To those outside our field of therapeutic schools and programs, it makes sense that Matt Shea‘s article from May 2013 in Vice titled American Teens are Being Trapped in ‘Abusive Drug Rehab Centres’ is alarming.

To those of us in the field it’s a joke. You can read the whole article here: and judge for yourself. It’s a joke not because it’s inaccurate and not because there are no failures within the industry. It’s a joke because, just like so many other ‘journalists’ he paints a picture with such broad strokes that Mr. Shea fails to really understand the pressures, the people and, as cliche as it may sound, the passion with which so many in this field work. Mr. Shea fails to sort out the fiction from fact.

But how else can a budding journalist get retweeted and get his name out there without this version of quicky-journalism? Had Mr. Shea visited programs like many of us in the mental health and educational consulting world do, he would quickly meet and have experiences  which deepen his 2 dimensional paradigm. He would have been driven out into the remote and hot Utah desert to meet with small groups of teens guided by thoughtful and well-trained staff working on individual enrichment projects. He would leave thankful he never had to endure a Spring or Summer like they do yet, somehow, understands that this programming is providing a level of nurturing and structure significantly lacking in their home lives.

Let’s address the reference and correlation Mr. Shea makes between the therapeutic industry and Josh Shipp of MTV fame. Let’s revisit part of Mr. Shea’s article now…

Shipp is your classic Jerry Springer brand of therapist – no real qualifications, a huge ego and a penchant for money and entertaining TV over science and genuine psychology. “I’m a teen behaviour specialist,” he says in the intro. “My approach is gritty, gutsy and in your face.”

If he had actually spent time with Josh Shipp AND real mental/behavioral health and substance abuse professionals – he would very quickly understand that Mr. Shipp (…Mr. is used loosely here) does not represent the values of folks in this industry, an industry that is run by licensed clinicians and professionals. Mr. Shipp is nothing more than a court jester providing entertainment. He’s a monkey with two cymbals making noise and no signal for his ‘edgy’ reality-TV pushers at MTV (MTV is still around?). Occasionally, I’m sure there are teens and even parents (and maybe the rare delusion clinician) that hear the Shipp-Clown-message and it connects with them – changing their lives forever. But an overwhelming majority spend no more energy than a giggle or slight frown. Mr. Shipp does not have a degree, license or any sort of evidence-based training. He graduated from “Life Experience College” which sounds ‘super cool’ to the teens and teen parents he markets his wares to but there is no depth. He’s a can of soda full of empty calories. The therapeutic industry and Mr. Shipp are as polar-opposite as a Kardashian and Bill Moyers. And yes, we recognize as cold as it may sound, it’s an industry.  Just like cancer treatment, just like teaching, and just like daycare. If it were not an industry and did not have the same oversight as other industries, there would be little oversight. Trust me, you want therapy to be part of an industry. Industrialization provides codes of conduct, ethical guidelines, evidence-based treatment standards, inter-disciplinary work and research. NATSAP is an example of this type of self-imposed quality control.

FYI – Therapeutic wilderness programs are not boot camps. Therapeutic boarding schools are not military schools. There may have been some greedy, old-school meat-heads that sold parents on boot camps decades ago, but in the therapeutic world, those non-clinical programs as a laughable as Josh Shipp which may be why he talks about them in his MTV show. Boot camps and military schools are dying out and, thankfully, being replaced by sophisticated, evidence-based programs with transparency and clinical integrity. Not every program is awesome but, neither is every physician or dentist.

Mr. Shea, I make a challenge to you. Join me on a tour to visit 5 therapeutic programs. Together, you and I will kick the tires, dig through the closets and truly get to the bottom of whether this universe of programs is as detrimental as you propose. We’ll spend 2 days out in the back-country, in storage rooms with gear, and circled up in treatment centers. After that, I challenge you to write the same article blasting this world that has helped so many families. Not likely to happen.

Blogs of Note: The Interpreted Rock by Steve Schultz

The Interpreted Rock is a blog written by our good friend Steve Schultz from Oxbow Academy in Utah. Steve was born and raised in Eugene, Oregon. He graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in psychology and received formal training as an addictions counselor. He spent several years working with health care facilities in clinical services, operations and marketing. With over twenty five years assisting families to navigate the rough waters of addiction, mental illness and the various struggles produced by wayward teens, Steve has a unique perspective and compassionate demeanor. He joined the RedCliff Ascent family in 2002. His clinical insights and customer service emphasis help him give parents a better understanding of the unique services provided by RedCliff Ascent and its sister programs.

Here’s an excerpt from a friend’s blog we thought you all may enjoy…

Monday, May 13, 2013

I was recently in Tucson Arizona meeting with the family of a student who graduated from Oxbow Academy. I was traveling with the clinical director of Oxbow, Todd Spaulding LCSW.  We also had the opportunity to meet with allied health professionals in the area who work with troubled teens and their families.

