WWASP – Avoiding the Bad Solutions While Finding the Good.

Yesterday the New York Times prominently published an article on a group of programs for troubled kids called WWASP -The Worldwide Association of Specialty Programs.


They are the kind of places we try to steer families away from when they are considering options for their students with emotional issues. The programs look good online. And individual schools’ affiliations with WWASP are sometimes hard to tease out… They cover their connections (i.e.their tracks) quite well. But the programs are abusive, when supportive is called for. Their approach runs counter to everything we know to be helpful for troubled youth.

Here’s what I wrote the NYT Editor:

WWASP-related schools’ approach to modifying adolescent behavioral issues is both unethical and counter-productive. Fortunately there are also a number of therapeutically sound, supportive, and caring programs that seek to address the issues that disquiet youngsters today. Successful, positive therapeutic boarding schools are programs that exude caring; incorporate individual, family and group therapy; have psychiatric support for medication management (often reducing medications); continue the educational process; incorporate athletics, arts and community service; and use the milieu as a microcosm to teach interpersonal skills and to try out new, more positive behaviors. Programs like those which are offshoots of WWASP do not foster a sense of support from staff; do not model pro-social skills because they restrict communication; and are more likely to teach a young person to bottle up their anger and depression than to overcome it.

The programs that are incorporating our latest research about adolescent emotional illness are doing a fine job. In visiting these programs regularly (as I do) one comes away inspired at the dedication and positive attitudes of the therapists who work with these kids. The youth of today are affected by anxiety, depression and lack of resilience more than their forebears. We need the good programs for the students for whom all local options have been exhausted and proved ineffectual. But the WWASP-type programs that are still treating troubled youngsters as if they were animals who need to be broken are a blight.