From Wilderness Programs to Theraputic Boarding Schools (TBS)?

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by fishingbuddy, Jun 27, 2010.

  1. fishingbuddy

    fishingbuddy Guest

    We have a 15 year old, very athletic son that is about to complete a wilderness program. Went there because of anxiety/depression, problems with friends and destructive anger issues. He has made great progress at wilderness.

    His therapist has been surprised at how hard he has worked on his issues, that he wanted to go on a 3 day solo (which he completed even though he did not even like to spend the night out with friends when he was home) and that my son wants to, and will, go into a leadership role within the group even though he is one of the youngest in his group.

    We are now trying to decide whether to bring him home or send him to a therapeutic boarding school. We have a very solid family atmosphere and have been thinking about using a transition firm to help with establishing a behavioral contract and coaching us as parents. My son also has good therapist and doctor here at home. Our big concern/question is can whether he fit back in with his peers and build solid friendships. The deterioration in friendships led to most of the problems of depression and anger.

    The wilderness program has suggested that he would benefit from a Positive Peer Culture therapeutic boarding school but has not said that it is totally necessary. Our educational consultant has the same position.

    Most wilderness programs seem to recommend that around 90 percent or more of thier students go on to sometime of residential treatment center or TBS. It is very hard to send your son away for 14-18 months at a price of $4k to $6k a month based on a recommendation that he would "benefit" from it. Don't get me wrong, we are committed to doing whatever is best for our son, but we are not in the habit of making such large decisions without thoroughly understanding the issue.

    As we look at TBS, most seem to have 14-16 month programs and are very strict on family visits, phone calls and visits. There seem to be none that are 6 to 12 months (or 12-16 months for that matter) that heavily integrate families into the process through visits and joint training programs.

    The three main questions I have are:
    1. What kind of experience does anyone have in bringing thier child home after wilderness and what were the results?
    2. What kind of experience does anyone have in sending their child to TBS after wilderness and what were the results?
    3. Who knows of any very good TBS that is good for a very athletic and academically gifted 15 year old boy where the program believes in family involvement and visits and the TBS has a Positive Peer Culture approach?

  2. recovering doormat

    recovering doormat Lapsed CDer

    I was in your shoes about 18 mos ago after my son was admitted to a children's psychiatric facility in PA for a six week evaluation for his dual diagnosis (generalized anxiety disorder, depression,and abuse of marijuana). He was a mess when he went but once he detoxed we were able to see that he most likely needed some kind of residential therapeutic placement. I spent $1,000 on an ed consultant who recommended a six week wilderness program in the Adirondacks and gave me a list of three therapeutic boarding schools. Two were Christian-based and one was a working horse farm in Tenn. They were all expensive. No one recommended we bring him home,but my ex insisted that we could handle it (difficult child 2 lives with dad near me) with psychotherapy, substance abuse counseling, Special Education placement in school.

    In our case, having him home has not worked out. You can read my earlier post today about what he did while I was out of town. However, we also did not have the solid, intact family to help him, either.

    It seems that ninety percent of ed consultants recommend six week wilderness followed by TBS. Hmmmm.

    I would stay away from any school that says that medication is bad, or that uses peer counseling in place of professional psychologists and psychiatrists.

    Can you tell me a bit more about what Positive Peer Culture is? I have a list of schools that I explored for my son and I would be glad to share info on them if you private message me. Some are therapeutic boarding schools and some are just boarding schools that seem to work for kids who need extra attention and help.

    Good luck. It is very difficult to find the right placement.
  3. susiestar

    susiestar Roll With It

    While I have not sent a child to a wilderness program or to a TBS or Residential Treatment Center (RTC) (residential treatment center), I have seen a lot of parents on this board who have.

    Wilderness programs do a lot to get a child's attention and to push them into changes. THe child has few options other than behaving because there simply is little access to drugs and other temptations. When the child comes home the temptations are right there and the patterns and habits that helped the child with the problems and bad behaviors are right there. It takes changing every part of a person's life to really help them.

    From what I have seen there is little lasting progress that comes from wilderness programs. It is just too easy to go back to the old ways and friends. The bad things are linked to places and people and activities in the difficult child's mind. Going back to those places, people and activities after just a couple/three months is just too much to resist.

    Parents who send their kids to a TBS or Residential Treatment Center (RTC) for a year or more seem to have much more lasting success. The placement IS expensive. Many people end up taking second mortgages to fund them. In the long run it is a much wiser investment than the wilderness camp alone is.

    In order to change a difficult child often NEEDS far more structure than anyone can realistically provide at home. It is simply impossible to provide the structure and discipline with-o the staff and facilities that RTCs and TBSs have. Homes are not treatment centers and the needs of the entire family cannot be set aside for long periods of time because one family member has such drastic needs. It is just too much for the family, however strong and committed they are, to set up and then maintain for the long term. It also isn't fair to any other children in the family, much less to the parents. Parents can choose to try it, but other children can't make those choices and shouldn't have to.

