Category: Parent Education Center

CERTS Programs Earn Gold Status As Research Designated Programs

Recently two of the CERTS Programs–Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy earned Gold Status as a Research Designated Programs. Both programs have over 5 years of data that show the outcomes of treatment.  All of the CERTS Programs have long been affiliated with NATSAP (National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs).  Many years ago NATSAP decided that collecting data to monitor the outcomes of treatment was essential.  As explained on the NATSAP Website,  “The Board of Directors of NATSAP has long realized that our profession has the responsibility of providing data that examines the impact and effectiveness of our programs.  To this end the Board of NATSAP  established the status of Research Designated Program to be given to programs that apply and demonstrate they are involved in supplying data that is aimed at evaluating NATSAP program effectiveness and increasing the understanding of our programs impact on youth and their families”.   CERTS Programs Kolob Canyon, La Europa Academy, and Moonridge Academy became some of the first programs to become Research Designated Programs.

Parents often ask, “What is your success rate?” This is a difficult question to answer since each student comes to a CERTS Program with similar but unique issues and at different places in the recovery process.  Our treatment is highly individualized to accommodate these differences, so the “success rate” varies depending on how success is defined.  In spite of each student’s uniqueness, there are commonalities among the students that do allow us to define success and measure students’ progress.  At the CERTS Programs, we have selected the Youth Outcomes Questionnaire (YOQ) as our tool to gauge student progress.  The YOQ is a valid and reliable instrument that is used across the country in a variety of treatment settings.  Using an instrument that has statistical validity and reliability helps insure that our data is consistently and accurately measuring students’ progress.  It helps the CERTS Program determine the effective of residential treatment.



So, what do these outcome graphs show?  Parents and students are asked to fill out the Youth Outcome Questionaire upon admission, discharge, 180 days after treatment and again 365 days after treatment.  The dotted line that runs through the graph is indicative of a typical teen who is not receiving therapeutic intervention.  The first bar of the graph indicates the degree of clinical significance at student has upon admission to Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy.  Most students admitting to Kolob and Moonridge are having clinically significant issues.  The second bar of the graph demonstrates how parents and students are rating the student upon discharge.  The third bar of the graph shows how students are doing 180 days after treatment.  The fourth bar shows how a student is doing at 365 days from treatment.

The first graph shows how students themselves have responded to the Youth Outcome Questionnaire upon admission to Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy.  Students tend to view themselves favorably.  Their outcome questionnaires indicate that potential students don’t feel that they are experiencing many behavioral, relationship or mental health issues.  The second graph shows how the parents of Kolob Canyon  and Moonridge Academy students have responded to the same questionnaire regarding their daughters.  This means that parents view their daughters to be experiencing a high degree of behavioral, relationship and mental health issues.  The next bar of the graph shows how our parents score their daughters upon discharge from Kolob and Moonridge.  As you can see, there is significant progress made from admission to discharge, with parents scoring their daughters below that of the “typical teenager”.  We expect this to happen because a girl has just completed extensive treatment in the time she is at Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy. The third bar shows how parents view their daughters 6 months post graduation or following treatment.  We actually expect this slight increase to occur as a girl is back in her regular day-to-day life.  At a year following treatment, we see that the majority of the girls who have graduated from the Kolob and Moonridge programs level out, scoring very similar to the “typical teenager”.  Our data then shows that girls maintain this same level of behavior for the next 5 years.  We have been monitoring many of our students up to 5 years following discharge.

CERTS remains highly committed to the research process and the assistance research provides us in providing successful treatment to our students and their families.


CERTS Academics Fosters Success

Each CERTS Program includes an excellent academic program that fosters success in our students.   Kolob Canyon, La Europa Academy and Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy provide a high school program for students grades 9-12.  Moonridge Academy provides a middle school academic program for students in grades 6-9.  Parents make the important decision to enroll their daughter at a CERTS Program primarily because of therapeutic challenges they are facing.  However, many are also experiencing either academic challenges or academic consequences as a result of their emotional struggles.  Many residential programs minimize the academic component and use online coursework or learning packets with an instructor teaching multiple subjects or levels at the same time.  Our students attend classes with highly qualified, full-time, licensed teachers.  All CERTS Programs are accredited through the AdvancED accrediting agency. All credits are fully transferable to home school districts.  Students who are completing their high school credits at a CERTS Program, can earn a high school diploma by filling the Utah State Office of Education graduation requirements.