As we met with folks in Tucson, I just wanted to make a brief introduction to Oxbow Academy. I shared with them that Oxbow works with families that are struggling with a son who is burdened with sexual behavioral concerns. Often this is excessive use of pornography, inappropriately touching a sibling, friend or neighbor or other compulsive sexual behaviors. About half of our students come to us with some type of Learning Disability (LD) and 60% are adopted…80 and above IQ, but socially awkward…..
For more on struggling families, Steve, Oxbow Academy or any of the other Redcliff Ascent programs, check out Steve’s blog or check out Redcliff Ascent’s list of programs.

College Tuition and the Tax Implications

There is a little-known secret for parents planning to send their children to college in the future: Some of the tax-saving moves you make now could hurt your student’s chances for getting financial aid later. 

The way the financial aid system treats different assets could have a dramatic impact on how you save. Retirement plans and IRAs don’t count for college aid purposes. You’re not expected to break into these accounts to pay for tuition.

Key Points 

The college aid formula requires 20 percent of the assets in your child’s name to be used for college costs. But the government –mandated formula only expects about 5.6 percent of the money in the parent’s name to be spent. So you’re better off keeping accounts in your own name, especially during the last two years of high school, which is generally when you’ll be asked to start providing tax returns.

Don’t assume you’re not eligible for assistance. With the high cost of college today, many schools now have programs available to relatively well-off families if they meet certain qualifications. For example, your child might be able to get a “merit award” based on high standardized test scores and superior grades.

Best Strategy 

If you expect to apply for financial aid, don’t hold back placing money in your own retirement plan in order to put away savings in a college account in your child’s name.

Contributions to retirement accounts are usually tax-deductible and the earnings are tax deferred until withdrawn. On top of these tax breaks, your family may also become eligible for more financial aid.

TIP: If you own your own business and your tax professional endorses it, consider hiring your college-aged child and offering a company-wide benefit of college money. What you do for one employee you must do for all so definitely work closely with you tax pro on this one. 

Remember – You can usually tap retirement accounts for college money. Many 401(k) plans allow loans to be taken. And thanks to a tax law that went into effect in 1998, you can generally withdraw a limited amount from your IRAs penalty-free to pay higher education costs for yourself, your children and grandchildren.

Talk with your CPA or tax professional to develop a long term plan that’s right for your family, your retirement planning and your college-aged child.

Good luck.

Program Tour: Day 1-2 New Friends from Redcliff Ascent

There is a stark contrast flying into Las Vegas. The rugged, jagged contours of the surrounding mountains and scorched earth of the encroaching desert seem so alien compared with the steel and concrete and activity that bombards one in Sin City. This was how my visit with Redcliff Ascent programs started.


Day 1 – Las Vegas


I grabbed my suitcase from the conveyor belt and made our way to the car. Steve Schultz, my guide for the week and program expert, wove his way through the hustle of the Las Vegas strip, searching for someplace to grab a bite to eat and prep me for the upcoming program visits. We stopped at New York, New York and had a satisfying meal which evolved into a fantastic conversation about our families and backgrounds. The day was getting away from us and we needed to head North to position us for the start of the many tours and events they had lined up for me.


Day 2 – Redcliff Ascent

We pulled up to a desolot, wind-swept stretch of Utah valley in Enterprise, UT and pulled into the non-descript parking lot flanked by the Redcliff Ascent offices and gear shed. Within minutes we were deep in another engaging conversation about program philosophy, professional backgrounds and personal views on wilderness work. Nice furniture, nice office, super nice people. I could see this being a comfortable place for parents to meet the professionals responsible for helping their kids change.

We hurried across the icy, stone lot and secured the heavy metal door behind us. Those of you with wilderness and outdoor experience would appreciate the attention to detail Milton, Warehouse Manager, has chosen the safest, most durable gear. The shelves are lined with your typical boxes and containers, but the contents is so different than many other programs. Milton clearly has a passion for organization. Each shelf and box is well labeled and the quality of the gear is outstanding. He is certainly not cutting corners with cheap boots, socks or anything else I dug through. They also have an amazing system of self-review with an internal committee that reviews all incidents and makes recommendations for change.

For example, this cup was the industry standard they used for years until through their own research, they found the microscopic cracks harbored bacteria even after cleaning. They ditched it for a more expensive but safer and reliable stainless steel solution.

After a thorough tour of the gear and offices, we loaded up and hit the road in the crisp air. At the end of the long, straight road flanked by fields and scrub brush, we took a sharp left turn over railroad tracks and headed for the mountains. Within an hour we were in low-tree, scrubby wilderness high up a pass. We quickly met up with some amazing kids from across the world clearly being pushed to regain respect for adults and themselves. We happened to catch the nurse doing her rounds checking each group. Once again, nothing but sincere quality and well-thought support.

