Insider’s Guide: Educational Consulting and Therapeutic Placement

It was warm, breezy day in the little cove where the treatment center was located where my client and her parents were standing. We were all on the back deck of the main building and the parents and I had just arrived. The client smiled after a few minutes of small talk and said, “Um, not to be rude or anything, but who are you?” Her parents looked mortified and embarrassed that she didn’t know who I was.

“My name is Rob Danzman and we’ve met several times before you came to treatment. I helped your parents find a healthy place for you.”

The client, after pausing for a second smiled again and said “I think I was so high I don’t even remember you. Thank you.” She started crying. Her parents started crying and they hugged.

There is a deep and broad gap between what families need and all of the treatment options available. There are a ton of variables to consider when your son or daughter need treatment, whether its outpatient therapy or residential treatment. Insurance, location, modality, diagnosis, and housing options are just a few things families need to consider when figuring out what’s best.

There is a dramatic range in expertise and costs and they are not often aligned. Some of the most expensive consultants with whom I’ve worked have minimal understanding of psychological conditions and the evidence-based approaches that best treat them. The goal of treatment is either assessment, intervention or maintenance of a behavioral health issue. If a consultant does not have a combination of academic and experiential background they may not serve clients well. In fact, my agency has worked with clients who were given terrible advice on what types of service to use. You would never have a mechanic give advice on spinal surgery because, while the mechanic may be really well-intentioned and personable, they may due considerable harm. The same is true when dealing with behavioral issues, many of which either in the short or long term may have life and death implications.

Evidence-based interventions need to be well understood and require clinical expertise. Therapeutic placements do a great job of presenting themselves as comfortable, safe and a good value yet many do not provide evidence-based treatments. Evidence based treatments are not for broad spectrum of psychological issues.

Another confusing aspect is the terminology. Decades ago, educational consultants did a few things and did them well – they focused on private school and college prep admissions. They provided deep advice on testing strategy, applications, and how to write a great essay. They coached clients through interviewing and often the whole education process. But over the years, ECs expanded their service offerings, often outside of their area of expertise. ECs without credentials or appropriate degrees started advising parents on treatment recommendations, presumably assuming that applying to a treatment center is similar if not the same as applying to college. Since those wild-west days of ECs pushing kids into cookie-cutter programs and charging a fortune, more clinicians with actual therapeutic experience have entered the EC world. Granted, there is still the old guard of older, white women who had their own children placed in a treatment center and saw an opportunity to help other families while making good money in an unregulated field. There are essentially only one entity that oversee ECs – the Independent Educational Consultants Association. The division continues to widen between those serving families

EC should not receive gifts from treatment centers though it’s not unusual for them to have travel expenses covered when they are touring programs.

There is a symbiotic relationship between treatment centers and ECs. Treatment centers count on ECs for referrals. ECs count on treatment programs to cover travel expenses and, sometimes, provide referrals back to the ECs when a client needs a different placement or the family needs advice on treatment options.  

Where to Find These Magical Beings

First thing to do is just google the terms “educational consultant” and “treatment.” You should get plenty of options that pop up. You could also just contact my agency but I’m a bit biased since I believe we do great work for a fair price.

Next way to find a placement consultant is to go to the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) website (below in the Resources section) and look for the ‘Search’ option under the Parents tab. All of the people listed in this resource are paying members of IECA and met the IECA’s criteria. If you are going this route, I encourage you to, at a minimum, look for a consultant who has a graduate degree in a behavioral health discipline like counseling, psychology or marriage and family. Pastoral counselors or ‘Qualified Mental Health Practioners’ are not nearly qualified enough. It’s even better if they are a licensed professional (eg. Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Licensed Clinical Social Worker).

Do Your Homework

A great EC can support your family through the most difficult times while a bad EC can cost your valuable time and money and have nothing to show for it or set things back even further with a terrible placement.

Consult: If you can’t meet them face to face, then schedule a call with them. Before you go into any details, dig into the business end of their service first. Do they offer therapeutic placement consulting or do they focus on prep school and college? What are ALL the costs associated with what they do. What is their degree in and what active licenses do they hold. Ask if they are a member of any associations and if they have any disciplinary actions against them. Ask when and how they got into educational consulting. Ask what the scope of their work is – Do they meet clients at treatment centers for admissions? Do they continue to work with families while the client is in treatment? Do they assist with discharge planning?

Payment: Another thing to consider is how the ED gets paid. It’s important to understand whether the EC sends you an invoice and bills as they go along or do they receive a retainer upfront. Though not a deal breaker, I don’t like asking for retainers from clients for the same reason I don’t like attorneys collecting a retainer from me. They have my money and pull from it as they do work. I’d prefer to pay for things as we go along through a project. We only accept credit cards so that a) there is protection for the client and b) we don’t need to run after clients to pay an invoice. We also itemize every time we charge a client’s card so that everything is 100% transparent. Ask about how folks get paid before you agree to work with them. If they can’t agree to provide itemized billing or seem too focused on money upfront, you may want to consider working with someone else.

