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.

2018–A Year of Growth and Change

As we reach the end of 2018, it is nice to reflect on what has happened at each of our programs.  This has been a big year at CERTS–a year of growth and change!  We have added to our campuses, added some amazing people to our teams and added substance to our programs.

Mountain Springs Preparatory Adds Bridge Program and Boys/Girls Independence Houses

The Bridge to Independence Program provides a well scaffolded and immersive environment for students to practice increasing levels of self-initiative, responsibility, and independence in their lives.  All of this while maintaining receptivity to mentorship, skill-building, and interdependence with others as a young adult.  The Bridge Program is a continuation and enhancement of the Mountain Springs Preparatory experience and is not a stand alone program.  The new beautifully built and decorated independence houses will provide 8 additional beds for male students in our male independence house and 8 additional beds for female students in our female independence house.  Students who live in the the Bridge to Independence Houses:

  • Have demonstrated leadership and are self-governing their actions while enrolled at Mountain Springs Prep
  • Are at least 17 years old
  • Currently a senior in high school
  • Have a job or volunteering in the community


  • Life skills:  Weekly budget planning, meal planning, paying bills
  • Healthy living goals:  Meal choices, exercise, self-care
  • Meeting personal goals:  Sustaining therapeutic growth in less structure
  • Financial Management:  Checking and Savings Accounts
  • Becoming autonomous, self-sufficient and self-governing


  • Weekly community therapy sessions
  • Weekly mentor meetings
  • Privilege Management
  • Staff oversight/awake night supervision


  • Weekly volunteer and work experiences
  • Ability to make decision regarding peer relationships
  • Independent decision-making
  • Practice self-governing independence


La Europa Academy Adds New Building and a New Clinical Director

A new Arts Building opened in late November 2018.  This beautiful new addition located on the corner of the La Europa and will triple triple their expressive therapy capacity.  It will provide more opportunities for students to explore and heal through music, dance, visual arts, ceramics, sandtray and photography. The spacious new dance room is 1200 square feet for students to pirouette, ball change, plié, freestyle, pas de bourrée, jazz walk, chasse or move their bodies any way they choose!  La Europa is fortunate to witness the transformative power of expressive therapy as part of each student’s journey. The new space will also be home to therapists, school classrooms and other employees.  With this new addition also came a new sports court which the students are already enjoying!

A new Clinical Director Dave Nichols joined the La Europa Team in early December.  Dave comes with vast experience covering a wide range of substance abuse, mental health and behavioral issues.  Dave has been a Clinical Director for the past 4 years, most recently as the Director of Clinical Services at Highland Ridge Hospital.  There, he greatly contributed to their success and growth as he expanded adolescent clinical services.  As a Clinical Director, Dave has always maintained a clinical caseload taking on the more challenging students.  He will continue to do this at La Europa Academy.  Dave brings with him knowledge to expand our overall vision of clinical services.

Moonridge Academy Announces New Clinical Director and Breaks Ground on New Building

Lacey joined the Moonridge Academy team in May 2018.  She comes to Moonridge with variety of experiences working in both residential and wilderness settings.   Most recently Lacey was a lead clinician and trainer at New Visions Wilderness in Wisconsin. Prior to working at New Visions Wilderness, Lacey was a therapist at Explorations in Montana. Lacey received her Master’s Degree from Abiline Christian University in Abiliene, TX.  Lacey has advanced training in Brainspotting, Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga, and HeartMath strategies. She is a trained family therapist, working with the entire family system to create long lasting change. Lacey has unique experiences working with young women in adventurous settings. This is essential at Moonridge Academy where the students are middle school age and are involved in weekly Adventure Therapy.   Lacey is also a creative therapist including art projects, play therapy and music in therapy sessions. She is a calming, steady presence as a therapist when working with younger girls in a fun and empowering way. For families, Lacy is a consistent support providing real solutions for families in need.