CERTS believes that a challenging, stimulating academic program is an important key to restoring balance and health to our students. Success in the classroom has far-reaching effects into other areas of life. As a result, we provide a high quality, fully accredited educational program.  Special attention is paid to meeting the needs of each individual student. Our goal is to develop positive self-esteem in a climate that stimulates creativity and individuality. Our philosophy is based on the belief that each child has unique capabilities and talents.  We feel that a wide variety of experiences are needed to help students discover and enhance their talents. We help each student to experience success that can be applied to all aspects of our education and clinical programs. Academic expectations are high and with the guidance of a highly trained and caring academic team, students learn to master the necessary skills to prepare them for their future.  Students who enter our program academically behind, are often able to catch up with their class work while receiving the therapeutic care that is required.  At CERTS, our belief is that a strong and challenging academic program is an important component of helping our students heal, develop resiliency, competency and establish future direction.  The academic component compliments the therapeutic program by:

  • Allowing students to practice skills in a traditional academic classroom setting
  • Helping students develop or strengthen their academic abilities
  • Allowing students to recoup lost credits, and/or helping them to move forward with their academic credits and goals
  • Superb teacher to student ratios (average 1:6 teacher to student ratio) that provide the one-on-one best suited for this type of student
  • Outstanding college-prep curriculum that is taught through learning and teaching techniques best suited for this type of student (direct instruction from a certified teacher with lots of opportunity for “hands-on” learning)
  • A customized education plan
  • Classes take place on campus with access to the teachers during regular study hall hours
  • Specialized teachers who are passionate about what they teach and, therefore, who produce students who say things like, “I’ve never liked math before now!”
  • SAT/ACT preparation and testing
  • Opportunities to accelerate students’ coursework to help them get caught up or graduate on time. In addition, opportunities exist to make up deficient grades
  • College entrance preparation and application assistance
  • Career exploration and vocational internships

Graduates are Successful

Students at La Europa Academy have been accepted to some phenomenal colleges and universities including the Art Institute of New York, Parson Institute of Fashion Design, California College of Arts, Loyola College, Drexel University, Fordham University and many state colleges such as Colorado State University, Florida State University and many of the California State University Campuses.  Students at Kolob Canyon have been accepted to Lawrence University, Southern Utah University, Sarah Lawrence and various state universities.  Over the years students at all of our programs have received scholarships as well to some of the universities listed above.

On Friday May 17, 2019 Mountain Springs held its Spring Commencement Exercises at Southern Utah State University.  A total of five students graduated with high school diplomas and six students graduated from the program at Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy with three students accomplishing both.  Principal John Dobbs from Cedar High School was the graduation Guest Speaker.  High school dipolmas were handed out by Academic Director Dave Gardiner.  Each program graduate was honored by their student advisor. Each year we are excited when our graduating students are accepted to colleges and universities they have applied to.  It is wonderful to see them advance to campuses of higher education with the academic and life skills learned at Mountain Springs Prep.  Students graduating with the Class of 2019 were accepted to a number of different colleges and universities including Oregon State University, Arizona State University, Whitman College, Colorado State University, and a number of California State University campuses–California State University Chico, California State University Fullerton, California State University Montery Bay, California State University Northridge, and California State University Sonoma. One of our students earned scholarships to Evergreen State College, Oregon State University, University of Pudget Sound and Whitworth University. We are so proud of our graduates and all that they have achieved.



International Trek Helps Students Learn About Different Cultures

Not all education can and should happen within the classroom. Sometimes, traveling is the best form of education, as students can get a number of personal and educational benefits from travel. From learning about other cultures first-hand to seeing where historical events took place with their own eyes, educational travel gives students the opportunity to deepen their understanding of art, science, history, and culture in ways they never have before. But the benefits of student travel go far beyond the actual subjects taught during the trip. When students can see how other people live their lives, they learn so much about being able to see through another’s perspective, building their capabilities for compassion and empathy. After all, as previously mentioned, traveling students learn that cultures may have several differences, but they also learn that people from other cultures aren’t so entirely different. When they travel, they learn so much about other people and the world is no longer full of “other” people, but just people, and the world starts to feel like it, as a whole, is home.

