My husband and I are proud parents of 4 wonderful boys. We raised them in Southern California and were fortunate to have great children. Our family pursued sports, music, academics and we were deeply involved in both our community and church. Our boys were high achievers, and we thought we were pretty good parents, until our youngest son’s behavior started to make us wonder what we were doing wrong. We had experienced a few behavioral episodes that we chalked up to dealing with fears of losing his mom due to my recent cancer diagnosis.
After about two years of immense struggles, about which I hope you will understand our desire to not go into too much detail, we found ourselves in the most desperate situation. We sent our son, then only 11 years old, to a program in Idaho, only to give up on that after 3 months, then a Wilderness Program, then a Therapeutic Boarding School in Utah. Now, some of you may be saying – why on earth would you send your young son away from home? Well, we use to say the exact same thing – and so I understand that thought process, and I’d like to share with you why we did, and why we, and he, now say it is one of the greatest blessings in our lives!
About 7 years ago our son was diagnosed with a processing speed deficit and OCD. His high IQ allowed him to skate thru elementary school unnoticed, until about 5th grade, when things began to be hard for him to process as quickly as others could. He began to struggle with homework, and some assignments. But then he had an added challenge as well, he has OCD. Between the two challenges, he basically shut down, could not even leave the house. We tried several different therapies, schools, even had therapists in house 10 hours a week, and nothing could help him cope with this overwhelming challenge.
We have several family members in the mental health industry, and all of our family, specialists and therapists were telling us we had exhausted all other options to help him, and we needed to use a therapeutic boarding school. We about died. I can’t even begin to describe the anguish that you feel as a parent to even consider sending a child away from home. Our hearts were taken to lows we never dreamed possible! But after over a year of failing miserably with every other option, we began looking for options outside of our home. We first tried a “soft” school for latent age children in Idaho. After three months and no progress, being heartbroken at not having our 11 year old in our home, we brought him home and tried in-home therapists. With no progress we finally agreed to try a wilderness program. That was when we began to see some progress.
Because I was not ever personally there and involved in the first school, or the wilderness, like I was in the later RTC, I would like to offer the majority of my comments on the RTC with which we were so closely associated.
But first, I’d like to explain how, and why, we transported him to wilderness using a professional transport company. Months earlier, we drove our son to his first program in Idaho, all the way from California. It was a living hell, not just in our anticipation, or his fear, of what we were about to do, but because of the 16 hour drive with our poor son being in the worst possible mental state. It was literally dangerous and we never should have tried to transport him ourselves. So, we knew when we sent him to wilderness the most compassionate way to do so was using a professional transport company. It very easy for someone who has never been in our shoes, never had a child with such debilitating mental illness, never been so desperate to find any way to help their struggling child, to judge what we did and think it was wrong. But having done both methods, I have learned that a transport is actually the best, safest and most compassionate way to do something so very difficult.
Once our son arrived at the wilderness program, he was compassionately introduced to the program he would be in for the next 3 months, given all he needed, and then taken to his group out in the cold high desert of Southern Utah. The next day his psychologist, with whom he had been working for months and trusted, arrived. He would be his therapist in the wilderness for the next 3 months. He sent us word immediately assuring us our son was well and doing fine. We would not be able to talk to him for the entire 3 month program. Words cannot describe the heartache a parent feels walking into there young sons room only to find it empty every night. I would fall asleep wondering where he was, how he was doing, and wonder if we were doing the right thing. Over the course of that time, we began to see significant progress in the updates we received. The pictures we received were evidence of his improvement. We could see the light come back into his disposition. He looked healthier than he had in months. He was clearly relaxing, learning, gaining confidence and hope. We knew we were doing the right thing. We were doing what was best for our son, despite how heartbreaking it was for us and him.
Our psychologist began to get a better understanding of our son’s mental health challenges, and began to give us hints that we would likely need to send him to a residential boarding school next. We were devastated. It was so hard to drive by our son’s former elementary school every day and see all the kids playing on the playground. We would see his friends and classmates, and be crushed that our son could not be there. But we had committed to do all we could and trust the professionals, and again, all of our trusted sources agreed we should do an RTC next. After a search, we decided on a quality RTC in Provo Utah. Let me tell you a little about the RTC.