Guarantee: It’s unlikely anyone is going to offer you a guarantee for their services but it doesn’t mean you can’t ask about their responsibility if a treatment option doesn’t work or a treatment option can’t be found in a reasonable amount of time.

Cost

Take a deep breath for this section. Expect to pay between $10,000 – $300. Yes, I know that’s a ridiculously large range but there are no regulations on what an EC can charge. The spectrum of fees is truly that big. Some charge as much as $10,000 for a placement. They may put in 5-10 hrs but their rate doesn’t change. Other ECs charge a lower rate but most have a basic flat fee which covers support and advice through the admissions process. In my humble opinion, a lower flat fee or hourly rate is more fare. For instance, my agency has a free consultation to determine if someone really needs an EC. If we determine the client really can’t find an appropriate treatment option on their own, we charge $179 per hour and use as few hours as possible. We’ve had client come to us after spending $25,000 on placement services only to realize the ECs they were using had no clue about severe clinical issues like substance abuse and schizophrenia. Fortunately, we quickly found them services and billed them less than $500.

FAQ

Q: I know how to do internet researching. Why can’t I just find a treatment program on my own?

A: You could totally do this own your own. There are three easy steps. First – get a graduate degree in some counseling or psychological discipline to learn the clinical aspects of behavioral health and intervention. Next – work in the behavioral health industry for about five years so you can see what makes a program great and what makes a program terrible. Finally – go and visit 50 treatment programs. Granted, that will take a few years, and by the time you’re finished visiting, staff at each program will likely have changed (so start over). Ultimately, this experience  will be very helpful in determining which programs are good and which ones you would not trust to take care of your house plants. After all these steps, you should totally do some internet searching to decide which program is most effective at serving your loved one.

Resources

Independent Educational Consultants Association – https://www.iecaonline.com/

Program Tour: Pros and (Not Many) Cons of Edge Learning Community

Findings of a Summer Day Tour at Edge Learning and Collegiate Community in Chicago

Among the towering buildings and rattle of platformed trains in downtown Chicago is a vibrant support community for young adults called Edge Learning Community. I met with their Director of Business Development, Chris McClaughlin, on a toasty Summer day recently. He was kind enough to meet me in the downstairs lobby  – a modern but elegant entry convenient to one of the major stops for the Chicago Transit Authority (map here).  

Up we went to their expansive and deceptively large common area. Sleek, clean furniture juxtaposed the industrial feel of the exposed brick walls and weathered hardwood floors. This was just the beginning of an exceptional space and community.

To the left, Chris escorted me to their rooftop ‘backyard’ area complete with grass (actually astro turf), outdoor projector for movies, lounge chairs and hot tub. Sweet views of Chicago were the bonus. The space felt way more private than you would imagine. Despite giant glass and steel over shadowing the old building on multiple sides, one has a sense of serenity. Not a bad start to a tour.  

After talking about some of the history of the buildings and infamous Chicago characters, we cut through the inside common area out onto another patio on the West side. This was a super-call outdoor bar and grilling area which felt more like a bistro than therapeutic program. Chris pointed out the buildings where Al Capone had secret get-a-ways, we talked about the history of the city and then, after the late-morning sun started to cook us, we got around to talking about the program. It’s center around what they refer to as Core Competencies: Whole Brain Thinking (Rational & Irrational Thinking); Creativity and Continuous Learning; Effective Communication; Leading within Teams; Community Stewardship; Sustaining Healthy Relationships; Self Care; and Management of Resources and Technology. Rather than cutting and pasting from their site, I recommend going to their site to read through the details.

After lunch in the kitchen/dining room, we toured the rooms that, to be honest, felt way more like high-end apartments with large kitchens. High ceilings and plenty of space for single or multiple students make each room a great space for studying, hanging-out and even cooking. Chris and I spoke about the limitations of many programs that only accept young adults in recovery. Edge is well-prepared and works often with folks struggling with addiction but they don’t think of themselves as a substance abuse program. It is not for those in the very early stages of recovery. It is definitely not for those that do not have basic internal locus of control and responsibility for their behaviors. The heavy lifting of support for each resident is performed by coaches who, for all intents and purposes are therapists as shared with me by their clinical director Jason Wynkoop. They are highly trained and competent to work with young adults struggling with organization, recovery, mental health issues and behavioral support needs.

