Addiction Industry Gets Exposed…Finally.

For years I’ve been talking about the unethical and illegal means by which mental health and substance abuse treatment centers advertise to and treat clients. And now, finally, in one of the most accurate portrals of the industry, The Verge published a fantastic piece on the aweful practices large addiction treatment centers. From the manipulative call centers to terrible and dangerous clinical work, Cat Ferguson (freelance reporter based in California) exposed the seedy underbelly of this mostly hidden industry, predominantly in Florida. She focuses on Aid in Recovery, a sketchy hotline with a bazillion different phone numbers and websites (all of which are owned by a parent company Treatment Management Company) that funnel prospective clients (with good insurance!) to one of their affiliated treatment centers around the country. AIR is not unique. Hundreds of huge companies fight, cheat and steel every day for referrals. My one critique is that Cat didn’t pull in examples from the mental health treatment centers which are as aggressive and sketchy. Same bad actors engaging in greedy behavior to get clients.

The article reaffirms why it’s so important to work with a therapeutic placement consultant or educational consultant who knows what to avoid and how to find the most effective treatment. Not a sales pitch – just a fact that a good consultant can sniff out the industry bullshit from a mile away.

Insider’s Guide: How to Pay for Therapeutic Boarding School (2017 UPDATE)

Before we dive into understanding the options for paying for a Therapeutic Boarding School, let’s quickly review what they are.

The Rise of Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Image result for boarding schoolAs public schools across the country have slowly been pruned back by state legislatures, funding for behavioral, emotional and academic support within schools have nearly dried up while public money is increasingly being used for private charter schools. Therefore, it’s not surprising private institutions that offer therapeutic (or quasi-therapeutic) environments like boarding schools and private schools have exploded. One of the fastest growing kinds of boarding schools is what’s called a Therapeutic Boarding School. Therapeutic boarding schools maintain the advantages of traditional boarding schools such as intimate class sizes, individual attention, great academics, developing student self-reliance, and the fun of living with peers in a completely “child-friendly” environment.

Some therapeutic boarding schools specialize in helping teens overcome certain psychological problems such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Bipolar, Asperger’s and even Depression. Others have programs for overcoming substance abuse problems or achieving weight loss. Some specialize in helping students who lack motivation get a fresh start in a nurturing environment. Most have some sort of family or parent involvement piece to ensure a team approach (ie. Weekly family therapy via phone or Skype).

While this all may sound great, there are definitely some risks and downsides (beyond the financial cost) of sending a kiddo off to therapeutic boarding school. I address those issues in great detail in another blog post. For now, let’s revisit the financial aspects…

Expense or Investment?

Parents often find themselves in a desperate situation with a troubled teenager. Their daughter runs away from home again, gets caught with the dealer down the street, crashes another car, and has yet another arrest. Parents become afraid for their teen’s lives as their teen’s risk-taking and lifestyle keeps becoming more extreme as the parents’ ability to set boundaries and expectations seemingly erodes.

It’s hard to think clearly and find solutions at times like this. Therapeutic boarding schools and therapeutic wilderness programs can provide answers, but they come at a price, with some programs running upwards of $50,000 a year.

But cost doesn’t have to be an insurmountable obstacle in getting your teen the help they need. We have helped countless parents in similar situations come up with creative ways to finance therapeutic boarding school, knowing that their child desperately needs an intervention. Therapeutic boarding schools are no longer exclusively the domain of the wealthy.

Top 10 Ways to Pay for Therapeutic Boarding School

Image result for therapeutic boarding school

Here are 10 ways families just like yours found to finance their teen’s therapeutic program:

1.   Hire a Consultant: Say what? More money? Yes, but trust me, this really will have super high ROI. Also referred to as case managers, therapeutic placement consultants or educational consultants, a good one is worth their weight in gold (a bad one is expensive and makes bad treatment recommendations). Make sure they are UNAFFILIATED with any program and have the clinical expertise to help advise and guide your family through the whole process. Some clinical educational consultants that specialize are able to handle this. A great case manager will be able to create a treatment plan, explain the process for getting a comprehensive psychological evaluation, walk with you through the intake process, support you while your teen is in the therapeutic boarding school, and coordinate discharge planning to ensure a seamless transition back to home or college. The last piece is essential – making sure your teen has everything they need to succeed after they return. Great case managers also know how to secure reimbursement from insurance providers for teens that attend therapeutic boarding schools. There are definitely some tricks (eg. Hire a case manager that’s also a licensed professional counselor and much of their work could be paid for by insurance) and inside knowledge necessary to make this happen.

