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A Letter From The TTI Mom:

Dear Parents, Guardians, and Families,

Of all the letters I have ever written, this may be the most important. I see this as my one chance to reach parents but really, to save a child. YOUR child because I wish I could have saved mine.

I know if you are reading this, you are in unchartered waters. You feel frustrated and scared. You are likely feeling like a failure as a parent and that you’re out of options. Mostly, I know you want to help your child and you are looking for answers. I know and I understand because I have been where you are.

Many things lead parents to the place you find yourself today. Your teenager is struggling, right?

Perhaps they are showing signs of depression, anxiety, social isolation, too much screen time, poor academic performance. Maybe they have started using substances, making bad choices, taking risks and show no interest in being accountable. Maybe they have gotten into trouble with the law or done something really dangerous and got a lucky break (this time). Maybe they are unmotivated, lazy, even oppositional and you feel like you’ve lost complete control and don’t even know this person you have raised who is now living under your roof like a total stranger.

I understand…I have been right where you are and it’s awful. But today I want to ask you to take a deep breath, be open to what I am about to say, and then please go hug your teen.

My experience tells me that you have “tried everything” before you’ve gotten to the place where you are now considering sending your child to Wilderness Therapy.

I also know that if you are heading down this path, you have been in touch with several people who are selling you on the idea that Wilderness will “fix” your child. You’ve been told that “without Wilderness, your child will end up dead or in jail.”

That’s a pretty standard go-to scare tactic used by some professionals to prey on parents who are feeling desperate and as I said, out of options. The professionals you may hear similar messaging from are Educational Consultants, even therapists or school counselors. They will also use the phrase “higher level of care” depending on how far you are down this road.

The Ed Consultant in our case actually told us that the Wilderness Program they found for our son was “the Harvard” of programs and we should consider ourselves very lucky to have gotten our son in there.

So, I get it and I know it’s overwhelming. You want to trust the professionals; you want to believe the brochure and you want to envision that there is a magical place that you can send your teen for a few weeks and they will come back all “better.” I am sorry to tell you this and I know it’s not what you want to hear but there is no such magical place and your child will not return “better” or “fixed”. Your child will likely return changed in a way that will take them years to recover from. They will not necessarily even be able to explain what they endured out there, what being there did to their self-worth and their psyche. They will carry trauma and struggle for years with trying to unpack that experience and the worst part will be that they will know YOU did that to them. YOU, their parent, chose to send them away and to leave them on their own to survive in conditions that no person, let alone a child who is struggling should ever have to experience.

Wilderness Therapy is not what the admission teams tell you, it is not what the website depicts, it is not what the Ed Consultant explains and honestly, it is not anything short of abuse.

There are so many things I want to tell you.

Did you know that many times, children are sent to these places through legal kidnapping? It’s referred to as “gooning” in the industry and essentially parents hire a third-party transporter to wake their child up from a sound sleep, with no warning and take them from their bed, into a car, onto a plane and then they are dropped off at the program. This may be recommended to you, and I urge you never to do this. If your child needs any kind of treatment or help, tricking them and forcing them out of their home in this way is cruel, traumatic, and never the answer. RED FLAG! I have spoken directly with many people who experienced this and there is not one of them who later understands, appreciates, or thanks their parents for making that decision. If you want to send your child away to treatment, you owe them transparency and support as a beginning point.

Something you should know on the front end is that the programs all lie about the length of stay. They tell you 45-60 days knowing it will be longer because it’s an easier sell. It’s far more palatable to tell you your child will be back in only 4-8 weeks but once your child is admitted, the deceptive therapeutic language begins. You will be told in your weekly “family sessions” your child needs more time, they aren’t responding to treatment, or maybe they are taking longer than expected to participate in group, or to write their Letter of Awareness & Accountability, or they haven’t progressed yet to the next phase (more time in the program means more money). Here is where they count on you to start buying in because you have no way of communicating directly with your child. Every single letter you write, or they write will be read and monitored and often you might be asked to make some edits and, in some cases, you won’t ever even see the letters your child writes. The parent handbooks (and I have seen many) tell you point blank not to believe your child. They instruct you to assume your child is lying about the conditions, the place, and the way they are being treated. They warn you that your child will try to exaggerate or manipulate to get you to “pull them” (bring them home) but they urge you to trust that this is common and normal. RED FLAG

So what REALLY happens in these places?

Upon arrival, your child is immediately stripped of all autonomy and the basic human right to privacy or freedom and no longer has safe or healthy living conditions. Physically & emotionally, they are now in constant jeopardy.

They are removed from civilization and will spend the next many weeks & months living outside like refugees, or people who are stranded on a deserted island. I realize this is difficult to imagine.

