What’s Changed?

I’ve just signed a new contract, committing myself to three more years in my wonderful office in the historic Brookwood Exchange Building. As I look forward to continuing to serve families in this welcoming spot, I am also thinking about how the choices available to my clients have changed over the last sixteen years.

Before I began my practice, I returned to college for a graduate degree in counseling and visited a great many traditional boarding schools and schools for students with learning disabilities.  Those types of schools were pretty much all that were available for adolescent students. There were a few emotional growth boarding schools, most of which were pretty in-your-face places.  And there were a handful of wilderness programs.  Most folks sent their students to boarding or military schools if they were acting out at home, and hoped that they would shape up.

Now there are two separate genres of residential schools for our junior and senior high students.  Traditional boarding schools run from the highly competitive equivalent of ivy league colleges to schools which encourage students who are more intellectually limited or who are dispirited and uninspired students.  Many institutions now understand learning issues, so in addition to schools exclusively for students with LD, there are now many traditional schools with learning support departments.

But there has also been a proliferation of therapeutic schools for students with emotional and behavioral problems, substance abuse issues, or more than the usual adolescent angst.  These schools have evolved to combine medical expertise on anxiety, depression, and a plethora of other disorders; a developmental understanding of the stages of growth a young person experiences on the way to adulthood; and an appreciation of the curative benefits of being outdoors and enjoying exercise.  And unlike some earlier models, the new therapeutic schools and programs emphasize a warmth and respect for their young clients.

In my view, the growth of therapeutic programs has helped traditional boarding schools.  Traditional boarding schools no longer find themselves with a portion of each class who really doesn’t belong there.  And young people with more severe emotional problems than typical schools are equipped to handle can get the help they need from the experts at therapeutic schools.

The long term goal at both types of school is the same: to equip a young person to be a capable, well adjusted, productive, happy and – I would hope – moral, young adult.  And at both types of schools I continue to be touched and awed at the caring, dedicated faculties and staffs that serve our young people.  Their warmth as well as expertise is still, after all these years, the first thing I look for as I continue to visit campuses.  And their inspiration is a key ingredient in teaching our children the lessons – both academic and interpersonal – that they will need going forward.