeys’ programs, highlight best practices in the field, and indicate areas of further research.

    Coming of Age: An Evaluation of a Nature-Based Rite of Passage program on Adolescent Development

    A rite of passage (ROP) formally and ceremonially marks the transition of an individual from one stage of life to another, most often from childhood to adulthood (van Gennep, 1960). Although once important in all pre-modern cultures (Eliade, 1958), definitive and robust passage rites are lacking in contemporary societies (Blumenkrantz & Gavazzi, 1993; McCandless & Coop, 1979). ROPs currently exist in only limited contexts, including in traditional societies and in culturally-specific traditions in North America (Scheer & Blumenkrantz, 2007). For the most part, however, developmental transitions are either not marked or are imprecise (Quinn, Newfield, & Protinsky, 1985). Many have hypothesized that this lack of meaningful ROPs exacerbates challenges inherent in any transition, especially in adolescence when youth may attempt to define their own passage rites, often with damaging results (e.g. Mahdi, Foster, & Little, 1987; Meade, 1993; Quinn et al., 1985; Stevens, 1982). In recent years, increasing attention has been given to the role of ROP in fostering healthy adolescent development (e.g. Blumenkrantz & Gavazzi, 1993; Gavazzi, Alford, & McKenry, 1996; Harvey & Hill, 2004; Quinn et al., 1985; Tello, Cervantes, Cordova, & Santos, 2010). Although research has demonstrated varying levels of efficacy of specific ROP interventions, it remains difficult to compare programs given the lack of consensus about what qualifies as a ROP. A majority of researched ROP programs are culturally-specific, community-based interventions (Harvey & Hill, 2004; Markstrom & Iborra, 2003; Rodriguez, 2010). Given that many adolescents do not identify strongly with a particular cultural identity, other forms of ROPs may be more appropriate. To date, no research has been conducted on non-culturally-based approaches to assisting adolescents with this important developmental phase.

