What really happens in a therapeutic school or program, and what kinds of kids go there? And how does one know which program will be right for a particular child/student’s needs? Understanding therapeutic programs and schools was the focus of my most recent trip to Utah where I saw 31 programs in just 10 days. There is so much to report on that I will break it up into smaller postings. Even if you have a dream child and think this isn’t for you, maybe you have a relative, or a friend’s child, who needs help and support. Feel free to share this information with them, or have them contact me.

There are therapeutic schools and programs throughout the United States, but the biggest concentration of them is in the West, and Utah has over 100 of them. So on March 14, I set off with two other educational consultants and friends of mine, May Peach and Louise Slater, of Columbia, South Carolina, to see as much as we could from north to south, east to west in the state of Utah. We undertook this venture because we refer kids to these programs, and there is nothing like a site visit to get a clearer understanding of what each one has to offer that is unique. Some of the places we visited run awesome programs, while others will not be places we refer to any time soon.

What kinds of kids are served? I often hear parents tell me “I don’t want my kid with THOSE kids.” But “THOSE” kids are just like any other – they need to be loved, accepted, and healed of the emotional distress that has caused them to “act out” or “turn inward”. These emotional and/or behavioral issues have caused them, their families, and their friends a lot of pain. The symptoms of distress may be school failure or avoidance, risky behavior, disrespect, oppositional defiance, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, anger management, or a whole host of other manifestations. Some kids turn inward and don’t act out, and those issues are also alarming. Depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, etc, are also symptoms of inner turmoil but may be better hidden if the child withdraws and is not aggressive. Many of these kids are also coping with trauma and attachment issues, or need help to understand how to form close, loving, healthy, and positive relationships.

The good news is that there are many skilled professionals (clinical psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, therapists, etc.) who understand and dedicate their lives to these young people. Through therapy, they help kids confront their issues, accept responsibility for their actions, learn healthy coping mechanisms, and build skills for emotional well-being for the rest of their lives. In short, they help these young people to get their lives back. Each program has a slightly different niche of student they work with, so it’s important for me as a consultant to understand how to best match the child with the therapeutic

The dog and pony show at a therapeutic school

program or school.


In my next postings, I will talk about the difference between types of programs, and let you hear from incredibly courageous kids about what they’ve learned along their own journeys. Stay tuned!

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