Typical cost: $95 – 350/hr (some charge a flat fee of several thousand). 

2. Find the Program’s Financial Aid Officer: The private school or wilderness program should have a financial aid officer who can advise you about how to finance your child’s education. You should ask this person what programs, loans, discounts, or financial aid the school offers. Find out exactly what is included in the tuition and board bills, and if there are additional expenses such as buying uniforms or paying special fees for sports.

Typical Cost: Nothing – programs provide this to try to entice you into signing up. Beware of anything that sounds too good to be true – verify any claims they make about coverage from insurance, student grants/scholarships or loans. 

3.  Public School Funding: You may qualify for a loan through a kindergarten through 12th grade educational loan program. These loans work the same way as college loans, in that you pay what you can while your child is enrolled in the private school, and pay the rest off later. The terms of some loans let you spread out payments over 10 or 20 years. Your credit history will be a factor in securing a loan. Your school’s financial aid officer should be able to help you find such a loan.

Typical Cost: Your sanity – they will drive you crazy with the bureaucracy and take loads of time during your work day since everything in public school shuts down by 3:30pm. 

4.  Discounts for Upfront Payment: Some schools offer discounts if you pay by the year, instead of by the month. The average student stays at a therapeutic boarding school for less than two years, and wilderness programs are even shorter. A good therapeutic placement consultant/educational consultant will save you thousands of dollars by negotiating these discounts.

Typical Cost: More money upfront but no other associated costs. 

5. Tap 529: Consider using your child’s college fund first. Think of the therapeutic program as a way to get your child back on the right path toward college. Without intervention, she won’t have the grades or motivation to get through college and use her fund.

Typical Cost: Make sure there are no withdrawal penalties for use for therapeutic boarding school. 

6. Put it On Plastic: When you enroll your child in these therapeutic programs, there will be upfront expenses such as processing fees and deposits. Some parents borrow these initial payments from credit cards, especially ones that offer “frequent flier” miles. This way their child is immediately enrolled. They use their free mileage for transportation to and from the school.

Typical Cost: Beware of high interest rates if you don’t pay off your balance in full. 

7. Angel Investing: Some parents borrow the necessary funds from employers or relatives, and pay them back after securing educational loans or home equity loans.

Typical Cost: If you go through a peer-to-peer or crowdfunding site like The Lending Club or Kickstarter, count on a 5% fee for total amount funded. 

8. Health Insurance Reimbursement: Your health insurance policy may cover part of the cost of a therapeutic program as a medical expense. When you hire a case manager, they will be able to tell you how to file the paperwork and what you need from the program to ensure a speedy reimbursement.

Typical Cost: Sanity… totally lost if your insurer are jerks that don’t reimburse when and how they should. You are attempting to pull money from their cold, dead hands. Expect a fight.

9. Consult Your CPA: Some expenses for therapeutic schools and wilderness programs can be deducted from your income tax return as medical expenses. If you own your own business, you likely have WAY more creative options for deducting medical expenses.

Typical Cost: $200/hr for a good CPA to walk you through if and how to deduct from taxes.

10. Tap Home Equity: Parents have taken out second mortgages or home equity loans and then deducted their interest payments on their income tax returns.

Typical Cost: Fees, closing costs total 2-6%. It also bumps the timeframe for paying off that home back several years.

11. Public School Funding: We lied – there turns out to be 11 ways to pay for therapeutic boarding school. Is your child enrolled in public special education classes because of problems like attention deficit disorder and learning disabilities? Does your child have an “Individual Education Plan” at a public school? Do you suspect your child has learning problems that the public school cannot address? In certain cases, public school districts have to reimburse parents for private school tuitions. The Supreme Court ruled on June 22, 2009, that an Oregon school district had to reimburse a family for private school costs because the child in question could not achieve a free and appropriate education within the district. The child had not been enrolled in special education classes but was diagnosed later with attention deficit disorder.

