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: http://goo.gl/zW43F 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.