Open Sky Wilderness testimony

I attended Open Sky Wilderness Therapy for about 2 and a half months (or 10 and a half weeks) earlier this year. It has been a few months since I “graduated”. I did not go to an aftercare (or follow up program) and I am home now.

Before going, I had depression problems, drugs, being suicidal, all that good stuff. I was given the choice by my (new-ish) therapist after a serious drug incident to be hospitalized or to go to Open Sky. Going to a hospital did not seem great and I knew that he and my parents would get me over to Open Sky anyways. I reluctantly agreed to go with a sliver of faith that the program would help.

I arrived in the Durango airport, CO, and my father handed me to the program’s transporters (3 people in their mid-late 20s at most). I was driven to urgent care for a checkup, blood drawn, and a drug test. We went to a mexican place for lunch which was kinda nice. Then we went to “the ranch”: a dumpy shack they used for storage. There I handed over all my belongings and was handed my new set of belongings. It was standard stuff like rope, tarp, footwear, clothes, my weekly ration of unappetizing hippie food (the block of cheese was nice though), etc. We drove a long way over to the Utah desert in the middle of almost nowhere.

When I first arrived at the campsite and saw my group, I immediately knew I had made a mistake. Six boys, three guides, everyone covered in dust. Everything was dirty. The guides were young like the transporters, whereas I was hoping they’d be older and more experienced. I was on “gateway”, as all new patients are, where I sit separate from everyone with a guide and get a student mentor. I was placed on “high safety watch” because of being suicidal, which meant a guide was within arm’s reach at all times, and a bunch of other annoying safety precautions. At night, I had to sleep in the guides tent with a tarp over me and a guide at each side.

The next day we did a 6 mile day hike (no pack, just a small satchel of stuff) through the desert valley. The day went pretty standard, which I’ll outline in a bit. What was important about the second day was that I fully understood the program that day. One of the largest themes of the program was copious consequences and trivial rewards. Consequences were things like 20 minutes of silence for cursing, having the entire group walk to someone’s shelter if they forgot something, or “drills” where if you didn’t do something in a slotted amount of time you’d have to do it over again until you made the time. Drills applied to things like washing cups, making shelters, putting on backpack, packing up, and other things. There wasn’t much reward other than you get to make a quesadilla (called cheesy torts. There was a weird vocabulary here) if you bow drill a fire (bust a fire), or bs like “sense of accomplishment” for things. This system is designed to basically shrink your world. I pledged myself that I would not become a dog to the consequence-reward system that day. It actually worked out that fire busting and hard skills came natural to me and I basically never got in trouble. That basically made it so I was immune to this part of the program.

There are essentially four steps to the program: the four “directions”. South>West>North>East. The South is learning hard skills like pointless knots and building construction packs (c-packs, a backpack from tarp and string). In the south you get your impact letter, usually a week or so into the program. That letter is your parents listing all the reasons for being sent to the program. You must read it out loud, in full, to the entire group. You then respond to the letter by mostly repeating it to your parents so they feel heard. The south lasted 5 weeks for me, which was within normal range.

The West you get a backpack. In the west you’re supposed to do deep self discovery. This is where most of your work gets done and it generally takes a similar or longer time than the south. One of the important things you do in the west is a letter of responsibility, or the impact letter response with more “i’m a screw up and I regret the past”. I spent the remainder up till the last few days in the west.

The north you get a headlamp, and it’s all about leadership. Leadership, leadership, leadership. The east basically you are a master at the program and you are perfect woohoo. There’s a book “the student pathway” where guides sign off various things like makes a fire or weekly things like was a positive influence. You’re supposed to get everything signed off to move. In practice, your guides or therapist just move you whenever and most people graduate in the north. I had about half the things signed before I moved to each direction. You graduate whenever your therapist and parents decide. 10-12 weeks is normal (weighted towards long stays).