Each year Mountain Springs provides an International Trek–an amazing way to experience new cultures, see fantastic sights, eat amazing food and take the learning outside the classroom. This year our adventure took us to Portugal and Spain.  We discovered Lisbon exploring through downtown and the viewpoints and waterfront, navigating the subways and buses, Rossio Square, the Arch of Rua Augusta, San Jorge’s Castle, Alfama, The Lisbon Cathedral, the Oceanario (Aquarium), incredible food, even better gelato, the Monument to the Explorers, Belém Tower.  And stairs, lots and lots of stairs.  Getting out of the big city and into the countryside and Sintra, Portugal just grew more and more beautiful with each passing mile.  We loved Quinta Da Regaleira, an awe-inspiring estate complete with a castle, chapel, towers, spiraling wells to descend – and ascend,mini castles and an entire park of lush gardens and underground labyrinths.

Spain was next!  Seville during Holy Week is quite an experience.  We toured the Seville Cathedral, with a tour of the rooftop and city views, to the Plaza de España where some of us rented the small rowboats in the canal circling the front of the grand edifice.  The Plaza’s ornate style and bright tiled lampposts were truly iconic. A day in Malaga was next where we dipped our toes (or crazily for a few, their entire bodies) into the frigid Mediterranean Sea.  The final days of the Trek were spent in Madrid and Granada, a beautiful sprawling town, mixing old with new on every block.

For many of our students this was a once in a lifetime experience.  Many thanks to Jon Larsen, Executive Director who planned this amazing adventure.  We can’t wait to see what next year brings!

Driven 2 Teach Experience Enhances Academics

TJ Penrod, Social Studies Teacher at Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy is passionate about teaching his students.  He is innovative and creative in his teaching method providing students a variety of modalities to fully experience history.  He makes learning interesting, memorable and hands-on.  TJ finds that this type of teaching is highly effective in a therapeutic learning environment such as residential treatment where students often arrive bringing a history of school refusal or a high degree of anxiety associated with academics.  TJ is continually looking for new ideas to improve his own knowledge base to provide interesting information to his students in a way that they will effectively respond to.

TJ was recently selected as one of 28 teachers from hundreds of applicants across the state of Utah to participate this summer in the Driven 2 Teach Program.  Driven 2 Teach explains their program as such, “The Driven 2 Teach program takes History teachers who specialize in American History or historical literature out of the classroom to the very places where history happened.  The Driven 2 Teach program gives teachers an extended, hands-on learning experience unlike any other.” In order to apply for this incredible opportunity, TJ wrote a letter explaining why he particularly should participate and what opportunities he would give his students from this experience.

TJ will specifically be involved in the Civil War to Civil Rights seminar. This seminar will provide TJ with a deeper understanding of Civil Rights in American History.  Driven 2 Teach explains that this seminar, “Provides teachers with a greater understanding of the rights of citizens to political, economic, and social freedom with equality for all with a focus on the African American struggle.”  To prepare for the trip, TJ won’t just be packing his bags and buying road trip treats.  He will need to read 6 assigned books and do homework himself completing a 6-credit college course in just 6 weeks.

The itinerary for the seminar includes some of the major locations for both the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement.  Starting in Charleston, South Carolina, TJ will learn about and study the beginning of the slave trade, the institution of slavery and the Civil War. TJ and the other teachers will then go to Atlanta, Georgia, where they will study the history of African Americans and the role of Martin Luther King at the Martin Luther King National Museum. Tuskegee, Alabama and the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site will be the next stop.  The seminar will consider these pilots as pioneers of the Civil Rights movement.  TJ will also spend time in the George Washington Carver Museum. One aspect of the trip that is most exciting to TJ is the opportunity to travel to Selma, Birmingham, and Montgomery, Alabama to study at the Civil Rights Institute and the Rosa Parks Museum.  TJ will visit the 16th Street Baptist Church and be given the opportunity to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge with a woman who marched across the bridge with Martin Luther King Jr.