When it comes to what matters most parents are unstoppable in finding ways to get the services and support they need. Don’t let cost be the determining factor. If your teen needs help, speak with a case manager, your trusted CPA as well as a therapeutic boarding school you’re considering and work together to find a way to get your teen back on track.

Odyssey Behavioral Healthcare Buys Pasadena Villa and Lifeskills

Odyssey Behavioral Healthcare, a partnership between Nautic Partners, LLC and CEO Scott Kardenetz, announced it completed the acquisition of residential/outpatient mental health and addictions treatment providers Pasadena Villa (TN, FL) and Lifeskills South Florida (FL). Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 9.23.56 AM

Odyssey, headquartered in Brentwood, TN, was formed to build a diverse platform of behavioral healthcare facilities across the treatment spectrum in psychiatric and addiction care.  Scott Kardenetz is a 25-year veteran with former leadership positions at Ardent Health Services, Psychiatric Solutions and Universal Health Services. Nautic and Odyssey plan to invest $50 million of equity capital to support its strategy of growth.

Behavioral Health mergers and acquisitions experts expect this trend to continue, with a growing emphasis on the development of a full continuum of services and settings which promises to be an even bigger market than the strictly luxury-leaning residential programs that historically been the focus of consolidation. 

About Odyssey Behavioral Healthcare

Odyssey Behavioral Healthcare was formed in 2015 as a partnership between Nautic Partners and Scott Kardenetz. Odyssey’s treatment centers include Pasadena Villa and Lifeskills, which provide adult residential treatment care in three primary facilities and outpatient care in Tennessee and Florida. Odyssey will seek to expand the platform through new development and acquisition. In developing its platform, Odyssey seeks to acquire and develop treatment facility leaders in their therapeutic niche and that can benefit from senior management leadership and support.

Insider’s Guide: Getting Insurance to Pay for Residential Treatment

imagesThis is our second installment on how to get insurance to pay for residential treatment and therapeutic programs. Below is some great information to help you beat the insurance companies at their own game. Insurance companies count on your ignorance, laziness and distractibility to avoid paying for services they are legally obligated to cover. 

With the Affordable Healthcare Act and the Mental Health Parity Act in full swing it’s time to learn how to get the most out of the insurance you pay for. We’ve included some tricks, strategies and how-to’s to help you out. Though we’re focusing on Residential Treatment for our discussion here, this info is applicable to therapeutic programs like wilderness programs, therapeutic boarding schools and intensive outpatient programs.

Ok, let’s get started with some basics… 

What If I Need Additional Help?

First, read through everything below. These strategies are time consuming and require steady attention but they are not impossible. If you still don’t feel confident in holding your insurer accountable, contact us for a free consult and we’ll help you figure out how to move forward. 

What is the Insurance Company’s Criteria for Residential Treatment?

…Or more importantly, how does an insurer define residential treatment? Each insurer has their own definition but most have virtually identical criteria. For our purposes, residential treatment is defined as specialized mental, behavioral health or substance abuse treatment that occurs in a residential (overnight) treatment center where the provider is responsible for clinical service, safety, shelter, and food.

Licensure differs by state, but these facilities are typically designated either as residential, subacute, or intermediate care facilities and may occur in care systems that provide multiple levels of care. Residential treatment is 24 hours per day and often requires a minimum of one physician (or psychiatrist) visit per week in a facility based setting. 

What Specific Criteria Do They Look For?

Now, let’s drill down a bit more and look at some of the more common criteria requirements insurance companies are looking for when determining whether to pay for residential treatment to a struggling teen or young adult. 

  • Was there a sincere attempt to first use evidence-based outpatient therapy in the home community by a licensed professional before residential treatment was requested and outpatient therapy did not work? Basically, they want evidence that you tried outpatient therapy with weekly sessions (or more often) and because it was not effective, a more intensive level of care like residential treatment was justified.
  • Prior to admission, did you contact your health plan for list of in-network residential treatment options? More on this later – what to do if you can not find a good option.
  • Is there uncontrollable risk-taking to self or others or other dangerous behavior?
  • Has there been a documentable and rapid decrease in level of functioning in one or more life domains. Another way to describe it is a decline in functioning resulting in the ability to perform self-care. 
  • Is there a likelihood of no improvement in current environment (ie. home or college)
  • Is there a reasonable expectation that patient will improve in residential setting and be able to return to outpatient therapy for aftercare? 