The program actually moved to Colorado on my 3rd day, so I’m speaking from that point of view (setting only changes a few things anyways). The week looked as such: Wednesday is guide changes and food (and other needed items) distribution as well as “group meditation” (everyone comes together to do yoga and meditation and see the graduates leaving), thursday you leave for expedition, you get back to base camp monday, tuesday is chores, shower (pouring water from a watersack over you with pisspoor shampoo and conditioner), and meet with therapist. Tuesday you also send a letter in response to the letter you received from your parents the week before, and then you get a new letter from them. Therapist reads all letters (but not censors) by the way. About the food. Weekly personal food was 2 bags of peanuts with raisins (“gorp”), one bag of oats and raisins (“muesli”), one bag of straight oats for oatmeal (no sugar ever), a 1 lb block of cheese, and four pieces of any mix of oranges and apples. You get 1 hot meal per day, which is dinner. Dinner often came out to be a crappy tasting quinoa mush with vegetables or whatever. Students cooked the meals and sometimes the ingredients were good to make something like cheesy steak fries. My group had some good cooks but if you don’t have real creative people you’re out of luck for a not disgusting meal.

One week, I snuck a meal plan past a new guide which meant we had a meal of just mashed potatoes and other cooked tomatoes. On expedition you hike to a different random campsite each day. Usually there’s a “layover day” where you stay at a campsite for 2 consecutive days which is actually really helpful. You hike carrying all your stuff you need for the expedition and some group items. The shortest day of hiking I’ve had was around an hour, and the longest was eight. It’s pretty variable, and also the longer hikes were used as a tool to draw out difficult emotions. It was nothing excessive, but there was one time during an 8 hour day where the last hour and a half a guy had run out of water, and since Open Sky has a strict no sharing of consumables policy for “health reasons” (you wear the same clothes a week straight so I’m calling bs), he just had to go on until we reached camp (I give this example not because I think of it as abusive, but to highlight another one of the stupid program rules).

The one of the main goals of the program is dealing with hard emotions and being vulnerable. You’re expected to be willing to share basically everything with everyone. They treat it like everyone in the group (and program, parents, therapist) has the right to know everything about you. Because you’re not willing to share past trauma or deep things you are ingenuine. For me personally, I am selective of who I share things with. It does not mean I can’t open up; I just choose not to. I also do not wear my emotions on my sleeve.

At Open Sky, god forbid you’re an introvert. They try to funnel you into this narrow definition of a good, functioning person: extroverted, super vulnerable, positive, and open. There’s this thing called “busting and ‘I feel’” where you call the entire group to stop everything and listen to you say “I feel ____ when __. I believe I feel this way because _. My request [goal] for myself is _. My request for the group is __.” You can do this for any emotion, and you can imagine the really trivial ones that are called sometimes. I hated doing it. Didn’t do anything for me and I hate being the center of attention. Basically my therapist’s entire treatment plan for me was around “busting I feels”. It held me back a great deal the fact that I hated doing it. I’d tell my therapist that it was pointless and not helping (because I actually did give it some effort). To this she’d only have my weekly goals to do more of them.

Another main goal of the program was relationship building with parents. It was evident a few weeks in that you’re not there for you; you’re there for your parents. Your parentals decide how long you stay. They decide where you go next. This power dynamic of non-adult patients basically having their legal rights in the hands of their parents ends up being the child conforms to the parents’ demands. Now to talk about the guides as a whole. I actually really liked the guides. They can be characterized generally as young, not wealthy hippies, who truly believe that they are making a positive change in the world through working for this program. They were of really strong character, which also meant they enforced the stupidly strict rules of the program. Their only qualifications really are that they are good people and can hike.

By each kid’s end of Open Sky journey, they generally appear to be very much improved and have high hopes going out, which affirms the guides work. The guides generally don’t contact people after they leave. I don’t hold anything against the guides, because I built some decent relationships with them and they are just trying to make ends meet and do meaningful work. Bonus: they mostly live out of their cars.

My therapist is another story however. As outlined earlier, she was mostly ineffective in helping me. In regards to the aforementioned safety watch, she moved me to medium safety watch (guide gotta be within 10 feet, but no other restrictions really) after a week and a half and kept me there for another 2 weeks. She used it less as a safety precaution and more of leverage to get people to be vulnerable. The only thing she knew of how each week went was what the guides told her. I’d get 1 hour long session with her a week. That’s it. So essentially I only got one hour of actual professional therapy per week. In session we’d talk about how my week was, I’d say some emotions I felt about things that might aswell be drawn from hat, and I’d get my weekly goals (the sharing I feels goals).

