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David Akiva
David Akiva, BA, MA,
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 167
Experience:  Counselor; Behavioral Consultant
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My 16 yr old son is not making progress at the boarding school

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My 16 yr old son is not making progress at the boarding school for troubled teens we sent him to. We feel the program has too many freedoms given and need an affordable alternative program for him. We live in Phoenix AZ. Are there programs you recommend?

Therapist :

Thanks for bringing your question to JA.com. Do you mind If I ask you few questions to better understand your situation and challenges? I've worked as a treatment program development consultant and psychotherapist for seriously out of control children and teens. I may be able to help out here.

Customer:

I figured you would need more information. Please ask whatever you need to know. A summary of his situation is: he was smoking cigarettes and pot, drinking alcohol and having sex. I was able to stop the drug/alcohol use with testing and consequences, but he continued to sneak smoking. Then he started sneaking out at night, and one time stayed away for an entire weekend. I told him if he did that again I would send him to a boarding school to keep him safe and that it was his choice what he wanted to do about that. He stayed out again, so I sent him to Shelterwood in Independence, MO. He has made very, very slow progress and has regressed in other ways--language, "pestiness", minor things compared to the concerns I previously had. The program at Shelterwood allows the kids a fair amount of freedom but does give consequences when rules are broken. I feel that my son keeps trying to appear to follow the rules without really following them completely. He came home last week for spring break (he lost the privilege to come home at Thanksgiving and again at Christmas, just days before each break) after following the rules for 2.5 months and doing well in school. He signed a contract for his behavior on break and new the primary focus was rebuilding trust with his parents (his dad and I are divorced and split time with him on the break). He followed most of the items on the contract, but it seemed to be a chore for him to do so. One of the last days he was home, he let a friend (girl) who got kicked out of her parents' house, come over in the middle of the night. I took away the rest of the privileges he was going to have for the next two days and made him sleep in the living room so that I could see him. We wanted to send him back early, but no flights were available. When he got back to Shelterwood, they drug tested him (standard procedure) and he tested positive for THC. He apparently picked that up on an outing with his dad; we're still not sure when he actually used it. He was very concerned that he would now "never get out of there" and four days later, this past Friday, ran away with two other kids from the program. We are trying to decide the best course of action when he is found. For now, we will send him back to Shelterwood, but want to look at other options since he's been there 6.5 months without significant progress.

Therapist :

Wow, that was very helpful, detailed information. I'm very sorry you're going through this right now. It must be incredibly difficult at times.

Therapist :

As I'm sure you know by now, one of the most important treatment principals in effective evidence-based treatment for these kinds of behaviors is controlling for negative-peer-socialization and peer-deviancy-training effects. Put simply, keeping your son away from a negative group that can influence his behavioral choices. Residential treatment settings have actually been shown to make things worse, with few exceptions. I'd like to start our exchange here by recommending or asking if you've explored science-proven home based interventions like MST and FFT?

Therapist :

MST: http://mstservices.com

Therapist :

FFT: http://www.fftinc.com

Therapist :

Let me know your thoughts please......

Therapist :

...

Customer:

I tried the Total Transformation program, but got stuck with the sneaking out and not coming home thing. I was at a loss of how to consequence that effectively, so chose boarding school. I don't know what MST or FFT are, but am open to trying things at home (and would actually prefer that) but my son's father is highly convinced that what he needs is to be away.

Therapist :

I understand. It's difficult to manage such problem behavior on your own. In the MST program for example (I provided you with a link earlier that you can copy and paste into your browser to see the program) they actually work with you and your Son. They have a specially trained therapist and program supervisor that work with you in your home to set a behavior an evidence-based program and to systematically address the problems that arise such as the "sneaking out" or other seemingly unmanageable problem behaviors. They also work extensively with establishing systematic home school communication at your son's regular high school. These are very effective programs.

Therapist :

Unlike the "Total Transformation Program" you are actually working with a therapist and behavior change expert. The US federal government recognizes MST and FFT as blue-print or best practices programs because they get better results than any other treatment programs, at home and at school. They also have very positive impacts on drug use behavior and more serious problem behaviors like criminality, violence and serious drug and mental health problems down the road. One of the reasons why is because they systematically target that negative peer influence problem. You may be able to access one of the programs for free!

Therapist :

Let me check if there is an MST program in Phoenix. Back in a moment... But please check out the links I sent above...

Therapist :

If you scroll down on this page you will see FFT and MST programs in your area:

Therapist :

http://www.touchstonebh.org/c_treatment.php

Therapist :

Whether residential or home based (which I recommend most) you want to try your best to get involved with an "evidence-based" program. This means it's been proven to work and to get the longest lasting results after treatment, at 2 and 5 year follow up.

Therapist :

These program often get very strong, sustainable results in less than 6 months....

Customer:

Thank you, XXXXX XXXXX I will look into this.

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