With the sun dipping down, we took the long mushy road out of the pass, back to the valley for our final good-byes at base camp.

Check back soon for the second installment of the visit to Redcliff and their sister programs throughout Utah.

8 Stupid Things Your Teen Might be Doing

Seems like teens have no limit to their motivation and creativity when it comes to getting high, drunk while trying to win another rung up the social ladder. We’ve compiled a list of some of the more extraordinary activities your offspring may be engaging in. If you’ve got more stories from stupid teen activities, send it our way and we’ll post it. For now, let’s dip into the current teen-o-sphere and check in with what’s cool in their mushy minds

1. Eyeballing

Teens are creative (and stupid) as they find new ways to consume alcohol without leaving the obvious smell of alcohol on their breath. This new trend involves pouring vodka directly into the eye which enters the bloodstream through the veins around the eyeball. The result –  quick buzz. This can cause burning or scaring the cornea, and in some cases cause blindness.

Hint: Look for eye problems not related to sports or typical injuries. Might be wearing sunglasses more often.

2. Strangling

Here’s the deal – teen uses various restraints to cut off the flow of blood to the brain, depriving it of oxygen. After being released, the blood immediately rushes back into the brain and evokes a high, dizzy feeling. This is also being used during sex (with and without a partner) to enhance the sexual experience.

Hint: Look for unusual use of scarves around the neck, turtle necks (who wears them anyway?), or popped collars.

3. Gummy Bears

Thanks to a popular YouTube video, your adventurous teen now has access to a step-by-step guide on how to soak gummy bears in vodka and chomp on them in plain sight just about anywhere. The result is an instant buzz not easily detected on their breath. The candy is often consumed in big amounts, rapidly leading to high levels of intoxication. Teens eat them way too fast and way too many and get super trashed and at risk of alcohol poisoning.

Hint: Did your teen suddenly develop a sweet tooth? Keep an eye out for copious gummy purchases.

4. Tampons

Not sure who the first person to come up with this one was but I’m sure they gave their parents a major headache. Here’s the weird but true stupid thing – A tampon is soaked in alcohol and then stuck in a vagina or rectum. No alcohol on the breath and quick drunkeness. Besides the obvious risks to those private body parts, the tampon can soak up alot of alcohol and put the stupid teen at high risk of alcohol poisoning.

Hint: Keep an eye out for unusual amounts of tampons being purchased (especially those of you with teenage sons).

5. Handsanitizer

Inexpensive and very accessible product is easy for experimenting teens to get their hands on. Salt is used to separate the high quantities of alcohol found in hand sanitizer, which they then drink. They typicall get about a shot-worth of hard liquor.

Hint: Buy the foam type of sanitizer or ones that do not list ethanol as their main ingredient.

6. Car Surfing

Teen + Car Roof + High Speed (or low speed for that matter) = Broken something. Teens climb on top of a car, hold onto the roof, and pretend to surf while someone drives. Some kids have gone to the extreme, and tried surfing on top of trains and subways.

Hint: Check your car roof for footprints Sunday morning.

7. Purple Drink

Ok…this sounds nasty but when did we start assuming teens had really good taste? The drink is a mixture of Sprite, Jolly Ranchers, and codeine cough syrup. It can be super toxic and cause hallucinations, unresponsiveness, and lethargy. Combined with alcohol, your kid may have a big problem. It’s hit pop culture and been glamorized by NFL players and rapers.

Hint: Periodically check your medicine cabinet for prescription and non-prescription meds being used up in odd amounts.

8. Bath Salts

Commonly referred to as “Purple Wave” and “Bliss,” this drug contains high levels of mephedrone, methylone, and MDPV, three drugs that cause hallucinations when smoked, snorted, or injected. Until recently, these salts were often found in smoke shops and were sold legally in the U.S. This drug can cause paranoia, suicidal behavior, and chest pain.

Hint: Most of this stuff is sold at ‘smoke shops’ as incense.

Eating Disorders: Impact on Teens and their Families

It’s a sad irony that in a country with such significant obesity, we have an emerging, but very hidden, epidemic of eating disorders among teens and young adults. When we combine wealth, entitlement, and super high expectations of perfectionism teens become at high risk for controlling their eating and food related behavior in ways that put them at risk for long-lasting medical and mental health issues. Eating disorders eventually impact the whole family – leaving parents and siblings feeling disempowered and unable to make change.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, cases of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating have been on the rise. School-aged young women and men often exhibit the following:

  • 10 million women have an eating disorder
  • 1 million men have an eating disorder
  • 80% of Americans say they are unhappy with their appearance.
  • More than half of all teenage girls and almost one-third of teenage boys skip meals, refuse to eat, smoke cigarettes, vomit, and take laxatives in an effort to control their weight and appearance
  • 40% of new cases of anorexia involve female patients 15 – 19 years old.