    Youth aged 10 to 19 years comprise 13.9% of the United States population (Institute of Medicine and National Research Council Committee on the Science of Adolescence, 2011, section 1). Adolescence, defined broadly as the stage between childhood and adulthood (Hall, 1904), encompasses certain tasks (Erikson, 1963) that present the adolescent and the family with a new set of challenges, including tensions, conflicts, and skills to be learned (Blumenkrantz & Gavazzi, 1993). As they navigate this time of rapid change, adolescents may face significant physical, behavioral, mental health, and psychosocial risks. The greatest public health challenges include risk taking, youth violence, suicide, drug use, obesity, and poverty. Many of these dangers originate or peak during adolescence (Eccles et al., 1993).
    The challenges of adolescence may be rooted in the struggles of families, schools, and society to adapt to the changing needs of youth as they age (Eccles et al., 1993). The lack of clear expectations and conditions of movement into adult status result in family difficulties (Quinn, Newfield, & Protinsky, 1985). Proponents of ROP programs argue that establishing clear expectations of, and culturally-recognized movement into, adult status tempers the challenges of adolescence (e.g. Blumenkrantz & Gavazzi, 1993; Mahdi et al., 1987; Meade, 1993; Quinn et al., 1985).
    Although ROPs have existed in all traditional cultures (Eliade, 1958), very few exist today (Blumenkrantz & Gavazzi, 1993; Hersch, 1998). In all pre-modern societies, passage rites were important (Eliade, 1958). Across cultures, puberty rites in particular appear to play an important role in preparing youth for adulthood (Kitahara, 1982; Weisfeld, 1997). ROPs mark transitions into adulthood as well as into other culturally-defined states, such as marriage, elderhood, or priesthood. ROPs are “ceremonies whose essential purpose is to enable the individual to pass from one defined position to another which is equally well defined” (van Gennep, 1960, p. 3). This formal marking of new status functions to strengthen the cohesion of the family and community, clarify new roles of the adolescent and family, and encourage flexibility of family structure (Quinn et al., 1985).
    Based on field studies and reports, van Gennep (1960) suggested three stages that comprise all ROPs: severance, transition, and incorporation. In the first phase, the individual is separated from her or his old status as a child. Ceremonially, this often included physical separation from the group in the form of separate housing or distinct attire to mark the transitional nature of the passage and the beginning of the second stage: transition. This “liminal” period is characterized by a “betwixt and between” status (Turner, 1987, p. 4) In the eyes of the group, the individual has relinquished his or her old role, but has not yet been born into the new. In traditional cultures, this may have included time in isolation in nature, temporary social exclusion, or apprenticeship outside of the family (Blumenkrantz & Gavazzi, 1993). In the final stage, incorporation, the new status of the individual is celebrated and formally recognized by the group. The youth may be incorporated into the culture as an adult with new rights and responsibilities. In the end, “through the repetition… of the traditional rites, the entire community is regenerated” (Eliade, 1958, p. 4).
    Although there is some disagreement about the universality of this tripartite model (Grimes, 2000; Stigliano, 2002), the notion of socially constructed and reformulated states is fundamental to the understanding of historic and contemporary ROPs. This ritualized movement between states is not limited to changes in social statuses, but includes transitions to new emotional states (Turner, 1987). Thus, personal transformation within ritualized transition, when recognized by the community, facilitates change in the larger group such as families, communities, cultural groups, or whole societies.
    Although ROPs have existed in all pre-modern societies, few meaningful passage rites exist today in North America (Blumenkrantz & Gavazzi, 1993; Hersch, 1998; Quinn et al., 1985). It is suggested that the lack of robust ROPs may contribute to a number of dangerous behaviors and health risks for adolescents and society (Blumenkrantz & Gavazzi, 1993; Quinn et al., 1985; Schwartz & Merten, 1968).
    Physiologically, the arrival of puberty marks the beginning of adolescence. Sociologically, however, onset and termination of adolescence is not often clearly defined (Quinn et al., 1985). Adolescents may receive mixed messages from society about their status. Obtaining a driver’s license, voting rights, military eligibility, high school graduation, and legal consumption of alcohol are all types of socially recognized passage rites, yet none contain the three stages of a ROP. None are unambiguously recognized as marking the end of adolescence and the beginning of adulthood.
    Certain culturally-specific passage rites exist that provide a model for contemporary ROPs in other contexts. Bar Mitvahs and Bat Mitvahs are celebrations in the Jewish faith that mark the child’s transition into adulthood (Schoenfeld, 1995). A small qualitative study (N=9) highlighted the benefit of these passage rites in fostering strong relationships with family and friends and the “meaningful symbolic reconciliation of the tensions between tradition and change” (Zegans & Zegans, 1979, p. 115). The Latin American Quinceañera marks a girl’s entrance into adult society at age 15. One qualitative study (N=26) showed that preparation and enactment of this ceremonial ROP tempered participants’ anxiety about life stressors related to becoming a woman, such as sexuality, pregnancy, education, and career (Stewart, 2005). The Quinceañera strengthened familial and community relationships and supported cultural and female identity development which combined traditional and modern elements. Consistent with the writings of van Gennep (1960) and Turner (1987), these examples of culturally-specific ROPs demonstrate the efficacy of such ceremonies in assisting the transition between states. In these cases, the passage rites aided young people, families, and communities in marking the transition between childhood and adulthood. They also provided guidance in navigating the liminality between traditional and acculturated identities.
    Unlike these culturally-rooted ROPs, few examples of robust passage rites exist in contemporary American society. Though some have argued that high school graduation is a meaningful ROP in American society (Fasick, 1988), others have asserted that graduation is insufficient as a passage rite (Delaney, 1995). Despite many features similar to clear ROPs, high school graduation often lacks personal connections between students and adults and rarely includes spiritual or moral guidance. Lack of meaningful passage rites is due in part to uncertainty about when one becomes an adult (Arnett, 2000). Youth feel a deep desire to step into adulthood. Without cogent ROPs, adolescents may seek out unambiguous and glamorous markers of adult status, often using media and peers as models. These misguided attempts are insufficient and potentially damaging (Mahdi et al., 1987; Merten, 2005; Turner, 1977).
    In the absence of culturally-sanctioned ROPs, adolescents may make misguided attempts to attain adult status (Mahdi et al., 1987). In cultural terms:
    It seems that the attainment of a new stage of life demands that the initiation symbols appropriate to that stage must be experienced. If culture fails to provide these symbols in institutional form then the Self is forced to provide them faute de mieux [for want of a better alternative]. (Stevens, 1982, p. 164)
    Without clear expectations from the community, youth attempt to define their own initiation rites with guidance only from peers.
    Consequences of these mistaken attempts at ROPs are potentially serious and transcend individual populations of youth. Many scholars have attributed behaviors such as drug use, risk-taking, violence, and gang-involvement to lack of passage rites (Blumenkrantz & Gavazzi, 1993; Quinn et al., 1985; Schwartz & Merten, 1968). Gang involvement is perhaps the most striking of faulty, peer-defined attempts at initiation into adulthood (Vida, 1999). Indeed, such involvement includes key elements of a ROP through the gang initiation process: elders, separation, a sacred place, symbolic death, trials, revelation, rebirth, and reincorporation (Papachristos, 1998). It has also been suggested that self-harming behaviors are modeled on traditional initiation rites (Nicholson, 2004). Traditional ROPs sometimes utilized body manipulation such as scarification and tattoos to publically mark adult status. Contemporary adolescents who lack sufficient societal recognition of independence, such as those in state care, may resort to self-harm in an attempt to assert their autonomy. Rule-breaking has been explained “as ritual action in this tacit rite of passage” of entering junior high school (Merten, 2005, p. 143). A two-year ethnographic study attributed behaviors such as failing classes to a symbolic ROP in which suburban adolescent girls saw such behaviors as markers of adolescence. One study that surveyed adolescent boys found that insufficient passage rites resulted in rigid and dysfunctional male gender roles and were linked with depression, suicide, and violence toward others (Pollack, 2004). In African American youth, increased risk taking and violence has been attributed to lack of culturally-supported passage rites (Alford, McKenry, & Gavazzi, 2001). This phenomenon is by no means limited to the Americas. After the dissolution of the Soviet-era “Young Pioneers” program, for example, drugs, gang-involvement, and risk taking in Russian adolescents increased (Scheer & Unger, 1997).