TJ explains, “I fully intend to use this opportunity to improve and strengthen our amazing Social Studies programs at both schools. I will be able to bring this experience to our classrooms and really engage our students in the curriculum of Civil Rights.”   During the seminar and as well as upon his return, TJ will be developing nationally archived lesson plans that will benefit students at both Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy.

Parent Education is an Important Part of the Process

Parent education can be defined as any training, program, or other intervention that helps parents acquire skills to improve their parenting of and communication with their children.  At CERTS we take this concept seriously.  We feel that the healing therapeutic process for a student is dramatically improved when the parents are involved in learning and changing.  Research demonstrates that one of the keys to the success of adolescent treatment is parental involvement and parent education.  At the CERTS programs emphasis is placed on helping the family system by providing the family with the tools they need to make the successful transition home after treatment. Because most of our parents are unwittingly locked into an unhealthy dance step of control battles and manipulation with their children prior to admission, proper training and education to help parents break out of this pattern is a key factor for long-term success.

There are three major ways that CERTS helps educate parents to learn and practice new skills:

Parent Webinars:  Live webinars are provided to parents up to three times per month.  Webinars are taught by clinical and academic staff from all of the CERTS Programs and include topics from understanding different diagnosis to helping parents navigate transition and just about everything in between.  Webinars are interactive.  During webinars parents are able to interact with the instructor asking valuable questions.  CERTS also has a Parent Education Channel where parents can view on-demand all recorded webinars at their convenience.  La Europa Academy also provides parents with a weekly DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) Support Group where parents can learn specific DBT Skills.

 Family Weekends/Parent Seminars:  Each CERTS Program–Kolob Canyon, La Europa Academy, Moonridge Academy and Mountain Springs hold regular Parent Seminars.  Kolob, LaEuropa and Moonridge hold seminar weekends quarterly, while Mountain Springs hold parent weekends three times per year.  Parent Weekends are filled with intensive parent education workshops, parent support groups, family therapy and recreational activities.  Parent Education Workshops are a key part of seminar weekend, providing parents with an opportunity to learn skills such as validation, helping your child who might be emotionally unregulated, understanding suicide and self-harm behaviors.  Workshops also cement skills that parents have been working on in family therapy.   Parent weekends also allow parents and children to have free time together to practice new skills and improve communication.  Some of the CERTS Programs also provide a family seminar once per year.  Kolob Canyon takes all of their families including siblings on a 3-day river trip.  It makes for a fun outdoor adventure with the support of therapists and staff.

Family Therapy:  Families at all of the CERTS Programs participate in Family Therapy.  At Kolob Canyon, La Europa Academy and Moonridge Academy families participate in weekly therapy sessions.  At Mountain Springs students receive clinical services from community based therapists.  These community therapists and the families determine what amount of family therapy is needed.  During family therapy parents and their children learn ways to better communicate and develop skills to improve their relationship.  Family therapy is a time for parents and children to talk through specific issues with the guiding hand of a therapist.  Parents might also be given specific “homework” assignments such as reading a specific book, watching a specific webinar or completing some other kind of therapeutic learning experience.

With each of these parent education opportunities, CERTS is helping parents take back the reigns of the parenting process and decision making.  This is so essential to the therapeutic and healing process.

Over-Control: When Self-Control Becomes a Problem

During a recent CERTS Parent Education Webinar, Robbi O’Kelley the Executive Director of La Europa Academy presented on the topic, “Over-Control:  When Self-Control Becomes a Problem.”  Robbi explained that at the CERTS Programs and specifically at La Europa Academy we are seeing more and more students admit with over-control issues.  Students with over-control issues often need a different type therapeutic support than students with under-control issues.  Many of the evidenced based treatments are designed for under-control individuals.  Many treatment programs for teenagers suffering from depression, trauma and anxiety deal specifically with emotional dysregulation, poor distress tolerance, and poor impulse control.

Over-control is a problem of emotional loneliness, secondary to low openness and social signal deficits, whereas under-control is a problem of emotional dysregulation secondary to poor distress tolerance and lack of poor impulse control.  The chart below demonstrates the different dynamics between a student who presents with under-control issues and over control issues.