After I left the program, my parents told me that she had been pressing my parents to keep me in longer and to send me to “aftercare”. The therapists relentlessly pressure parents to do this to milk as much money as possible. I never got to like her throughout the program, just hate her slightly less. My therapist was probably like other therapists: second rate therapists who went to low tier colleges for their degrees (one I knew of didn’t even have one). I also got 2 phone calls during my time there, one in the middle and one at the end. The one at the end was just about going home logistics so it hardly counted. You sit with your therapist during those calls, which is how they keep you from asking to be taken home.

Few people ever get to go home after the program. I actually went home (after a trip to China hehe) because I was a) turning 18 a week after I left and I sure as hell not going to aftercare and b) because my parents wanted me home and I had very little history with any sort of therapy. I only knew 2 other people who went home, and that was because their families simply did not have the money. Towards the end of the stay you meet an educational consultant, and they tell your parents where to send you based on probably an hour long meeting. Everyone thinks they’re going home right up until it’s decided where they’re going. Everyone thinks they’re special and their parents are not like the other ones who send their kids away. I was the only one for whom that belief was true.

A few months later, I find myself worse off than before. I have to maintain a fake relationship with mother. My therapist (who sent me to open sky) is a proxy therapist just to keep school happy. I have no support, no friends, nothing. If you’re a parent thinking of sending your child there, don’t. You’ll end up paying $50k to make your kid fit your ideals. It won’t make them better. If you’re someone who’s parents want to send you to somewhere like Open Sky or even any therapeutic institution, your parents can have you snatched from your room whenever they want. I can’t give any other advice than to do everything you can in order to stay out of this system. I was really lucky to only spend 2 and a half months in the troubled teen industry. I can almost guarantee you won’t be as lucky as me.

Source:
Open Sky Full Testimony (Reddit Troubled Teen meesage board)

Student testimony about Turn-about Ranch

Today Turn-about Ranch is mostly known to have created the hostiled atmosphere, that led to a murder of an employee. Sadly little have been done by the authorities to prevent a similar tragedy in the future. Here is a student testimony found on Google maps.

If I could rate this place 0 stars I would. I ‘attented’ TAR back in 2007. By attended, I mean taken to, while ripped from my bed at 5am by a 6’3 Samoan and an average white male.

This was completely my mother’s idea. I was generally a good kid, I just smoked pot now and then, as every teenager does, and since my mother and father were completely absent throughout my entire childhood, as I was raised by our two maids in China, they decided to all of a sudden ‘care’ when I turned 17. This for-profit institution, does nothing but damage your child. The day I returned, I hung out with the same friends, the same girls, and continued to smoke weed. On April 28th I’ll be graduating with my masters. Do you know what straightened me out? Joining the army after highschool. This place is a sham. They will cuck you for every coin you have.

Sources:

Island view RTC testimony

Island View RTC is today named Elevations Residential Treatment Center having kept most of the employees working as they used to under the old ownership. This is a testimony found on Fornits about the time when the facility operated under the old name

Interesting that I found this site. Anyways, I was at Island View for 13 months from Aug 99- Sep 00. Though I hated my stay there it did do some good for me, Iâ??m graduating from college this year and attending a graduate program in Psych oddly enough. Despite the positives I received from this program I still have nightmares almost every night where I wake up in that fucking building. For spring break in 2004 I drove from Colorado to southern California and decided to make a quick pit stop in good ole Syracuse UT. Upon arriving in the parking lot I had to get out and puke. Fuck that place, I never wish anyone to have the experiences that I had in attendance. If any of you all remember Tony I am still in contact with him, he abandoned IV soon after I left the program to start up his own.

Speaking of which…
I managed to get in contact with a few of the people
Lets see….

  • Blake: killed him self 6 months after graduation
  • Sean: Jail
  • Mike: Jail
  • Greg: Jail
  • Porter: went home for a visit on halloween of 99, did an Extacy binge at a halloween rave. (all of the above were considered model residents)

Great Program guys, real high success rate.

I also remember that they had me on so many psychotropic that I couldnâ??t think half of the time. It was like I was stuck in a shell of a body and was unable to feel anything. Upon graduation I got off of those drugs ASAP and have been doing fine ever since.