    Limited research has been conducted on the diversity of contemporary ROP programs and interventions. These include culturally-specific, gender-specific, clinically-focused, community-based, and nature-based models.
    A number of studies have been conducted on ROP programs for African American youth. They often focus on identity development and benefit from a shared value system. Use is made of the seven principles of Karenga’s (1965) Nguzo Saba: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
    A study of one African American adolescent ROP program indicated a positive impact on ethnic identity and attitudes towards school. Utilizing a between-subjects design, significant improvements were seen in attitudes towards substance abuse and behavior in the classroom (Rodriguez, 2010). Time spent in another Afrocentric ROP program was significantly correlated with reduction in at-risk behavior (McKenry, Kim, Bedell, Alford, & Gavazzi, 1997.)
    A quasi-experimental study examined the effects of a year-long ROP program on at-risk Black youth (N=57; Ages=11.5-14.5 years) involved in the criminal justice system (Harvey & Hill, 2004). Compared with the control group, pretest and posttest data showed statistically significant gains in self-esteem and knowledge about drug abuse. Youth also experienced sizable increases in racial identity and cultural awareness measurements, though these gains were not statistically significant. This program also had positive effects on participants’ parents and guardians. Pretest and posttest results demonstrated large, but non-significant, improvements in parenting skills, community involvement, racial identity, and cultural awareness.
    An evaluation of another African American ROP program, AA-RITES, assessed the program’s impact on 37 Black males, ages 12 to 21, in foster care (Gavazzi, Alford, & McKenry, 1996). Qualitative thematic analysis demonstrated strengthened individual and racial/cultural pride and self-direction, as well as collectivist values and respect for females. The role of elders was also seen.
    The Afrocentric ROP program Supporting Adolescents with Guidance and Employment (SAGE) is a comprehensive seven-month intervention that includes individual mentoring, Afrocentric guidance, a summer jobs training and placement program, and an after-school entrepreneurial training program. Settings are predominately community based, but include an overnight camping trip. Pretest and posttest evaluation demonstrated reduced likelihood of violence-related behavior and other health risk behaviors such as carrying a gun, selling illegal drugs, heavy drinking, and injuring others with a gun (Flewelling et al., 1999). However, findings were not statistically significant, perhaps due to the study’s small sample size.
    Research has also been conducted on other culturally-specific ROP programs. Joven Noble is a youth development, support, and leadership enhancement curriculum that incorporates a ROP framework (Tello et al., 2010). Designed to strengthen protective factors among male Latinos aged 10- to 24-years, evaluation found significant outcomes based on pretest and posttest data. Joven Noble increased knowledge of and significantly decreased behavior related to high risk sexual behaviors and increased cultural esteem of participants (Tello et al., 2010). It improved cultural knowledge and beliefs (Tello et al., 2010; Tello, Cervantes, Cordova, & Santos, n.d.), decreased psychosocial stress exposure, and improved attitudes toward couple violence (Tello et al., n.d.).
    The Navajo Kinaalda ceremony has been examined as an example of a contemporary ROP (Markstrom & Iborra, 2003). It contains the three stages of all passage rites, as outlined in van Gennep’s (1960) tripartite model. In a synthesis of Erikson’s (1963; 1968) psychosocial model and the ROP approach to development, the passage rite is conceptualized as a means to optimal identity formation in adolescent Navajo girls. Participants receive an archetypal role model to teach the ideals of Navajo womanhood and the independent and interdependent nature of Navajo identity.
    ROP curriculum for adolescent Appalachian males in southern Ohio has been provided to public and private agencies, including those serving youth in foster care and at-risk youth (Maloney, 2005). The Appalachian Rites of Passage Program includes orientation at an overnight retreat followed by 10 to 12 weekly meetings covering Appalachian and Native American history, field trips to historic sites, Appalachian cultural stereotypes, and a final “passage ceremony” (p. 323). Evaluation of pre- and post-attitudinal surveys demonstrated improvement in participants’ self-esteem, improved knowledge of Appalachian culture, and improved ability to express oneself (McLaughlin, 1993).
    To provide ROP programming to the most adolescents and families, a cross cultural or pan-cultural model may be beneficial, although outcome research on such programs is limited. Not-for-profit organizations such as Rite of Passage Journeys, Rites of Passage, Inc., and the School of Lost Borders currently provide ROPs for youth that are not culturally-specific. Another of these programs, the Rite of Passage Experience (ROPE) is an intervention model that has been implemented in a number of communities across the United States (Blumenkrantz & Gavazzi, 1993). Students transitioning from elementary to middle or junior high school participate in a 21-hour, 13-session, school based ROP program. Pretest-posttest measures of 410 students in experimental and control groups showed significantly greater levels of family involvement, greater attachment to school, significantly less drug and alcohol consumption, and significantly less involvement in delinquent activities (Hawkins, 1989). Participation in ROPE has also aided interventions in psychotherapy (Gavazzi & Blumenkrantz, 1993).
    ROP programs appear to have clinical applications. Family therapy itself has been viewed as a passage rite (Kobak & Waters, 1984). ROPs constructed within therapeutic settings help families manage transitional events by defining age- and developmental stage-appropriate boundaries between children and parents (Quinn et al., 1985) and by creating new family identities (Bennett, Wolin, & McAvity, 1988). Clinical ROPs can aid families to navigate normative transitions such as adolescence, marriage, or death in the family, as well as nodal and idiosyncratic transitions, such as divorce or relocation and pregnancy loss or imprisonment, respectively (Friedman, 1988; Imber-Black, 1988). Participation in a ROP program outside of therapy can also aid therapeutically based intervention efforts (Gavazzi & Blumenkrantz, 1993). Qualitative analysis revealed that ROPs introduce adolescents to mental health professionals in a positive and non-threatening way, provide a common language to be used in therapy and in the family, afford an opportunity to practice decision-making and problem-solving strategies, and teach essential skills which are foundational to subsequent therapeutic interventions.
    Existing research on the benefits of ROPs indicates efficacy across many contexts, however no studies have examined cross-cultural nature-based ROP programs for adolescents. Such analysis may be limited by two factors: lack of shared cultural values and absence of a recognized definition of ROPs. The absence of shared cultural values may increase the ambiguity that complicates the passage into adulthood (Arnett, 2000; Merten, 2005; Turner, 1977). African American ROP programs benefit from a shared set of cultural values, as exemplified by the Nguzo Saba. Other successful culturally-specific ROP interventions identified values that provide the foundation for the culture and the passage rites (e.g. Maloney, 2005; Tello et al., 2010). As in traditional societies, these ROP are community created and community directed (van Gennep, 1960). Research on cross-cultural nature-based ROP is also complicated by the lack of an established definition of such programs. Van Gennep’s (1960) tripartite model of all passage rites entails severance, transition, and incorporation. This definition may be augmented by Blumenkrantz and Goldstein’s (2010) components of contemporary ROP process. These 20 core components contribute to effective community-based ROP programs and could be applied to wilderness based programs. Clear definition of ROPs will aid research on the efficacy of cross cultural, nature-based ROP programs.

