Day 5: This morning, Wednesday July 31st, we had a beautiful drive from Sandpoint, Idaho to Eureka, Montana. We went to see Chrysalis and were sorry that we missed Mary Alexine, one of the founders, who was visiting family. We met Carrie Kaare, the Admissions Director, and also got to spend time with Kenny Pannell, the other founder. The campus was as warm and as welcoming as I remember! The grounds, the gardens, the horses, the homes… everything about Chrysalis is top notch, especially their true caring and concern for the girls that they have living on campus. Kenny and Mary have finally moved from the original log house to a smaller, more private house. While Chrysalis is now owned by InnerChange, the essence of the program is very much intact, with Kenny and Mary still in the direct leadership of the program.
After Chrysalis, we traveled to Marion, Montana to tour Wilderness Treatment Center. One of the oldest wilderness programs in the country, and originally designed by and with the same people who created NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School). WTC focuses almost exclusively on students with a primary issue of substance abuse.
Also, unlike other wilderness programs, WTC takes a 17 to 21 day “challenge trip” into remote wilderness areas as part of the therapeutic process. They go so far into remote areas that the therapists literally go on the entire trip! The reason for this challenge trip has to do with the connection between stress and addiction: when people who use drugs get under stress, their “default” self-soothing strategy is to use. By working through some very tough conditions and challenges, students begin to see how their stress triggers negative behaviors. They learn newer better ways to cope with stress. Also, the young men here have weekly chores when they are not in wilderness, like hay bailing, cow branding (see the small calf that just got branded) and other chores around the ranch. They also do community service in the local area. For many young men, Wilderness Treatment Centers is not the first treatment center or place where they have tried to get sober. Much of the work centers around helping define healthy boundaries and tough love through parent and family workshops.
Day 6: We made it to Thursday! We drove from Sandpoint to Bonners Ferry, Idaho. It is very strange for me to be retracing almost the exact route I took more than 5 years ago! I was very excited about this day in our trip because I was able to see two of our Price Group students, one at each school!
Rosemary McKinnon, Director of Admissions, and John Santa, Co CEO, met us at the beginning of our tour of Montana Academy and went through the conceptual underpinnings of the clinical work at MA. In a nutshell, the insurance companies, medical profession, and counselors have created a perception that young people have severe mental health issues that can be treated pharmacologically. What MA believes is that much of what young people need, who do not have a definitive mental illness, is the chance to learn what it means to grow up! What Montana academy believes is that for some reason, such as trauma, divorce, loss, academic struggles, these young people have gotten “stuck” developmentally in an earlier stage of development. In order to “grow up”, students need the intensely secure, safe environment of MA, to slow down, have a chance to be an adolescent, receive caring but consistent feedback about how they have had faulty or magical thinking. Carol Santa then gave us a tour of the classes and campus. One of the very encouraging developments at MA is that they are expanding their “Sky House” program to include high school students. Basically, MA wants students to experience what it is like to be in a more fluid environment and not in a “therapeutic bubble” of a very restrictive campus environment. For several years MA has had a transition program for young adults (17 and 18 year olds) who can attend the community college in Kalispell, get dual enrollment credit for both high school and college, and “graduate” MA while being in town. Now they are going to offer a similar program for younger students where they get to try going to the local public high school, which has a strong IB (international baccalaureate) program.
We enjoyed spending time with Todd Cardin, the Director of Addiction Prevention at MA. His perspective on addiction is that it is in many ways, a disease of “attachment” in which a student has a stronger connection to the substance than to other people. He really helps a student work through addiction issues through individual and group counseling and specific journaling. He is in the process of publishing his workbook!
After Montana Academy, we went to visit Summit Preparatory Academy (SPA). The campus there is absolutely beautiful and it was fun to see the spend time with Todd Fiske, who is now the Executive Director. While not in the Executive Director position, Rick Johnson and Jan Johnson are still very actively involved in the running of the school! We love their therapeutic model! Adolescents need to learn: 1) how to self sooth and delay gratification, 2) they need to learn how to from meaningful relationships with others, 3) they need to live within and crate a meaningful and productive structure, and 4) they need the ability too think and act independently, responsibly, and be future goal oriented. In recent years, SPA has focused on adding more of what they call “edge” work or experiential work, with both students and parents. Also, they intentionally get kids out in the community doing community work and gradually giving the students more freedoms to see if they can indeed create enough structure and healthy boundaries to be successful when they leave SPA. We had a great supper in Kalispell and loved catching up with Rick and Jan, and a therapist there, Emily Lucas. One thing we really like about Summit Prep is that they can take kids with some milder learning differences from an academic standpoint. The students go on “challenge trips about once every 3 months.
Day 7: On our last day, I have to admit, we were all pretty tired! Going to see Intermountain RTC was our SEVENTEENTH program of the week! We also got to see Lori Armbruster from Open Sky and also Lon Woodbury from Woodbury Reports while we were there. Intermountain is a beautiful campus with a very specialized program for younger children! We loved how specialized and individualized the school and the therapy were for each child.
Also, we got to experience a special physical therapy approach that incorporates balance, hand-eye coordination, and visual tracking called Bal-A-Vis-X. I can tell you that I am not too good at hand eye coordination and bilateral movement/tracking so it was a bit challenging! Sami Butler, RN Professional Relations, is such a great hostess and we loved watching the “check in” at the end of the school day between the school teachers and staff and residence staff. This program really works hard to help these very special kids learn how to express feelings, moderate anxiety, and to learn what healthy adult relationships look like.
On the way home, I sat next to a jazz trumpet player!! Do you know I played the trumpet in high school, college, and graduate school? He was from New Orleans and is part of a jazz band called the Dirty Dozen! We talked about Dizzy Gillespie, Chase, Tower of Power, Blood Sweat and Tears, Earth Wind and Fire, Chicago… and he played his trumpet for me! Yeah. Brought back old memories. Thank you for reading all about my trip. We had a great time, but I’m glad to be home, at least for a little while. -Louise.