Eating disorders are often caused or triggered by a number of events and experiences. Some students starve themselves in response to stresses or traumatic events. Others binge and purge because they believe it will help them improve their appearance. Some teens end up with eating disorders as a result of trying to enhance their athletic ability. Ultimately, it’s about control. Controlling themselves.

Here are some examples of stressors and triggers for teens:

    • Teasing & Taunting: Being ridiculed can have quietly devastating effects on teens. Struggling teens may, instead of acting-out may act-in and restrict their eating as a way to change their body to fit in or as a means of punishing themselves for not being good enough (in their eyes).
    • School and Academic Stress: Schools that emphasize competition and discipline can inadvertently be encouraging disordered eating by students. Competition is healthy, but obsession on grades and perfection lead to overcompensation in teens. This can influence teens to restrict eating as well as take what they think of as performance enhancing drugs (legal and illegal). This is a super bad combination.
    • Competition: Highly competitive athletes in sports such as gymnastics, diving, and bodybuilding may be driven into eating disorders by compulsions to achieve athletic and appearance perfection. Another bad combination of high intensity training, food restriction and increased demands on the body.

The 7 Signs to Watch For

Parents can support their teen’s wellness by watching behavior, having regular communication, and getting help early on when they suspect there’s an issue.The following signs could indicate that a teen is struggling with an eating disorder:

  1. Skipping Meals: Constantly makes excuses to skip meals. When he does sit down at the table, he eats very little.
  2. Strict Dieting: She follows a highly regimented and restricted diet, allowing herself small portions of limited types of food according to a strict meal schedule.
  3. Focus on Weight: He demonstrates an unhealthy focus on how much he weighs.
  4. Exercise Obsessed: He becomes obsessed with exercise, and becomes hostile, defensive, or withdrawn when questioned about his eating or exercise habits.
  5. Baggy Clothing: She starts wearing oversized, baggy clothes to hide her body, and becomes withdrawn and secretive about how she spends her time.
  6. Dry Skin: Skin becomes super dry; the hair on his head becomes thin and brittle; and soft, downy hairs begin to grow on his torso, arms, and legs.
  7. Stressed and Tired: She seems unusually fatigued or lethargic, and complains of being cold even in warm rooms and seems always on edge.

Some students who develop eating disorders are able to be treated on an outpatient basis, while others require hospitalization or a stay in a residential treatment facility. Prior to any treatment, Fonthill always recommends contacting a professional case manager to help determine the best course of treatment based on a family’s resources like time, money, and location. Eating disorder treatment requires multiple professionals working in concert with each other to ensure the most effective interventions are used and that after-care planning is established. Parents concerned about their teen should consult with their family physician, contact a school counselor, or seek assistance from a mental health professional.

How to Find a Treatment Program for a Struggling Teen

We put together a short but thorough list of what we have found most effective when helping parents find a residential treatment program for their struggling teens.

1. Find outside Help: This is not just a pitch to get you to use our services or someone else’s. This really is essential unless you are retired and have lots of time, knowledge of residential treatment programs, and consider yourself to be very objective. An outside professional like us can help formulate more than just a list of options. We help identify the goals, limitations and timeframe for when things need to happen. We also make sure that step-down and after-care are built into the plan.

2. Financial: What is your insurance willing to pay for? What can you afford?Most parents do not know that their are several billing codes that can be used throughout treatment that can be submitted to insurance for reimbursement. Treatment centers can range from $1000 per month up to $30,000 or more per month but expense does not always mean quality.

3. Timeframe: What is the timeframe you all need this to happen within? Is your teen preparing to go to college in the Fall and really needs a more aggressive, short-term solution? What about family vacations coming up or important events? Identifying all of these with your professional support will expedite the process and improve the outcome.

4. Goals and Objectives: This seems like easy-cheesy but more often than not professionals and education consultants do not build out a comprehensive treatment plan that includes what to do prior to treatment, what parents need to do while teen is in treatment, and what the plan is once the teen is completed treatment. We have found that comprehensive treatment planning is vital.

5. Communication: Part of every good plan is good professionals and family members. What we need with good people is a good way of communicating progress and obstacles. We highly encourage use of monthly team meetings via Skype, conference call or in person. These meetings should include anyone supporting the family in implementation of the treatment plan.

Finding a residential treatment program for a struggling teen is challenging but with the right plan and the right people supporting you, you will see safety, security, progress and hope clearly defined.