How to Request this Higher Level of Care?

Now that you understand the criteria, let’s talk about how to actually request residential treatment. 

  • Write a letter strongly recommending admission to residential treatment 
  • Provide copies of assessments and testing performed by a licensed professional that indicate 1) a formal diagnosis and 2) specific recommendations that list residential treatment.
  • Explain how outpatient therapy has not been successful
  • Explain why current circumstances make it unlikely that patient will show improvement (ie. Improvement is not likely in home setting due to social stressors such as negative peers that sell drugs but remain in the environment)
  • Document unsafe, declining behaviors – show symptoms and behaviors that represent a decline from usual state and include either self-injurious or risk-taking behavior that cannot be managed outside of 24 hr care. Can your kid maintain abstinence outside of 24 hr care? 
  • Explain that the residential treatment program uses evidence-based clinical interventions.
  • Request the residential treatment program directly contact your insurer for pre-authorization. Pre-authorization is the insurance company’s way of giving formal permission to use a higher (and more expensive) level of care. Make sure to obtain the tracking number and verification of the call from the residential treatment program. If approved, obtain written authorization confirming admission approval.

After you send off your request, your insurer should should respond in 5 days. Don’t wait that long – call them every day to find out the status of your request. Yes, seriously – call every day. 

Accepted! Now Some Additional Insurance Mandates

The insurance company accepted your request (more below on what happens when they do not accept it) and a wave of relief comes over you planning for some quiet time once your kid is safely transitioned. But before you get too comfy, there are a few things you want to make sure the residential treatment program will do to ensure insurance covers as much as possible. It’s easier to ask these questions during the admissions process rather than at discharge. Here’s a list of what to look for or ask for:

  • A basic physical during admission (urine screening for drug facility)
  • Onsite nursing and 24hr access to med care
  • Multidisciplinary assessment (also called a Biopsychosocial Intake) performed within 72 hr of admission, including information obtained from patient’s previous providers (ie. therapist, primary care physician)
  • Individual therapy with a licensed therapist (ie. LPC, LCSW, LMFT) at least one time per week
  • Weekly meetings with doctor for medication management
  • Weekly family therapy
  • Discharge plan created one week after admission which acts as a set of exit criteria
  • Licensed in the state in which they are located. Some facilities are owned by huge companies in another state. Make sure they are credentialed and licensed.

Denied. Now on to The Appeal Process

Denials are just a way of life in the therapeutic treatment world but it’s certainly not the end. Here are some information on what to do when you experience a denial.

  • First Thing – Do not let the denial get you mad and do not attempt to use logic, common sense or science to understand why. Insurance is a business and their business model is take in money and pay for as little service as possible – period. 
  • If residential treatment is verbally denied, request written denial. They must deny in writing and often will send the residential treatment program as well as the insured person a copy. 
  • Do not just ignore the denial and send your kid off unless you are willing to pay out of pocket and work your tail off at discharge to get the insurer to pay for it.
  • How to appeal depends upon the reason for denial. The insurance company will likely list specific criteria either your kid or the residential treatment program did not meet.
  • If the insurer states that residential treatment is not a covered benefit but they offer  other mental/behavioral health benefits, they are required by law to pay. In Harlick v Blue Cross of California – On August 26, 2011 the court confirmed that California’s Mental Health Parity Act requires health plans to provide coverage of “all medically necessary treatment” for “severe mental illnesses” under “the same financial terms as those applied to physical illnesses,” and are obligated to pay for residential treatment for people with eating disorders even if the policy excludes residential treatment.

And It’s Still Denied – What Next?

If you submit an appeal with additional information and site the law but still are denied or hear nothing, you can request an independent review from your state’s regulatory body that oversees insurance compliance. It’s amazing how quickly insurance companies can ‘find missing paperwork’ or reverse a denial when regulators and attorney’s get involved. 

  • Send a certified-mail cover letter describing the dispute
  • Provide all relevant evaluations, assessments and testing you already sent to the insurer
  • Submit a doctor’s letter stating care is medically necessary
  • You can also hire an attorney that specializes in insurance issues like this. They are often worth their specialist price tag.

Plan B – If You Can Afford It

If residential is denied and you don’t want to push the insurer for whatever reason, you can pay out of pocket for room and board and try to get the clinical services covered. This approach is often what is equivalent to out-of-network coverage. The insurer is more likely to cover outpatient therapy, group therapy and medication management (virtually the same as if client was living at home and going to therapy).