Under-Control Dynamics  

Over Control Dynamics


Difficulty regulating emotion Difficulty showing emotion
Allow mood to dictate actions Rigid rule governed behavior
Difficulty self-soothing Bitterness, envy
Poor Impulse Control Lack of Openness
Relationship difficulties Distant relationships
Use of external items to manage emotions—substances, food, etc. Hyper-Perfectionism
Low Distress Tolerance High Distress Tolerance

Defining Over-Control–Four Core Deficits

Receptivity and Openness:  Manifested by high risk aversion, hyper-vigilant for threat, avoidance of novelty, and automatic discounting of critical feedback.

Flexible Responding:  Manifested by compulsive needs of order and structure, hyper-perfectionism, compulsive planning/rehearsing, rigid rule-governing behavior, and moral certitude.

Emotional Expression and Awareness:  Manifested by inhibited expression, and/or disingenuous expression (e.g smiling when distressed), and a minimization or low-awareness of stress.

Social Connectedness and Intimacy:  Manifested by aloof/distant relationships, high social comparison, envy and bitterness, and low empathy and validation skills.

Helping Over-Control Clients

The focus of treatment is the correcting the over-controlled coping style. One of the best treatment options is Radically Open Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (RODBT). Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy (RO DBT) is a new evidence based treatment targeting a spectrum of disorders characterized by excessive self-control, often referred to as over-controlIt is supported by 20 years of clinical experience and translational research that parallels established guidelines for treatment development (e.g., UK Medical Council, 2008; Rounsville & Carroll, 2001; 2006).   Treatment that focuses on changing this style and “becoming part of the tribe” ameliorates the symptoms.  Therapists need to teach radical openness rather than avoidance.  They can teach clients to embrace emotions as an important system of information for making decisions.  Therapists also need to focus on teaching and modeling flexibility in thinking and actions.  Parents can also model this type of flexibility to their children with over-control struggles.  Therapists can also target social signaling as a primary intervention.  This is important because a teen with over-control issues often find that they are “on the outside” of social interactions.

To learn more about Over-Control, you can watch Robbi’s entire webinar on the CERTS Parent Education Channel at:





Co-Teaching and Relevance

An article that the Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy Academic Director Susan Mackert wrote and had published in the NATSAP December 2018 Newsletter/Education Edition:

Students are bored by isolated instruction. They want to be involved, hands and hearts, into relevant content that brings subjects together into real-life or fantasy scenarios (think Fortnite or Dungeons and Dragons).

Teachers at Kolob Canyon School are gamers and they know how to talk the language of our action-oriented, multi-tasking ninjas. They do this through creative projects that integrate subjects and engage the senses of their students. Our academic team devotes Wednesdays to educational activities that combine relevant content from multi-disciplines into a cumulative hands-on project that builds interest and relationships.

A favorite project is the Poetry Slam, where students present a selected poem from their favorite poet along with one of their own poems on a local stage. Teachers and administrators join in on this challenge as well, showing our students it’s never too late to try scary things. On another Wednesday we divide our students into tribes and they go through challenges, playing outside games that mimic Ancient Warfare games. A favorite is the archery competition and building catapults, with the math teacher alongside helping them figure trajectory.  Another much-loved activity starts in early September when students are assigned a region of the world and then choose a popular monster from that region to research. Our English and math teachers create an algorithm that evaluates a monsters strengths and abilities and students build posters and presentations that eventually culminates in the Monster Smash playoff held on Halloween day.

The key factor in student understanding and retention is significance. At Kolob Canyon School students are engaged in seeking, acquiring, and using knowledge in an organic way that brings life (and significance) to academics. And speaking of Dungeons & Dragons. . .last summer our English teacher, Ryan McLean (Rev) set his classes up in a gaming scenario that forms the grading backbone for every lesson. He calls it “Dungeons & Classrooms.” Essentially the students are playing an education-oriented version of “Dungeons & Dragons”. Each student creates a hero character that will be adventuring on a quest with their classmates. This hero gains more abilities and skills as the student turns in assignments on time and delves into books from the class reading list. The climax of the game happens on testing day, called “Boss Battles”. Student characters face a challenge that can only be overcome by answering test questions verbally or on the board.

Rev’s initial goal was to find a way to engage our students, many of whom have multiple layers of learning challenges. And he was successful. Students were excited for test day, which is unheard of, and homework completion rose significantly. What he also found, was retention increased as well. The choice to create meaning around our lessons does not demand perfection. It demands intention, with an eye towards improving the potential of every student. And the joy of this work lies not in predicting the future but in creating it.