Out of all of the people in the program I would have to say fuck the staff the most, Fuck Kendall, fuck Sherry. I remember once Kendall threw me in that room because we were on ‘unit arrest’ or what ever it was called because I thanked him for the food he brought me. His justification was that I spoke when we were told to not speak. I got pretty angry about that and asked him “Why are you being so fucking rude?” he picked me up and threw me into wall and told the staff the reason why my head was bleeding was because I did it to myself. ( I was admitted for drugs mostly, but no self mutalation) As a result of this more staff was called in. They held me down and gave me a injection of thorezine and I woke up the next day with bruises on my head. I told my therapist at the time, but he didnt belive me.

Despite the EXTREME negative experiance I had in Utah, I will admitt that there was some good to it. My grades did improve, I got into a good undergrad program and a good grad program, and for the most part I cut down on drugs (I only drink now but Im 22 and that aint illegal). The folks in charge of the IV program seriously because it does have some great potential.

PS:
Another thing that pissed me off is when my parents tried to convince me that what they did was harder on them that it was on me, that is bull shit. To any parent reading this thread: I understand it is difficult to send your child away, belive me I do (I currently work for a non-prof at risk adolecent program, and I see parents send their children away quite frequently). You cannot possibly imagine what your child goes through in these programs. For the most part I think everyone whom has attened one of these programs will tell you that it did in fact scar them in some way for the rest of their life. for me, it is the nightmares, I can deal with that. Some people however cannot, my friend Blake for example, have you ever been to a funeral for a 17 year old kid who committed suicide by eating a bottle of the very drug that was prescribed to him by IV? Im willing to bet not. Also to any kid that just got out of that program and is spouting out the usuall RTC high that people tend to get post graduation, wait a year when the nightmares of returning dont go away and then tell me that IV had no adverse side effects.

Sources:

How a stay at Solstice East RTC felt – by “couchland_prevails”

This testimony was found on Reddit.
—-

trigger warning; psychiatric abuse

I went to solstice east for 14 months and graduated the program, and now I’m really struggling with the scars it left me with. This is really hard for me to write right now but I want to let other people know.

My parents lied to me and said I was going to school after my psychiatry appointment but I was taken to solstice instead. I had just gotten my wisdom teeth out but they wouldn’t give me any soft food to eat, when I didn’t eat because my face hurt too much they threatened to put me on eating protocol(where they basically force you too eat everything on your plate). When I first got there my therapist, Rob, took me to do equine therapy with my parents and then took my phone. After that he counted my scars in a condescending tone. Then I was made to be strip searched by two female staff and they went through all my stuff and took several things away.

I don’t remember much of my time there except for experiences that were exceptionally good. I do remember the general experience though. I was body checked twice, that’s where they make you strip so they can see if you’re self-harming. Every time you come back from a visit they search you and your stuff. When they confiscate food staff eats it. I was put on precautions which is where you have to sleep in the living room, you have to keep the bathroom door cracked open when you go in and count loudly, and you have to be at arms length with a staff. We were only allowed a short amount of time for phone calls once a week and only with parents and we weren’t allowed to say anything negative about the program. All of our incoming and outgoing mail was censored and sometimes withheld. There were “interventions” where you were not allowed to talk and were kept away from the other students.

There were a lot of really immature staff who were on a power trip. My therapist didn’t do much therapy with me, he wouldn’t talk about my trauma with me, and he insulted and gaslighted me constantly. We weren’t allowed to talk about certain things with the other students, only the staff, but staff had to put it in notes for our therapists so I didn’t talk about any thing that was bothering me.

What really helped was the other students, from them I learned how to take care of myself and how to cope so now I’m actually doing really good behavior wise, I broke my addictive habits, but I’m absolute shit mentally and I’m afraid to talk about it for fear of hurting my friends(something solstice taught me). there were some amazing staff but they were a definite minority.