You can also request that the residential treatment primary therapist get a single case agreement which forces the insurer to pay at in-network rate and you only owe the copay, as usual. 

What if Our Family Member is at Therapeutic Boarding School?

With the growth of therapeutic boarding schools, we’ve received a ton of questions about how insurance pays for the clinical aspects of these hybrid programs. Here are some tricks we’ve picked up over the years:

  • Think like the insurance company – they want to hear your son or daughter is being referred to as a patient and not a student.
  • Make sure to request a physical assessment is done at admissions. This promotes the perspective that he/she is a patient and not a student. Remember – we want the insurer to understand this is a therapeutic program, not as much an academic program.
  • We also want to ensure the program is keeping daily records such as treatment plan updates, nursing and medical notes and service notes – health plans will want copies. We want to be documenting progress as well as setbacks. 

When we conduct placement services, we always request the therapeutic program develop a treatment plan with some specific exit criteria. The first day of treatment is the first day of discharge planning. Some plans will want exit criteria so err on the side of having the program provide it early on. It’s also a good clinical practice to give the providers a clear target. 

In Which State Should Insurance Regulators Be Notified if Insurance Refuses to Cooperate?

The state in which treatment is being provided is where insurance regulators should be contacted if your insurance company refuses to play nicely. The state in which you live may be where your insurance is attached, but legal oversight for provision of service and insurance regulation is in the treatment state. 

Can Insurance Pay for Services Retroactively?

Theoretically, yes. Practically, it’s pretty difficult and will require regular attention and contact with the insurer. They will likely ‘lose’ applications, claim forms and anything else you send. If you get insurance to agree to pay for residential treatment or other therapeutic services after treatment has started, you can request for retroactive coverage. It’s best to write a letter (and send it certified mail and keep a copy for your records) stating why you didn’t understand or it was not stated clearly in a policy that treatment was covered. 

Will Insurance Cover Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP)?

Partial Hospitalization Programs or PHPs is typically a level of care designed for individuals who need structured mental health, behavioral health or substance abuse programming but do not need 24-hour supervision (ie. inpatient or hosplitalization). Many hospitals and residential treatment programs offer partial hospitalization or day treatment services. Good PHPs are designed to provide support, education, medical monitoring and accountability during the hours of the day often identified as most troublesome for patients. Patients participate in therapeutic groups, structured activities and discharge planning similar to those offered in the inpatient and residential programs. Many patients who have been in an inpatient or residential program can “step down” to this level of care because it continues to provide a high amount of structure and support. 

Insurance generally covers PHP at a per diem rate (daily rate) but will not cover overnight which the hospital or treatment program may charge extra for. Make sure to clearly understand how the treatment center charges for PHP before signing up. Also make sure insurance covers it and what portion it covers. 

So we covered several of the topics and tricks that can help you navigate the insurance company maze when it comes to paying for residential treatment. If you need additional help, contact us today – help@fonthillbehavioralhealth.com 

Getting Insurance to Pay for Residential Treatment

imagesSince paying for therapeutic treatments like residential treatment, intensive outpatient program and therapeutic boarding school with insurance is a big topic we’ve broken this into a few different posts. Today, we’re starting with the basics of the health care act that tightens up the requirements for insurers. Historically, insurance paid for outpatient services and residential treatment was only for more affluent families. But thanks to the mental health parity act, insurers are not more responsible than ever for paying for higher levels of care. 

What’s the Mental Health Parity Act?

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) requires many insurance plans that cover mental health or substance use disorders to pay for coverage for those services that are no more restrictive than the coverage for medical/surgical conditions. Basically, if they pay for medical stuff, they have to pay for mental health and substance abuse stuff – that’s the ‘parity’ part. 

What Does it Cover?

  • Copays, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximums
  • Limitations on services utilization, such as limits on the number of inpatient days or outpatient visits covered
  • Coverage for out-of-network providers
  • Criteria for medical necessity determinations

MHPAEA does not require insurance plans to offer coverage for mental illnesses or substance use disorders in general, or for any specific mental illness or substance use disorder. It also does not require plans to offer coverage for specific treatments or services for mental illness and substance use disorders. However, coverage that insurance plans do offer for mental and substance use disorders must be provided at parity (the same) with coverage for medical/surgical health conditions.