Lacey Heinzelman and Susan Mackert Clinical and Academic Directors at Moonridge were thrilled to officially shovel the first scoop of dirt for the new Clinical and Academic Building.  This new facility will have classrooms, offices,a study hall, library, conference room, and an attached covered pergola for outside gatherings. Tawny Thomas the former Executive Director worked so hard on this project and will continue to do so with the help and support of the new Executive Director Jack Hinman as this project continues. Our staff and students are excited for this new space!!!

Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy Welcomed New Executive Director

Jack Hinman came to Moonridge Academy in September 2018 with many years of experience working in various residential treatment programs. He has years of clinical experience and has helped to grow and develop some exemplary girl’s programs in Southern Utah.  Jack is an avid cyclist and outdoor enthusiast.  Jack is already making some wonderful changes to the programs at both schools which will provide better supports for students, families and staff.


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.

Exciting Changes Come to CERTS Programs

New CERTS Director of Program and Business Development

After 10 incredible years as Executive Director of Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy, Tawny Thomas, LCSW will be passing the baton and transitioning into CERTS Director of Business and Program Development.  Tawny will oversee CERTS marketing and outreach, relationships and program support.  While it was an extremely difficult decision to step back from her two beloved programs and teams, Tawny is excited for a new opportunity and is elated to continue working with our teams while showing the world the magic that happens at CERTS!

New Executive Director at Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy

With Tawny’s transition, we are excited to welcome Dr. Jack Hinman as the new Executive Director of Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy.  Jack will be coming to CERTS with years of clinical and leadership experience, having helped grow and develop exemplary girl’s programs, including Discovery Ranch for Girls and Sunrise Academy.  Jack says “I am excited to join a great team that has a strong commitment and passion to helping young women and their families reach their potential.” Jack and his family live in Southern Utah and Jack is an avid cyclist and outdoors enthusiast.  We look forward to his joining Kolob and Moonridge in mid August.

New Admissions Counselor at La Europa Academy

  La Europa Academy is pleased to announce that Shea Rodriquez will be joining their Admissions Team as an Admissions Counselor.  Shea comes to La Europa Academy with a considerable amount of admissions and outreach experience. Shea has worked most recently as an Aftercare Counselor and previously as an Outreach Counselor.  Prior to this Shea provided support, training and resources to admissions teams at seven different residential treatment programs. Shea received a Bachelor’s Degree in Marriage and Human Development from Brigham Young University.   

Shea says, “ I am so excited to be back in admissions working alongside the families and professionals that I know and love! I am impressed by the investment La Europa has made in the girls and their talents, and their overall dedication from the team to support them. It will be so fun to work together!”  

When asked what Shea brings to the La Europa team, Robbi O’Kelley, Executive Director shares, “Shea radiates enthusiasm for helping adolescents and their families.  She brings a wealth of experience to our team and we are thrilled to have her on board.” La Europa is excited to welcome Shea and her knowledge, commitment to families and outcome-driven approach to their team.   





Parents with a teen in residential treatment often ask themselves, “I parented this child the same way I parented my other children.  What could I have done differently?”  Often the answer is nothing.  You did the very best you could do with the skills and information you had at the time.  Often a teen experiencing depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, emotional dysregulation, self-harm or trauma needs to be parented in a different way.  Because teens acquire the abilities to become responsible, caring adults and citizens of their society from the people who are most intensely involved with them, parenting  is the most important and challenging job any of us can have.  Despite this, parenting receives little support or recognition in our society.

Even though families at CERTS programs were involved  intensive family therapy, therapists often heard from parents that they wanted direction and desired education to acquire skills to more effectively parent and communicate with their teen.    Parents also indicated that because of their teen’s behavioral issues, depression or emotional dysregulation they had lost the ability to just talk with their teen or simply have fun with them.   With this need for parent education, CERTS has developed 5 different ways to educate and support parents when their teen admits to one of our programs–La Europa Academy,  Kolob Canyon, Moonridge Academy, Mosaic House or Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy.