I am afraid of talking about my problems with friends for fear of hurting them with my problems, my authority issues are intensified, my psychosis still goes undiagnosed(I was gaslighted about it), and I suspect I have some sort of ptsd from a lifetime of abuse(I’m pretty sure i had it before solstice but they wouldn’t listen to me). solstice is a huge source of trauma, I affects my behaviors and the way I view the world, I dissociate almost daily, sometimes when faced with a trigger about mental health care I get very sudden intense spells of dizziness like my brain is freaking out trying to shut everything down. solstice also was not autism friendly, the staff and therapists are horribly ableist. I’m currently at a autism specific dorm going to college and my therapist said i was going here to “take care of the autism thing”, thankfully this place i’m at right now is nothing like he must’ve thought. they don’t give a shit what i do as long as i go to class.

Now i am trying to heal but it’s really difficult and life sucks right now, I don’t trust mental health professionals anymore so it will take me a very long time to trust my new therapist(not affiliated with a program), but so far she seems to agree that solstice did me harm(from the little i’ve told her) so thats good.

That’s about all my memory holds about solstice right now.

Sources:

A mother about her sons stay at Liahona Academy

Liahona Academy is a boot camp styled boarding school for boys located outside Virgin in Utah. A boy died there in 2010.

My son went here. This is what he wrote:

“I went to Liahona from January 08 to March 09, and it is an absolutely dreadful place, a wolf masked in sheep’s clothing. It is a horrible facility that lies to parents so Clay, the owner, can get as many kids in there to fill up his pockets.

They lie to parents about the disciplinary actions. Some of the disciplinary actions that I am certain are not relayed to parents include; being sat in a chair forced to stare at a wall for 10 hours+ a day, not being given proper nutrition, being forced to do excessive cardio activity (including carrying large rocks and sprints) with seemingly no regard for possible health problems or risks, grown men (the staff) getting physical with the kids, etc.

The kid’s letters are read and censored “if necessary.” Any attempts to relay information of disciplinary actions by a student to his parents will result in the student’s letter not being sent.

When the kids first arrive they are tricked into thinking they are going to a zoo and then they are forced to act like animals in front of their peers. If the student refuses he will end up with punishments mentioned above.

The facility lies to the parents telling them the students go on a weekly activity out into the surrounding area. That is not true. In order to go out on the weekly activity the students have to earn it by displaying exemplary behavior, and I mean exemplary. Simply forgetting to push in their chair or to turn off the lights twice would result in a student missing the activity. They also mention on their website the statement that the students enjoy “daily recreational activity”. Unless they consider forcing them to run miles on end, and punishing them even more severely for refusing to do so, recreational activity then that is also a lie. Recreational activity mostly only occurs on Saturday and Sunday, and like the weekly activity students must display exemplary behavior in order to be eligible.

Repeatedly the kids at the facility are used for free manual labor, and the staff have the audacity to tell the kids to be grateful for the opportunity to do so. Free manual labor I personally performed while there includes; helping staff members move multiple times (as well as family/friends of the owner), cleaning up the backyard of a staff members house, landscaping work at a staff member’s house, and landscaping work at the facility.

The program is set up in a brainwashing manner that turns the students into obedient mindless drones by removing their identity and operating the facility in an authoritative like fashion. All student’s heads are shaved and they are given the same clothes to wear. The rules are very strict and the punishments are very harsh. For example, writing a 300 word essay and miles of extra running being dished out to the students for things as small as forgetting to push in their chairs or tuck in their shirt.

They force the kids to memorize meaningless quotes that are pages long week in and week out. Punishments for refusing, or failing, to do so are quite severe. The student would miss the weekly recreational activity, and weekend recreations. If a student never does the quote then essentially his stay at the facility is doubled. Advancement in the program is based off of points aquired and if you do not memorize the quote then you only get half points for that week

To top it all off, the ineffectiveness. Behavior of kids returning home usually will recede to to how it was before in a matter of weeks. You hear about it all the time at the facility, kid’s parents calling and complaining of returned negative behaviors. Some parents still have not figured out the scam and actually send their kids back.

So yeah, bottom line do not send your kids here!”

Sources:

A testimony from a former Uinta Academy resident

This testimony was found on Yelp. It can have been removed since we harwested it.

