Why Use Professional Consultation?

Placement of children in residential, treatment, boarding school and outdoor behavioral health programs

Wilderness Therapy Treatment - A non-profit consumer protection information, health, safety, referral & education site.

Comprehensive Information: www.WildernessTherapy.Org

By: Michael Conner, Psy.D
Mentor Research Institute
Revised:  May 21, 2014

"...There is no such thing as the best program. Some programs are great for some children and potentially ineffective with others."

There are a lot of great programs in the United States. There is also a growing body of research and professional opinion that emotional growth, therapeutic school programs and wilderness programs are more effective than traditional treatment approaches. Parents and professionals are referring to and exploring these options when counseling, therapy and even private schools are failing.

There are many excellent alternatives and options for parents who are dealing with oppositional, defiant and youth at risk. But there are also less optimistic realities. Virtually every alternative program, school and health care institution will face challenges at one time or another. But there is a good chance that you will have a good experience with just about any program you select provided that you research that program fully and you choose wisely. For some parents, the challenge will be to insure the best possible experience and the best possible long term outcome for the cost. Programs can be expensive. Not everyone can afford $80,000 a year. Not everyone needs a program that cost that much. We hope the following information will help you decide if consultation is something you should consider.

Most parents need options and a comprehensive plan

Some parents need help understanding and developing comprehensive intervention options that are economical, appropriate to the child's level of need and based on values that parents consider important in raising their child. Developing a complete intervention is more economical and produces a better outcome. Some children need only one intervention. Other need several. A comprehensive intervention might include one or more of the following,

  • crisis stabilization ($700 to $3000)
  • clinical, behavioral and educational needs assessment ($600 to $3,200)
  • preventative intervention ($3000 to $20,000)
  • primary intervention ($8000 to $23,000)
  • therapeutic boarding school ($22,000 to $80,000 per year)
  • transition home or school environment ($12,000 to $26,000)
  • return to home environment with follow-up support ($1,000 to $8,000 per year)

Parents need to find the best program and interventions for their child.

There is no such thing as the best program. Some program are great for some children and ineffective with others. Programs are also not in the business of providing consultation or recommending the best program for a particular child or family. Programs attempt to screen out students who are clearly not appropriate for their program. But screening out children is not the same as matching a child and family with a program. Some programs will refer a family to another program that is owned or within their own network of programs. However, a network of programs is not necessarily better and the range of services they offer are not necessarily more effective. Bigger programs are not better than smaller programs. Programs are very good at highlighting their strengths. Programs normally do not give you information regarding the weaknesses in their program.

Parents need informed and unbiased recommendations.

Programs offer opinions and recommendations that may be self-serving in some cases. Some programs are outright deceptive and misleading as part of their admission process. For instance, no program will put you in touch with a parent who has complained or filed a law suit against a program for negligence, inappropriate billing practices, injury or breach of contract. The fact that a program's actions were not proven criminal does not mean they were not negligent or did not break the law. Parents of a program graduate can end up recommending a program that was in fact unstable, unethical, unsafe or operating illegally.  It is a simple fact that some children will benefit from their experiences in spite of the errors and mistakes, or even episodes of abuse and neglect on the part of a program. Abusive programs do not hurt every single child - but they may hurt far more than necessary to reduce costs. There are programs operated outside the United States that torture children.

Parents need to understand the strengths, weaknesses and track record of a program.

There are some very ethical, professional and honest people working in program and clinical services as well as admissions and marketing. But parents should keep in mind that programs are in no way obligated to provide complete information. There are no ethical requirements placed on programs. Programs are in business and they are not required by law to provide full and complete information that you would expect. The admission-marketing staff (referring to their selves as counselors or Directors) may not be licensed professionals and they may not have the clinical experience necessary to offer a clinical or psychological opinion. Some staff in programs may be  Directors or counselors in title only and they may have no other qualifications. A licensed professional could lose their license if they knowingly provided false and misleading information that affects a child's treatment. Unlicensed admission staff are not obligated to provide you with the best information that would allow you to make the best decisions. That doesn't make them necessarily bad people, but it does mean you are forced to trust them. Keep in mind that some admission staff may be paid on an incentive basis and they are trained to sell you the program.

Parents need to understand exactly how a program will impact their child.

Programs are very different. Parents often have great difficulty fully understanding how programs can or should operate. There is no substitute for experience. Children are also unique and no single program is right for all children. Parent values are also a critical part in selecting a program. Programs are not the same even when they sound similar to the inexperienced person. Parents need to know exactly how a program operates before they entrust their child to a program. The fact that a program is licensed is not enough to insure safety or success. Programs structure their use of consequences, incentives, rewards, choice, challenges, ordeals, social bonding, as well as leadership and communication skills training differently. Some programs rely heavily on punishment and depravation while others refuse to use such practices. These differences alone can have a dramatically different impact on a child. Parents need to be fully informed before they make a decision to entrust their child to the care of others.

A Word of Caution.

There are a few intervention programs who rely on semi-independent marketing organizations that conduct admissions and market several programs heavily on the internet. These organizations are reportedly under great pressure to secure a high number of admissions each month. Staff may be deceptive, outright liars and omit important information when speaking with parents and professionals in order to secure an admission. The general public has no means to fully investigate the assurances, promises and lofty claims presented by an admission-marketing professional. Parents generally do not have enough time to investigate the history of a program or network of programs to make a truly informed choice.



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Copyright 2002 to 2011, Michael G. Conner