Parent Seminar Weekends are held at each CERTS Program once per quarter.  Parent Seminars include classes from Clinical Directors, primary therapists and academic team members.  Class topics might include, but are not limited to better communication with your teen, DBT Skills training and parenting skills development.  Parent Seminar weekends always include fun activities with parents and their teens that help to repair their relationship, improve their communication skills and practice new skills.


Parents are provided with 3 live webinars per month drawing on a large variety of topics.  Webinars are presented primarily by CERTS clinical team members including primary therapists, Advisors and Clinical Directors.   Academic team members also present occasionally on academic topics.  In addition CERTS records all webinars and uploads them to our private CERTS Parent Education Channel so that parents can view webinars on-demand.


At some CERTS Programs, parents are provided one-on-one parent coaching with their primary therapist.  Parents are able to ask specific questions and receive individualized instruction and assistance.  As part of the parent coaching component, parents are often provided with their own homework to do.


Parents and families receive weekly family therapy if their student is admitted to Kolob Canyon, La Europa, and Moonridge Academy.  Family therapy is provided by a student’s primary therapist.  At Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy, students can receive family therapy as needed through their community therapist.  Family therapy is a way for families to do necessary clinical work and heal together


Starting in the Fall of 2018, CERTS  will begin offering a Parent Retreat.  Parent Retreats will be held twice per year–once in the early Spring and once in the Fall.  This retreat will be a one day intensive where parents learn new skills without the distraction of their teens.   Parents not only learn valuable new skills, but also receive the close support of other parents also going through the process of residential treatment.

In addition to these formal components, parents can also receive ongoing support from other parents on the CERTS Facebook Parent Support Group.  CERTS is committed to educating and supporting our parents through each step of the treatment process.  Call today to find out how CERTS can serve you as a parent.


Social Media Use and Addiction

The reality is that teens are going to use Social Media.  They are probably going to use it every single day–whether it be Instagram, Snap Chat, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or playing video games.  Teens aren’t the only ones using it either–parents use it, businesses use it, schools use it, even political candidates use it.  Social Media is part of our culture and there is no escaping it.  Social Media Addiction takes the every day use of social media to another level though.  It is a behavioral disorder in which teens become so preoccupied with and obsessed with social media that it distracts them from everyday life and results in negative consequences.

When a teen is struggling with social media addiction, the level of use is so extreme that it negatively affects their daily responsibilities and their interpersonal and familial relationships.  In an article published by Clear Recovery Center they list 7 signs your teen is addicted to social media:

1. They Check Their Phone First Thing in the Morning

If the very thing your teen reaches for in the morning is their phone, they may be struggling with social media addiction. Especially if the reason they reach for their phone is to check various social media platforms. Teens that experience social media addiction become consumed with checking how many likes a photo received, if a comment they posted on Twitter was re-tweeted, or to check what other friends have posted. If your teen seems unable to get out of bed before checking their social media platforms, this may be a sign of addiction.

2. Frequent and Recurrent Page Visits Throughout the Day

While it isn’t abnormal for a teen to have several accounts on various social media platforms, it is abnormal if they check the platforms obsessively. You can learn a lot about someone’s social media habits by determining how frequently and recurrently they visit each page. Someone who checks their social media many times throughout the day may be struggling with social media addiction. If your teen seems preoccupied by their phone and seem to be checking it obsessively, this may be a sign of addiction.

3. Unable to Enjoy Activities Without “Sharing It”

If your teen seems unable to enjoy meals and times spent with friends and family without “sharing it” on various social media platforms, they may be struggling with social media addiction. Teens that seem to post their whereabouts and daily activities obsessively may have an unhealthy relationship with social media. Normal users are able to enjoy everyday life activities without sharing every moment over the Internet. Teens with social media addiction often “check-in” to various locations over Facebook and other social media platforms, this is again abnormal behavior. While there is nothing wrong with sharing your life with others on social media, it becomes a problem when it is constant. Parents should have access to viewing their teen’s social media accounts to see how frequently their child is engaging with the internet word.