Equine Therapy Where The Co-Therapist is a Horse

Maren Hirschi, who is one of the primary therapist at Kolob Canyon RTC is a gifted Equine Assisted Counselor.  Recently she wrote this article about her experiences with Equine Therapy for the NATSAP Newsletter.

When I was 16, my grandfather told me, “A horse can really learn to love a girl.”  It’s a powerful love.

A few weeks ago, our Equine Director, Anndi, and I were doing an Equine Therapy session with a family who was on campus visiting their daughter.  At the end of the session, Mom said, “It brings everything out into the open because it’s obvious.”

Adolescents in treatment are a tough and often closed off crowd.  Okay, anybody who is in residential or inpatient treatment probably falls into this category.  Regardless of how they look on the outside.  In the years that I have been doing this work, I have seen many treatment weeks and months spent breaking down the walls built by the masterful architect of hurt.  While we of course have a lot of tools in our toolbox to help us break through these walls , ie the therapeutic relationship, DBT, CBT, journaling, art, music, etc…, I have discovered a masterful co-therapist capable of crushing those walls in just a few sessions; sometimes this happens in just a few moments.

This Equine Therapy co-therapist of mine is a horse.  When I was trained in equine assisted counseling techniques under the Pegasus Model, the first thing I remember hearing was “The horse gives you what you need every time.”  Sure.  And, what other magic tricks does the horse do?  They talked of the horse being a mirror of a human’s experiences and emotions.  My co-worker, Craig, and I were paired together for an equine session demo during our training.  Our job was to get Lady through a track drawn in the dirt of the arena without touching her (only the lead ropes) or talking to each other.  She couldn’t step on the line of the track or we’d have to start over.  Lady, Craig, and I did this really easily the first time.  Lady walked through the track while looking back and forth from Craig to me.  Craig and I barely looked at each other and kept our focus on Lady and the task.  And that was it.  No big deal.  So I thought. Until the next pair tried do the same thing and couldn’t.  Lady was reflecting the great team that Craig and I are.  She knew she could trust us because we trust each other, and she and sensed that.

Okay, a horse acts as a mirror.  But, going so far as to rat a kid out who had been self-harming?  What other magic tricks does the horse do?  Then, one morning in February – after my team and I had been tubing on icy tubing hills at a local ski resort with our students and parents, I went to visit my equine buddy Hollywood.  I might get a little bit…playful when I’m on the tubing hills with our families.  While tubing, I hit my knee a time or two on the ice while diving onto my tube but didn’t really think anything of it; I just got up and went again.  Because it was fun.  When I approached Hollywood in his stall that afternoon, he got really antsy.  His eyes got big and he was doing this little prancing dance.  Hollywood had never acted like this for me before – he was my tall, lanky snuggle buddy who always acted pleased to see me.  So, of course I stepped into his stall.  What else would I do when my equine buddy who weighs at least 1,000 pounds more than me is upset?  The second I did, he calmed down and put his head next to my knees.  In the moment, I still couldn’t figure out what Hollywood’s damage was.  He was acting bizarre.  When I got home and changed out of my work clothes, I discovered my knees were black and blue from the morning’s fun.  Hollywood knew.  Now, I fully believed.

When I first started using equine assisted counseling, I did so because I love experiential therapy, I have always loved horses, I love being outside, and I hate sitting in my office.  I quickly saw it for what I thought it was: an opportunity do experiential therapy, with a horse and outside (not in my office).  AND, I got paid for it.  While these are all good reasons to use equine assisted counseling, it didn’t take long for me to realize that equine assisted counseling is so much more than those things.  It is a powerful, powerful approach.  It’s the backdoor approach that a client can’t ignore or pretend isn’t happening for a variety of reasons including:

  1. Horses really do give me what I need every time.
  2. Horses always live in the moment. They don’t hold grudges, don’t get stuck in the past, and don’t future trip.  They aren’t worried about what I did 10 minutes ago or what I might do in 10 more minutes.  They care about where I am at right now.
  3. You can’t bullshit with a horse. You just can’t.  They see right through that.