    Research has examined the efficacy of culturally-specific ROP interventions and community-based ROP programs with largely positive results. However, the effectiveness of cross cultural, nature-based ROP programs has not been measured. It is proposed that such programs offered by the not-for-profit organization Rite of Passage Journeys (Journeys) be evaluated. Journeys was established in Chicago in 1968 and has been operating in the Pacific Northwest since 1985. It provides nature-based ROP experiences for approximately 100 youth and 100 adults each year. The proposed study focuses on Journeys’ 21-day nature-based youth programs. Anonymous pre- and post-program surveys have been collected for the past eight years.
    Participants are those who registered for the program and completed the optional surveys. Program screening determined participants’ ability to keep themselves and others safe. Drug use and histories of attempted suicide, for example, did not necessarily prohibit participation. This program review focuses on three adolescent programs. The Coming of Age for Boys (COAB) and Coming of Age for Girls (COAG) programs are for youth aged 12 to 14. The Solo Crossing program provides 15- to 18-year-olds a ROP experience.
    Pre- Post-Intervention Assessment. Anonymous pre- and post-program assessment surveys were completed by 50 COAG participants, 75 COAB participants, and 50 Solo Crossing participants from 2006 to 2014. The surveys consisted of demographic data and 48 questions which were answered on a five-point Likert scale. Anchors were NO!, No, Sort of, Yes, and YES! Four open-ended narrative questions were also included. Surveys assessed levels of current life satisfaction, self-esteem, communication skills, community involvement, appreciation of diversity, ease in the natural world, and spirituality. Utilizing non-personal identification numbers, only complete sets of pre- and post-program surveys will be analyzed.