Our tour and day ended high above Chicago talking about Edge, it’s program and the bright future they have since so many older, more established programs are just not meeting the current needs of students today. To summarize, here are some Pros and Cons to consider. If you need more insight, contact us. We’re happy to share what we know to help you make the best decision.

Pros

Aesthetics: Fantastic common areas (no crappy This-End-Up blocky wood sofas that smell like dog). Mature, hip and nicely appointed apartments with great views . As a side-note, I had no idea This-End-Up was still in business until I researched the link for this review. Wow.

Location: If you are freaked out by silence, if you can’t stand wilderness, and if you prefer the hyper-rhythmic flow of the city, Edge is where you need to be, especially if you are in college and need support.  It’s close to huge parks, museums, great restaurants, entertainment and tons of public transportation. Cars are definitely not needed here.

Independence: For those needing collaborative but not overbearing support from super competent professionals, Edge is your place. There is an expectation you are in school and keeping busy during the day.

Cons

Model: It’s not a bad thing but if you are looking for a super traditional transition program this may not be for you (or your son or daughter). Their collaborative approach rocks for some but may feel overwhelming to those that just want a bed for their head.

Location: If the cacophony of big city life wears you down, this is not the program for you. Edge’s DNA is inseparably tied to the fast-paced hustle of 2.715 million neighbors. Fit is a big deal when looking for support during the already stressful (and fun) time of college and young adulthood.

To be honest, there just aren’t many Cons – nothing here is inherently bad. Quality, in this case, is clearly defined by fit. For those ready for the interdependence of young adulthood we highly recommend visiting Edge for one of their informational meetings/weekends, talking to alum and getting a tour before committing to Edge. Once you know it’s the right place for you, you’ll experience the intense, positive support of this fantastic, innovative community.

 

Services: Concierge Service as Compliment to After-Care

In 2012, Fonthill took an unprecedented step beyond the traditional case management, beyond after-care and beyond educational consulting model to meet the complex needs of our client families around the country. After gathering feedback from professionals, clients and colleagues, Fonthill’s launched an exclusive Concierge Service as part of our Case Management package. Here is a list of our updated current offerings which is still a work in progress. We’d love your feedback on what you think is missing and what your experience has been with services like this.

Coordinating Safety/Security Measures: Scheduling and overseeing alarm installation, security company/consultation for home or travel

Obtaining Tickets: Concerts, special events and sporting events

Coordinating Transportation Services: Planning all aspects of travel to and from home, school or work

Travel and Vacation Planning: Planning all aspects of recreational travel and vacation planning

Restaurant Recommendations and Reservations: Providing specific recommendations and reservations

Pet Services: In-home pet care during school, work or anytime support is required

Personalized Shopping and Delivery: Extra set of hands or full pick up and delivery from grocery stores, local mall or delivery center like UPS or USPS

Dry Cleaning Pick-up and Delivery: One item or Ten, we’ll drop off and pick up at the dry cleaner of your choice or ours if requested

Modified House Sitting: Waiting for repair person to show? Waiting for a delivery? We’ll be there when you can not

Gift Pick Up or Return: Finding the perfect gift at the last minute or returning something to the store

Meal Delivery: Hate the idea of some random pizza delivery person? We’ll go and pick up any meal for you

Bill Paying: We will help set up or drop off payments for any bill

Auto Care: We will schedule the maintenance, drop it off and pick it up

Home Organization and Cleaning: No time for cleaning? We will coordinate with dependable cleaning service to keep your place beautiful

Prescription Pick Up: Discrete medication pick-up for both over the counter and prescription

Repair and Service Calls: Not sure who to call when something goes wrong? We’ll set up any home repairs

Sick Care: Any errands that you need while you are sick in bed

Personal Chef: Take-out got you down? No time or interest in cooking? We’ll bring in a personal chef for healthy, quality meals

Landscaping: We will set up landscape services and ensure regular service to keep your yard looking lovely, leaf removal in the Fall, snow/Ice removal in the Winter

Charter a Private Jet, Yachts or Helicopter: Want a special travel experience? We’ll charter a private jet, yacht or helicopter

Fashion and Stylist Consultant: When you need help finding your style we’ll call in the expert stylists for fashion, make-up and professional identity

Tee Time: We’ll set up tee time for you and friends at the local course and make sure everything is set for a great day on the links

Moving Assistance: We’ll pack/unpack your boxes and put it all away before you step foot in your new home

We’ve had fantastic response to these additional services which allow parents to feel confident their adult children stepping down from treatment into a transition program or independent apartment or dorm room is completed supported. From a clinical perspective, our concierge service started some interesting discussions among therapists and counselors about where the lines are and how we define ‘comprehensive care’ within the substance abuse, mental health and behavioral health world.