When I find myself struggling to help a kid start being open, honest, genuine, and sincere with themselves, me, their peers, parents, etc…, Anndi and I take the kid to the arena.  I have witnessed magic happening over and over and over and over.  The horse speaks to the kid in a way I can’t and nobody else has been able to either.   Just today, I watched Princess refuse to be ignored by a kid who was trying to be determined to not make a connection.  Princess literally wrapped herself around the kid.  The kid didn’t have much of a choice besides making a connection in the moment.  Princess’ willingness to give us what we needed in the moment opened the door to some important work that I’m fairly sure this kid was determined to not do.  She started the work because it was obvious in the moment.  I have dozens of stories like this.

Besides the individual sessions, Anndi and I do family and group sessions.  We do family sessions as often as we can when we have families on campus.  The dynamics that play out during family and group equine sessions are both eye opening (because it’s obvious) and powerful.  One of my favorite groups happened a few weeks ago.  At first, all of the group dynamics from the milieu were playing out, and it was chaos.  We gave them an opportunity to try the task again after having had a chance to process the chaos.  Once again, it was magic.  The group was able to immediately go back and correct the chaos in order to complete a task that initially seemed impossible.

In her book, Harnessing The Power of Equine Assisted Therapy, K.S. Trotter said, “Not enough can be said about the power individuals feel when they are successful in getting a 1,200-pound horse that could easily overpower them to respond to them.”  When we start having more safe experiences of doing the impossible such as getting a horse to do something you ask it to, accomplishing the unimaginable work of things along the lines of loving oneself and maintaining solid relationships with family and peers becomes imaginable enough that we stop avoiding that work. Or, at least, we slow down our avoidance of the work.

I no longer use Equine Therapy (solely) as a way to get out of my office (although, that perk is still strong).  I now use equine assisted counseling for the powerful tool it is.  Even though I have witnessed the power of equine assisted counseling, I continue to be awed by the work that happens in the space that horses willingly share with us.

Home Visits Are Not Vacation–They Are Practice for Life After Treatment

In a recent CERTS Parent Education Webinar, Craig Rodabough the Clinical Director of Kolob Canyon, talked about the concept of home visits providing practice needed for life after treatment.  Practicing the new skills learned in the structured, predictable, consistent environment of treatment in a student’s home environment is essential to a student’s progress.  Home visits build trust and identify areas that need improvement.  Parents also learn to manage their own emotional reactivity.   Location is a powerful memory hook.  Students, parents and therapists need to discuss that home visits can bring up memories of trauma, sexual behavior that has guilt or shame attached, self-harm or substance abuse that might have occurred in the home prior to treatment.

Begin with the End in Mind during Home Visits

Students and parents know that program rules will not apply after treatment.   Parents need to establish their own rules that apply at home.  Parents should begin with the end in mind and know what they want the end to look like.  Parents need to then to remember that if they don’t require things of your student on a home visit, a student might feel why that the guidelines might not be important after treatment.  When parents do not follow through they teach their children not to trust them.

What do parents and children desire to see after treatment?  Families should identify specific skills and behaviors now during home visits.  It is difficult for families to hit a target you can’t see or describe.  It is also important to remember that neither a parent or child will hit the target every time.  What do you want to see after treatment?  There are so many things to consider: family activities, friends, social media, therapy, chores, schoolwork, cell phone use, computer time, keeping commitments, honesty, getting up and going to bed, chores, drug testing, sharing feelings and using DBT Skills.  Don’t set a rule or limit you are not willing to enforce.  Home visits allow families to practice, practice, practice.  Praise the positive, even the small things that you think everyone should do without praise.  Reward the positive with student’s gaining more privileges.

Manage Your Own Reactivity during Home Visits

If you want your child to talk to you about difficult scary things you cannot overreact as a parent.  Thoughts are not actions, don’t give into your fears.  Mistakes will happen, both for you and your child.  Often parent need to have their own support system to help them when their child returns home from treatment.  This support system could include your own therapist, friends, and family.  Students also need that same kind of support system.  Difficult emotions will arise and having someone to discuss them with will help both parents and student manage their feelings and reactivity to those feelings.