    It is a wise idea to hire an educational consultant so that you can find a program that is the best fit to your difficult child's needs. Not every program is right for every child. It is a monumental waste of money and energy and time to send a child to a program that does not address his needs. In some cases it can even make things worse instead of better.
  4. smallworld

    smallworld Moderator


    My son attended a wilderness program in Georgia for 8 weeks last summer because he was severely depressed, socially withdrawn, academically underachieving and therapy resistant. The program, in consultation with our ed consultant, recommended that he go on to a residential treatment center in Utah, where he's been since the end of August. His Residential Treatment Center (RTC), for 40 boys ages 14 to 17, combines Dr. Ross Greene's Collaborative Problem Solving methods (see The Explosive Child), Jim Fay and Foster Cline's "Love and Logic" theories ( and relationship building through one-on-one mentoring. As their recreational activity, the boys train for triathlons. My son has participated in 3 triathlons in his 10 months in Utah. He also played on his Residential Treatment Center (RTC)'s basketball and soccer teams that competed in an inter-Residential Treatment Center (RTC) league. He has also snowboarded, fished and camped with his Residential Treatment Center (RTC) in Utah.

    In wilderness my son realized that he needed to make changes, but in Residential Treatment Center (RTC) he has been able to get the intensive therapy to implement those changes. He is thriving in the structure and routine of the Residential Treatment Center (RTC). His depression is in remission. He has made friends among the boys in the Residential Treatment Center (RTC). Although he came home to look at schools here for his senior year, he ultimately decided to stay in Utah and graduate from the Residential Treatment Center (RTC) high school in December. He feels understood, respected and emotionally safe there.

    We are very involved in our son's care. We have family therapy with his therapist and our son by phone every week. And we go out to Utah every 9 weeks or so for two days of parent workshops and other family activities so we can be a part of our son's life and the larger Residential Treatment Center (RTC) community.

    So that is our story. Please feel free to ask any questions or PM me for more info. Good luck with your decision.
  5. Our daughter did not end up in a Residential Treatment Center (RTC). She learned from her short-term boot camp as your son learned from the wilderness program. She is doing all right most of the time. We have some arguments but who can say that they have teenagers without arguments? The truancy we saw does not exist anymore. I have to say that it is not all her doing that made the difference. We did change as parents too. Somehow we aided her making the wrong decisions. We didn't know better. However we do now. She knows that I can come by the high school at any time. In fact I have. We have made a phone network with parents experiencing the same trouble at the school and we have talked with the sheriff so we know where they look for minors engaging in underage drinking etc. We live in a small town and maybe it makes it easier for group of parents to work together.

    I would say that the decision of whether to take your son home is very much depending on your willingness to educate yourself so you can deal with his problems. Did the wilderness program give you assignments during his stay? We found that we learned a lot from books from the Anbinger Institute. They are used by some wilderness programs.

    Positive Peer Groups function like ordinary High Schools should function. We like to believe that our children should admire those at the school who excel in leadership or academically performance. Unfortunately disturbances from the outside destroy that. We are talking the media and entertainment businesses, which send the damaging message that you have to do drugs, go to rehab in order to become a successful person. In lesser degree we are talking inappropriate clothes (Just look at the Cyrus girl. What kind of message does she send?).

    At a therapeutic boarding school they create an artificial high school environment where the secluded environment prevents them from outside influence. If the TBS use a level system they basically strip the teenager from everything. We had a Residential Treatment Center (RTC) just down the road. On the lowest level they were not even allowed to talk to their parents. They could only write until the parents had taken courses which enabled the parents to deal with manipulations. In order to maintain a positive peer group environment they were not allowed to talk to each other outside classes unless they have reached a certain level. I believe that they had 6 levels before the teenagers could graduate.

    Did it work? I cannot remember how many times I had crying parents in our local supermarket (It was one of biggest workplaces in our little town. It did bring a lot of money into our community.) They had a number of students who ran away and a lot of teenagers who so to say did time until they were 18 and could walk out on their own.

    A TBS is not a fix. It is just a step. Once it is over you have to make a plan how to bring him back to the normal society with all our temptations. At the boot camp we also had students who were sent there as time out because they did not work the program at their TBS. The question we all dealt with was aftercare. Some claim that it is crucial that the teenager mature while at the TBS and it is not the TBS itself which is doing the work. I don’t know if it is correct, but I do know that my time as teenager was too far away so I could not use my own experiences parenting a teenager today. I had to educate myself in order to become a better parent.

    If you choose a TBS ask what kind of plan they have when it comes to the reintegrating him back home into your family and if they have some follow up courses a year later. Otherwise you risk that he reverts back to his old behaviors and you have spend a lot of money for nothing.