4. Friends Use it as Primary Way to Reach Your Teen

One of the ways parents are able to identify that their teen is addicted to social media is when their child’s friends use social media as a primary way to reach them. If your child’s friends know that the best way to get in contact with them is through their social media accounts, this a sign of possible social media addiction. Normal use of social media should be minimal use throughout the day. If a teen is using social media minimally, then it wouldn’t be the primary way to be reached.

5. First Choice in How Your Teen Spends Their Free Time

Teens generally have highly structured schedules, especially during the school year. Most teachers don’t allow cell phones to be used during class, and most teens participate in extracurricular activities and complete homework assignments in the afternoons and evening. Downtime should be spent with friends, family and engaging in healthy and positive activities. If your child chooses to spend all their free time on their social media accounts, this may be a sign of teen social media addiction. When trying to determine whether or not someone is struggling with addiction, the frequency and duration of time spent on social media accounts should be considered.

6. Losing Interest in Regular Activities and Neglecting Responsibilities

As previously stated, most teens have highly structured daily lives. Most teens are active in school, sports and other extracurricular activities. If your teen has lost interest in regular activities and is neglecting daily responsibilities, but still makes time for social media interactions, they may be addicted to social media addiction. One of the main determining factors regarding whether or not someone is suffering from an addiction is if daily responsibilities are being neglected. Addictions are often all consuming. If a teen is addicted to social media, they may display a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, exhibit poor academic performance, and neglect daily responsibilities. It is important for parents to be able to identify any significant changes in their child’s behavior and determine how their child is spending their time. If most of their time is spent on various social media platforms, they may be suffering from social media addiction.

7. Strained Interpersonal and Familial Relationships

Similar to all other addictions, teen social media addiction is significantly correlated with strained interpersonal and familial relationships. The original purpose of social media was to connect people. Social media has become one of the most popular ways for people to keep in touch. While this seems like a positive thing, there is a dark side associated with personal relationships and social media use. Social media addictions have been found to a have a profoundly negative impact on real-life personal relationships. Teens with social media addiction become so obsessed with their online presence that they neglect real-life relationships. It is imperative that parents establish rules, time-limits and boundaries for time spent online is the main way to keep personal relationships intact.


Fortunately,  Ana Homayoun shared in an article published in the New York Times in January 2018, there are ways to manage use and help kids develop better tendencies, and much of it requires a delicate balance of parental modeling and involvement.

Make a Plan:  Taking the time to discuss appropriate use, establish guidelines and come up with a family agreement before kids get a phone is ideal, because it can be harder to put rules in place afterward. Family agreements can include rules about when and how the phone may be used, and potential consequences for broken rules. Agreements are more likely to be successful if they are followed consistently and revisited frequently as kids grow older and new apps become available.

Monitor Use:  For parents of teens who have smartphones, making the effort to understand how, where and why kids are spending time on their phone is critical.  It can be helpful to think about imbalances over a span of time rather than on a single evening or weekend. After all, binge-watching a television series on a smartphone while feeling sick or heartbroken isn’t the same as lying about phone use over an extended period of time. An app like Moment can help track usage and display the time spent in each app.

Take a Time Out:  Apple’s Family Sharing and Google Play have settings to help parents monitor use, and most phone carriers have their own parental control options. Devices like Circle and apps like OurPact give parents the ability to automate access, disable access to certain apps after a certain hour and build in structured time off to promote rest. The psychologist Larry Rosen, who has researched technology and the brain and is a co-author of “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World,” said one of the most important steps is to remove the phone from the bedroom at night.

Be a Role Model:  Of course, parents trying to set healthy guidelines for smartphone use may themselves be struggling with similar issues: The 2015 Pew survey found that 46 percent of American adults believed they could not live without their smartphones. Teens aren’t the only ones we need to worry about when it comes to smartphone addiction — adults should consider their habits as well.