Transitioning Home After Residential Treatment

As a parent with a child in residential treatment, you are most likely planning for the day when your son/daughter will be transitioning home after residential treatment.  Many parents look forward to this day while also feeling concerned about what to expect.  As a parent you need to be work to live today as you would like to live as a family in the future.  Recently Ariel Rhoades, Dean of Student Life at Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy provided a parent education webinar about planning for transitioning home after residential treatment.  Her helpful webinar provided parents with lessons about what to expect when their child transitions home as well as things they can be doing not only to prepare for that transition, but for the day when their child will be at home.  Ariel suggests that parents should use the time while their child is in treatment to learn about their parenting philosophy and approach.  Practice that while your child is in treatment.

Transitioning Home After Residential Treatment

Expect It:  Regression

When your child moves from more structure to less structure, you are giving them the opportunity to make more choices.  With those choices comes the option to make poor choices.  While this is understandably difficult for parents to watch, it is part of the process.  Ariel encourages parents to reframe the word regression to “I have met my child where they are at, rather than wish they were somewhere else”.  Failure often leads to success.  Mistakes and poor choices are on opportunity for growth and learning.  Be willing and able to accept your child’s poor choices and guide them as a parent to better solutions.  Ariel suggests the following four steps:

  1. To the extent possible, manage your own emotional reactivity:  Let your responsibility to parent trump the emotional response that “yet another” mistake has been made.
  2. Praise and reward honesty:  Even if your child has made a poor choice, but tells you about it, reward their attempt at letting you know a bad choice has been made.
  3. Use the least structure that is necessary to solve the problem
  4. Include your child in decision making about solutions and consequences

Internalization:  A Lofty Goal as Teens Transition Home After Residential Treatment

Watch for holding too high of a standard too soon.  This process of internalization will take time.  External motivators are a part of life and it is OK if these are still major motivators for your child.   Brain formation is not complete until a person is 25 years old with regard to strong connections in the pre-frontal lobe.  This means that as parents we will need to provide support and structure for our young adult children.  This doesn’t mean they have failed at residential treatment.  Treatment has provided seeds towards internalization in the future.

 Phases of Change: Transitioning Home After Residential Treatment

  1. Excitement:  This happens in the weeks and months before a child comes home and for a time period soon after they come home.  This phase can include both excitement and anxiety.
  2. Honeymoon:  Initially parents and students have a great deal of hope when they first come home.  Lessons and skills have been learned which students will do well at first to follow.  However once a student starts to have some difficulties, they might begin to feel a loss of confidence.
  3. Testing:   As teens make decisions (both good and bad), this phase is often filled with both confusion and optimism.  Things will go well and things might be a bit bumpy.  As parents it is important to provide support without getting too discouraged.  Challenges and opportunities will arise.  This is a time to help build trust and respect.
  4. Confidence:  As teens grow through making decisions and using the skills they have acquired in treatment, they will begin to gain confidence.  At times their confidence might be low and at others it might be high.  Parents need to provide both encouragement and caution for their teen.  Both you and your teen will have decision points as they gain confidence.  Expect things to be a bit bumpy at times.  It might be smart to prepare for challenges that might occur and how you might respond to these challenges.  Learn to work together as a parenting team so you have a united front.

Develop a Support Network

While your child has been in treatment you have had a fantastic support system.  You will still need that once your child comes home.  Because recovery is an ongoing process, Ariel suggests that you create the following network:

  • Prior Family Therapist
  • Current Family Therapist
  • Personal Individual Therapists
  • Parenting coach or mentor
  • Spouse or Partner
  • Extended Family
  • Friends
  • Support Groups

Develop a Home Contract

A Home Contract helps both teen and parent think ahead about key areas in which you and your child need limits, support and guidance.  If a contract is planned ahead of time it allows for direct and active discussions.  Ideally a Home Contract provides a means to practice for life outside of treatment that still integrates personal insights, improved behaviors and new values.  This critical as a teen transitions from the structure of residential treatment to the structure of home.

Think and Plan Now For Transitioning Home After Residential Treatment

Planning is different than worrying, second guessing and playing out the worst case scenario.  Parents need to be adaptable during the treatment process.  This could mean a willingness to expand and retract on home visits while a teen is still in treatment as well as the ability to expand and retract after they return home.