We chose an RTC that specializes in processing speed deficits. We had the unusual good fortune to be able to fly into Utah for the Family therapy session almost every Thursday. Then after a few months the RTC would allow our son to stay with us in Utah from Friday to Sunday, while we worked on things we learned in family therapy. Our whole family made a sacrifice to spend 3 out of 4 weekends a month in Utah to be with our son. But it was worth the sacrifice. And it gave us a unique window into the lives of the boys and staff at this RTC. We were there often, and saw all aspects of life in an RTC.
Now, I know the stigma associated with “these” type of schools, but if I could, I would take you to a lunch at this school, so you could experience what we experienced almost weekly, so you could see just how amazing the RTC family is. I call them family because that is exactly what they became to us – family. The staff, therapists, owners, chefs, building crew, everyone – they were family! Once again, I wish I could take you to lunch there. You would feel it. You walk in the doors and feel there is something special. You see it in the interaction of the staff and boys, as they laugh together. The staff treat the boys like family, and they genuinely care about these boys. And the boys know it and it shows.
Even the chef would joke with the boys, make them smile and do special favors to show them he cared. The therapists care for these boys even more, as they take them thru what is often a very difficult process of confronting these mental illness trials head on. They equip the boys with skills to successfully manage their challenges. These therapists are so well trained and experienced, and they develop incredible relationships of trust with these boys. We learned to trust them too. Our family therapy sessions were hard, but we learned to trust and do what we were taught and it worked!
And then we have the owners. I have never seen business owners with such pure motives. They care about the boys and the boys know it. When our son was having a bad day once, he left the group of kids and went to a stairwell and sat down and cried. It wasn’t a staff or a therapist that found him-it was an owner. Most owners would take a boy to the therapist, but not at this RTC, these owners love the boys just as deeply as the rest. This owner got down on the ground, right next to our son, and sat with him, allowing our son to work thru the problem, with someone at his side, that he knew cared about him almost as much as his parents did! You just don’t find that kind of care in the world very often – but we would find it daily at this RTC.
We are so lucky to have this and other RTCs in our community. I know not every school is like the one we chose. Not every school is perfect. But no organization is without its errors and mistakes. To listen to the voice of a few, high profile complaints with questionable motives and misjudge an entire industry would be devastating to our entire country. The occurrence of mental illness is only going up among our youth and a large portion of these cases require care that we cannot give in our homes. We were one such case.
These RTCs are not only providing quality care that is desperately needed, they are researching and finding cutting edge treatments that improve every year and expand our capacity to treat and even cure some of the greatest challenges our world is facing.
Let me end by just giving you a quick update on how things went for our son and our family. This was by far the hardest several years any of our family has ever experienced. But also the most rewarding. We trusted in the professionals, just as our family experts advised, and it paid off! When our son returned from his RTC, we had a challenging year of putting into practice all we had learned. But with continued therapy to support him, and us, it worked. He did not just limp through high school, like so many who can’t or don’t get the wonderful help we had, he thrived. He taught himself the piano and learned the pieces his brothers had worked hard to learn. He played JV and varsity sports, and even captained a team. He is now on a scholarship to BYU Provo, where he had always dreamed of attending while some of his older brothers were still there. He studies in the library with them until it closes, then oftentimes brings lots of friends to our home, now in Provo, to eat and watch movies and play games. He earned straight As his first semester. He will leave on a humanitarian service mission this summer. He is THRIVING!
If you had asked me 7 years ago if this was possible, I would have assured you it was not in his cards. But thanks to the programs and experts in this wonderful industry, our son is everything we had ever dreamed of and more. He, and we, not only thrive, we look for those who do not. We try to see with compassion the challenges others are facing, and we try to help. We try to not judge those whose behavior or choices are less than ideal. We try to assume they are just having an “in the moment” time and hope that they can feel our support just as we felt from those who supported us in our time of need. Our son is not only successful, he is gracious and compassionate – what more could a mom ever hope for!