I’m going to be honest and open about this review, it might be lengthy, but I have a lot of feelings about this place. My mom spent about three days straight coming through the internet for anything she could find on Uinta, and I hope a prospective parent sees this. Uinta was… in a word, challenging. I might be a unique case. I went to Uinta for borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and depression. Before Uinta, I had expressed feelings to my mom that I was in fact a transmale and begged her to just let me pass as male. Most of my outbursts of self-harm were following these events. Uinta’s therapists chalked that up to the borderline personality disorder and me needing attention. Since I have gotten back from Uinta, my mom finally did allow me to male pass and my current therapists agree I didn’t actually have those personality disorders, those actions were all a direct result of me not being allowed to be who I really am on the inside. Everyday at Uinta I got told I had to put on makeup to impress boys, it was constantly shoved into my face that I was a girl, and they made me think I was some monster who was doing all this just to hurt my mother.

Uinta didn’t save my life. I’ve been out of there for eleven months since writing this and I still have nightmares. The suffocating feeling that drowned me while there still haunts me when I’m alone with my thoughts. At Uinta, I didn’t learn to change or be a better person. I learned to shut up, to suck-up to people, and how to be a better actor. At Uinta I developed severe panic disorder (I now frequently have panic attacks) and I also developed a worse form of PTSD than I had previously had. A lot of the other girls that I’ve spoken to since Uinta talk about the nightmares we still have, the bruises they’ve got from staff members, one girl was even talking to me about how a staff member called her a “dirty Jew” on more than one occasion.

Not to be cheesey, but I can sort of some up Uinta in this one quote from a western movie (seems fitting because it’s out in Utah, don’t you agree?) which is, “If you’re gonna shoot, shoot to kill. These people have all been shot at before, bullet-holes don’t impress ’em.” Uinta certainly aimed to kill me, and certainly impressed me with how pernicious it was. I didn’t preserve because I wanted to find happiness or find myself, I preserved because I wanted to talk to my mom again, see my little brother who was born while I was there, and get back to what really makes me happy. I didn’t form friendships there, I formed alliances, everyday of my life for a year I felt like I was in a warzone. I got through it like someone who’s been shot before, someone who looks into the barrel of a gun fearlessly because they’ve conquered the pain that follows. I know Uinta was the worst thing to happen to me in my entire life. I hated it, and I truly believe Jeff and Becky are milking the parents for all they’ve got. But, now that it’s behind me I know nothing can rival the pain and trauma it’s caused me.

Overall, I really REALLY advise listening to your child. Try moving, if you can, let them experience new things, see new people. Tell them you love them so very much. I am no expert, and I don’t know you, but I know you are in a very, very tough spot. I believe you and your child can get through this, but maybe Uinta isn’t the answer. For me, the answer was moving to an accepting place where I finally had friends and being able to know my mom loves me and will always support me. That might not be the answer for everyone. Just remember, even though I have never met you and most likely never will, I believe in you and I believe in your love for your child. You’ll get through this. I know you will. Godspeed and the best of luck. If you have any questions, you can email me at aquafreshest@gmail.com, my mom or I would be happy to help!

Discovery Academy testimony by nirik83

They destroyed me mentally and physically

I was sent to Discovery Academy in Provo at the age of 14. I had some addiction problems and some behavior issues.

I was forced to stand demerits and was abused mentally sexually and physically by the staff there. When they broke my arm for fighting back, they called my family and told them that I was the most disturbed violent child they had to deal with in a long time. My family is in NYC, so they had no way of checking on me regularly since I wasn’t aloud to make phone calls and my mail was screened before it went out. I was LOST ALONE and STUCK in a Prison that claimed to be a therapeutic boarding school.

Dr.Thorne and his family were the owners at the time and are probably the most disgusting human being I have ever met, not only did they not care about the kids living conditions, being abused or beaten they acted like they were gods if we ever stood up for our selves we were forced to stand facing a wall for 15 min intervals not to mention there son Dennis aka Denny Thorne was a drug abusing pedophile of the highest order. I know this is old news but I felt the need to share my experience, so maybe a child can avoid what I had to go through. Parents, please listen to your children accusations of abuse should be taken seriously at all costs. 3 years after leaving on my 18th birthday I had started to abuse heroin just to hide from my memories now 15 years later I have just finally gotten my life on track with a lot of therapy and money spent on real treatment.

If you are the kind of parent who looks at costs for this instead of benefits for your child, then you had better be ready to spend 10x the amount of boarding schools just to deal with the black hole that they leave your child with.

Source:
The original testimony on Reddit