They are given just enough food to keep them alive, but never feel satisfied. They have extremely limited access to medical care should something happen (they are miles and miles away from any town- literally over two hours of driving on dirt roads and often there is no signal even on a satellite phone), they have no tents and must sleep outside on the hard ground regardless of temperature or weather conditions. They do not have chairs to sit on or any kind of shelter other than a plastic tarp which can be hung between trees. They are required to hike for miles per week carrying 60-80 lb. packs on their back, they must go to the “bathroom” in a bucket and shout their name every 3-5 seconds while they are trying to relieve themselves. This is done to ensure they haven’t run away. They will have no access to a shower and are covered in filth for the entire time they are out in the wilderness, often their hair is matted to the point of dreadlocks.

Food is a “reward”. In order to earn a hot meal, they have to learn to make a flame by rubbing sticks together. Many kids are not successful with this for weeks. They must also earn a head lamp so they can see at night, perhaps to read or just to safely move around in the rough terrain. Imagine having to earn food or light to see? I can’t imagine there is a child psychology book where this would be recommended as treatment.

The assigned therapist sees your child for one hour per week when they come out to the field. ONE HOUR. The rest of the time, your child is stuck out in the woods or desert with a bunch of field staff who are NOT licensed to care for kids, who are NOT licensed therapists and who are quite often way over their heads because they took a job that didn’t turn out to be what they expected either.

Please think about how much this is costing you financially for your child to get therapy one hour per week.

Time is used as a weapon. The kids are not allowed to know what time it is, what day it is, and they are not allowed to know how long they will be there. Staff knows they will be there for a minimum of 12 weeks in most cases, and they also know that 99% of them will be recommended for “aftercare” which will usually a Therapeutic Boarding School where they will have to stay for another 6-12 months. So, all of a sudden, this 30–90-day program you signed up for has become 4 to 16 months or longer that you will now be paying 10’s of thousands of dollars and your child will be gone. Gone from their family, their friends, their school, their community. Gone from civilization to the point that when they get out, they are ill equipped to transition back home. They are traumatized, they are used to living in captivity, they don’t trust themselves or anyone for that matter. They don’t know what to say about where they have been, and they find themselves struggling with all those emotions. They miss proms, getting a driver’s license, going to sporting events or parties, they miss family holiday & vacations. They miss their pets, their bedrooms, their music and their hobbies. They are kids. Making mistakes is part of being a teenager. What message are you conveying to your child if you send them away from home to live like this when they are going through a difficult time?

I know it’s hard and scary and you are thinking to yourself, “well, then what do you suggest we do?”

I suggest you do everything and anything EXCEPT sending them to Wilderness or to one of these programs.

I am not a doctor, nor a therapist but I am a Mom and am pleading with you to never ever send your child to one of these programs.

If you are looking for diagnostic answers and haven’t already, schedule some testing as a starting point.

Perhaps testing will reveal a learning deficit like AdHd or dyslexia and can help to determine additional supports are needed educationally. Testing may reveal a psychological or medical diagnosis that will determine next steps regarding therapy, medication, etc. Perhaps your child struggles with anxiety or depression and has attempted to unalive themselves which obviously requires psychiatric attention. If that is the case, I am deeply sorry and I can’t imagine the fear and panic you have felt. I have friends who have been in that situation and there are no words other than I hope your child will heal and you will all recover from that darkness.

If your child is experimenting with substances and needs substance abuse intervention or counseling, consider a local short-term treatment program. There are many good programs out there.

Wilderness Therapy is not treatment, there is zero proof of efficacy and there are no studies that exist outside of anecdotal examples. These programs are not peer reviewed. When you dig deeper, you will learn that they are all overseen by the National Association of Therapeutic Schools & Programs (NATSAP) and owners of the programs and/or Educational Consultants sit on the board of NATSAP. This industry is punitive in nature and while your child may need some support or some help, they aren’t going to find it in Wilderness Therapy or in any of these places. That I can promise you.

I have been out there to the desert for a parent visit and seen it first-hand. I was horrified.

I have sat across from my son in a residential treatment center, where he was being verbally & emotionally abused by a therapist and I was lied to repeatedly.

I have seen the pain in his eyes and wiped his tears when he begged me to take him home.

I have heard the hopelessness in his voice as he struggled to maintain any shred of optimism as the months ticked by.

I have cried countless tears and wracked my soul with guilt that he was placed in one of these programs and his life was permanently altered in ways I can never understand nor fix.

That feeling of helplessness and grief is at times unbearable and while I know you are going through a difficult time as a family, I am hoping you will find another answer. ANY other answer. This decision cannot be undone and at some point, down the road, you will come to realize it was a paved road to hell.

I don’t want your child to go through this and have to believe you don’t either.

~The TTI Mom

*My child was sent away against my will through a family court order and I am currently appealing the case in an effort to get him returned to me. I have shared custody, and this never should have happened.

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