The original MHPAEA was enacted in October of 2008. The main purpose of MHPAEA was to fill the loopholes left by the previous Mental Health Parity Act was legislation signed into law on September 26, 1996 that requires that annual or lifetime dollar limits on mental health benefits be no lower than any such dollar limits for medical benefits offered by a group health plan.

What if My Plan is Not in Compliance?

Before escalating things and contacting state or federal officials, contact Fonthill to see how to ‘encourage’ the insurers to provide appropriate coverage (look for future blog posts on how to communicate and educate your insurers for coverage). If you still have concerns about your plan’s compliance with MHPAEA, you can contact the Feds or your State Department of Insurance. You can contact the Department of Labor at 1-866-444-3272 or http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/contactEBSA/consumerassistance.html. You can also contact the Department of HHS at 1-877-267-2323 ext 61565 or at phig@cms.hhs.gov or your State Department of Insurance at http://naic.org/.

Check back next time when we explore some tricks to getting insurance to pay for treatment – it’s what the insurance companies don’t want you to know. 

 

 

FREE Parent Support Group: Residential Treatment and Higher Levels of Care

If you are a parent who wants to learn more about residential treatment for your teen or young adult child, our Parent Support Group is for you. This group is specially designed for Parents of Teens and Young Adult Children either in residential treatment or in need of residential treatment. Whether you have an acting out teen obsessed with gaming or a daughter exhibiting what seems like an eating disorder, residential treatment may be an option. But how do you choose? How do you know the good ones from the bad? We will walk you through the basics of the therapeutic program world through a discussion format. 

Topics will range from residential and treatment options, how to creatively pay for programs and use insurance, myths vs reality of treatment, parenting advice and skill building, and finally, sharing and venting. This is also an open forum to address any other problems related to acting out teens/adults – you’re not alone. 

WHEN

Mondays 7:00pm Starting September 8

WHERE

Fonthill Counseling Conference Room – 141 Providence Rd Suite 160 Chapel Hill NC 27514

COST

Free

FACILITATOR

Licensed therapist with expertise in residential treatment, counseling and parenting education will lead didactic, interactive and experiential sessions.  

RSVP

Due to limited seating, preregistration is required. Please email us at help@fonthillcounseling for sign-up instructions. 

Is CRAFT the Best Unused Substance Abuse Treatment?

Community Reinforcement Approach and Family Training

Today I’d like to introduce you to one of the most effective treatments/interventions for substance abuse that is rarely used and even-more rarely discussed. It’s called CRAFT and is a behavior therapy approach designed primarily for those with substance abuse issues. Developed by Nate Azrin in the 1970s, his technique focused on operant conditioning to help people learn to reduce the power of their addictions and enjoy healthy lifestyle. CRA was later combined with the FT (…family training), which equips family and friends with supportive techniques to encourage their loved ones to begin and continue treatment, and provides defenses against addiction’s damaging effects on loved ones.

The first part of this acronym – Community Reinforcement Approach (CRA) was originally created for individuals with alcohol issues. Clinicians later went on to apply it to a variety of substance use disorders for more than 35 years. The clinical premise is based on operant conditioning (…type of learning in which an individual’s behavior is modified by its antecedents and consequences), basically, CRA helps rearrange the client’s life so that healthy, drug-free living becomes more interesting/stimulating and thereby competes with substance use.

CRA is designed to be a time-limited intervention. The time limit is decided upon between the clinician and client. For example, a set number of sessions (for example, 16 sessions) or time limit (for example, one year) may be decided upon either at the very beginning of therapy or within the early stages of therapy.

One major goal of CRAFT is to increase the odds of the substance user who is refusing treatment to enter treatment through close support of family members, as well as improve the lives of the concerned family members. CRAFT clinician and participants teach and reinforce the use of healthy rewards to encourage positive behaviors. Additionally,  it focuses on helping both the substance user and the family strengthen their relationships which is often torn apart.

In the model, the following terms are used:

  • Identified Patient (IP) – the individual with the substance abuse issues that is refusing treatment
  • Concerned Significant Others (CSOs) – the relevant family and friends of the IP.