    All three programs are 21 days in duration and include approximately 14 days in the backcountry wilderness in groups no larger than 10. Other activities include a ropes course and a sweat lodge, as well as mentoring from guides and elders. Youth participants spend 24 to 48 hours alone in nature with the invitation to fast from food. Activities involving families are included at the beginning and end of the program.
    Data Analysis and Anticipated Results
    Pre- and post-program surveys will be matched using identification numbers. Demographic data will be analyzed and frequencies computed. Likert responses will be scored. NO!=1, No=2, Sort of=3, Yes=4, and YES!=5. Each participant’s pre-program composite scores for each outcome will be compared to post-program composite scores. Significant differences in pre- post-intervention ordinal variables will be analyzed using a Wilcoxon Matched Pairs Signed Rank t-test. Further analysis may include comparison of specific questions and their changes. Narrative answers will be transcribed and qualitatively analyzed by identifying common themes. Qualitative data may also indicate outcomes that might be measured quantitatively in future surveys. It is expected that levels of all outcomes will increase, with greatest improvement in self-esteem, diversity appreciation, and ease in the natural world.

    Scholars and practitioners of ROPs hold that meaningful passage rites are largely lacking in contemporary cultures and that providing them can foster healthy adolescent development. However, limited research has been conducted on such programs. Existing examinations have focused predominately on culturally-specific and community-based ROPs. The proposed program evaluation would assess nature-based ROP programs from Rite of Passage Journeys. The evaluation will measure the efficacy of these specific programs and indicate the level of benefit of nature-based ROPs as a whole. Results would help shape best practices in the field.

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  2. Thanks guys (and ladies). The hardest part was trying to remain relatively objective while I continue to shake off the EBP hangover I have from the past ten years in residential treatment where little really gets accomplished. At least I don’t have to worry about getting fired any more. I’m so tired of youth being bored at our weak attempts to lead them to better futures. Sherry, you know the CEO in question well 🙂

  3. Congratulations on the publication of your latest! A great read! You have always been ahead of the curve and it is wonderful that, with this publication, you can enlighten people about the ineffectiveness of the “Youth Industry.” I hope to see more programs initiated designed around your model. Our country could then see positive permanent change in troubled youth instead of a warehousing situation, returning the youth to society virtually unchanged. I hope all is well with you. Affectionately, Sherry

  4. This is a great post, Bret! Really wonderful articulation of some very important points. Thank you!!!

  5. Maybe the most true and impactful thing I’ve heard about Rites of Passage, or any other type of program, is when David Blumenkrantz said “Programs don’t change people. People in relationships that matter change people.”

    The thing common to all of your hollywood examples at the end, and totally unaccounted for by a printed workbook, is the effort to create a personal relationship between the facilitator/teacher/mentor and the individual teens who happen to be there at any given time.

    Evidence-based-practices, as effective as they may be by themselves, are still just practices, and can’t compete with the feeling of being really SEEN and affirmed, as a human being, by someone you respect.

    But the ROP model doesn’t guarantee such connection either. As much as I love rites of passage, it may be that the prevention we’re truly seeking is a far more comprehensive effort to create more close-knit, supportive community around our young people, community that includes but extends beyond their immediate families.

    • Great comment, Asa! Thank you! Sam

    • Asa-Great Points. As you note, Blumenkrantz has the idea down cold, I think. Unless we develop a supportive community we will never really have any kind of useful “dynamics.” Community is the key, so difficult in this melting pot culture, but not impossible I’ve got to believe….

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