Three goals

When a loved one is abusing substances and refusing to get help, CRAFT is designed to help families learn practical and effective ways to accomplish these three goals:

  1. Move their loved one toward treatment
  2. Reduce their loved one’s substance use
  3. Improve their own lives

This comprehensive behavioral program accomplishes these objectives while avoiding both the detachment espoused by Al-Anon and the confrontational style taught to families by the Johnson Institute Intervention.

CRAFT and these traditional approaches all have been found to improve CSO functioning and increase CSO-IP relationship satisfaction. However, CRAFT has proven to be significantly more effective in engaging treatment-resistant substance users in comparison to the Johnson Institute Intervention and Al-Anon (or Nar-Anon) facilitation therapy. 

CRA Breakdown of Treatment

The following CRA procedures and descriptions are typical recommended clinical content areas for the substance user:

  1. Functional Analysis of Substance
    • explore the antecedents of a client’s substance use
    • explore the positive and negative consequences of a client’s substance use
  2. Sobriety Sampling
    • a gentle movement toward long-term abstinence that begins with a client’s agreement to sample a time-limited period of abstinence
  3. CRA Treatment Plan
    • establish meaningful, objective goals in client-selected areas
    • establish highly specified methods for obtaining those goals
    • tools: Happiness Scale, and Goals of Counseling form
  4. Behavior Skills Training
    • teach three basic skills through instruction and role-playing:
    1. Problem-solving
      • break overwhelming problems into smaller ones
      • address smaller problems
    2. Communication skills
      • a positive interaction style
    3. Drink/drug refusal training
      • identify high-risk situations
      • teach assertiveness
  5. Job Skills Training
    • provide basic steps for obtaining and keeping a valued job
  6. Social and Recreational Counseling
    • provide opportunities to sample new social and recreational activities
  7. Relapse Prevention
    • teach clients how to identify high-risk situations
    • teach clients how to anticipate and cope with a relapse
  8. Relationship Counseling
    • improve the interaction between the client and his or her partner

Communication 

With CRAFT, CSOs are trained in various strategies, including positive reinforcement, various communication skills and natural consequences. One of the big pieces that has a lot of influence over all the other strategies is positive communication. 

Here are the seven steps in the CRAFT model for implementing positive communication strategies.

  1. Be Brief
  2. Be Positive
  3. Refer to Specific Behaviors
  4. Label your Feelings
  5. Offer an Understanding Statement – For example, “I appreciate that you have these concerns, … [or] I understand that you really want to talk right now, and that this feels urgent, … [or] I would love to be there for you.”
  6. Accept Partial Responsibility – This step “is really designed to decrease defensiveness on the part of your loved one. … It’s not about accepting responsibility for things you are not responsible for. … [Rather, it’s to] direct you towards the piece that you can own for yourself. … [For example, ] what you can take responsibility for are the ways that you communicate,” etc.
  7. Offer to help

Take home message – Help decrease defensiveness on the part of the loved one that you are speaking to, and increase the chances that your message is really going to be heard—so, increasing the ability that you have to really get across the message that you want. 

Consequences with specific limits/expectations being in place is essential in terms of communicating your message, but it’s also really important, maybe even more so, to be consistent in following through with those consequences and rewards.

Al-Anon 

As an organization, Al-Anon does not currently adopt, hold, or promote the view that CSOs can make a positive, direct, and active contribution to arrest compulsive drinking, which is the opposite premise of CRAFT. Al-Anon is a fellowship with a focus on helping families and friends, themselves, without promoting a direct intervention process for alcoholics. Because “no one ever graduates” from Al-Anon, it can be viewed as an open-ended program, not time-limited.

Al-Anon view

Regarding the CSO’s relationship to alcoholism and sobriety, the view from the Al-Anon organization can be summarized:

  1. PowerlessnessAl-Anon‘s First Step promotes a powerless view for families and friends, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.”
  2. Disease viewAl-Anon writes, “As the American Medical Association will attest, alcoholism is a disease.” Al-Anon also states, “Although it can be arrested, alcoholism has no known cure.”
  3. Three C’sAl-Anon has a dictum called “the Three C’s—I didn’t cause alcoholism; I can’t control it; and I can’t cure it.”
  4. Loving detachment. Al-Anon “advocates ‘loving detachment’ from the substance abuser.”
  5. Family illnessAl-Anon writes, “Alcoholism is a family disease,” and “we believe alcoholism is a family illness and that changed attitudes can aid recovery.”

Summary

CRAFT is not perfect and is not easy to implement partially due to lack of clinician training and also because of having multiple people involved (ie. IP, concerned others, and clinician). Programs, agencies and clinicians may not even be aware of CRAFT if you ask so if you or a loved one are in need of a non-residential approach that’s well researched and effective, find a substance abuse therapist able and willing to use it. 

Treatment 101: Therapeutic Boarding Schools and Residential Treatment Centers

Today we examine some of the basic differences and similarities between therapeutic boarding schools and residential treatment centers (or programs).

 

THERAPEUTIC BOARDING SCHOOLS

Also known as Emotional Growth Boarding School (not used so much any more), is a boarding school based on the therapeutic community model that offers an educational program together with specialized structure and supervision for students with psychological, behavioral, substance abuse, or learning difficulties. Another newer term is Academy which lends some gravitas and impressions of legacy. Basically, it sounds fancier. 

In contrast with Residential Treatment Centers, which are more clinically focused and primarily provide Behavior therapy and treatment for adolescents with serious issues, the focus of a TBS is toward emotional and academic realignment involving clinical and academic oversight for physical, emotional, behavioral, family, social, intellectual and academic development. Therapeutic and educational approaches vary greatly; with the approaches best described as a combination of interventions often based on the founders’ perspective. The typical duration of student enrollment in a TBS range from one to two years with many schools mandating a minimum stay of at least 1 year. Students may receive either high school diplomas or credits for transfer to other secondary schools. Some therapeutic boarding schools hold educational accreditation within their respective states. TBS’s may be for-profit or non-profit entities and might also be owned by a much larger company (eg. Aspen Education Group, Red Cliff Ascent, Universal Health Services to name a few). 

Therapeutic boarding schools are generally middle schools and high schools that have comprehensive therapeutic interventions (medication management, individual/group counseling, life skills) for the students and a program to help them with self-esteem and problem behaviors. Some are more therapeutic than others while some boarding schools are actually therapeutic but will not list themselves in that category to avoid any negative connotation. 

Most of the therapeutic boarding schools do not have a medical plan for bipolar disorder, and do not provide psychiatrists on staff. If you want your child to attend a therapeutic boarding school he or she needs to be stable enough to attend school with therapy support (typically includes individual counseling 1-2x/wk, group counseling 1-2x/wk and 1 weekly phone conference with parents/therapist), while maintaining a relationship with an outside psychiatrist. Additionally, some schools do not wish to administer psychotropic meds. Ask the admissions folks if this is something important for you. 

 

RESIDENTIAL TREATMENT CENTERS

Sometimes the school that best meets the child’s needs just doesn’t exist anywhere near home, or the child may become too unstable to stay at home and attend school. It may become painfully obvious that a change in environment with a twenty-four-hour peer group and non-parental authority figures may help the child grow and mature in a safe environment. Maybe they are a danger to themselves or others and they need to be in a setting that can monitor their illness and behavior, as well as provide them with tools to understand and deal with their illness while not losing ground in school.

Residential Treatment Centers (RTCs) are medical facilities (most of the time). They should have psychiatrists and nurses on staff. They administer medications, make medication adjustments, and provide therapy and schooling. They are required to follow a student’s IEP.

Residential schools can cost anywhere from $56,000 to over $125,00 per year. A school district may pay part or most of the fee of such a placement, but typically only after a due process hearing. This process is not recommended for parents – Definitely bring in professional support for this (yes, a case manager or educational consultant with expertise in IEP/504 process and laws within your state). 

If you have not noticed the theme, here it is – Parents should ask for help from a clinical case manager or educational consultant. While the vetting and application may seem like an easy project for accomplished parents, the timing, financial and clinical complexities can create significant challenges. The case manager should have any professionals working with your child contribute to the discussion on placement strategies and options. Leave this to the professionals. It costs money on the front end but will save you thousands of dollars over months and years and also help you to understand your child, family and the education/psychological process much better. 

Here are some additional resources:

Fonthill Response to Vice Article: AMERICAN TEENS ARE BEING TRAPPED IN ABUSIVE ‘DRUG REHAB CENTRES’

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.