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(Synanon) The Cult That Spawned the Tough-Love Teen Industry


By Maia Szalavitz
August 20, 2007

The idea that punishment can be therapeutic is not unique to the Rotenberg Center.  In fact, this notion is widespread among the hundreds of "emotional growth boarding schools," wilderness camps, and "tough love" antidrug programs that make up the billion-dollar teen residential treatment industry.

This harsh approach to helping troubled teens has a long and disturbing history.  No fewer than 50 programs (though not the Rotenberg Center) can trace their treatment philosophy, directly or indirectly, to an antidrug cult called Synanon.  Founded in 1958, Synanon sold itself as a cure for hardcore heroin addicts who could help each other by "breaking" new initiates with isolation, humiliation, hard labor, and sleep deprivation.

Today, troubled-teen programs use Synanon-like tactics, advertising themselves to parents as solutions for everything from poor study habits to substance misuse.  However, there is little evidence that harsh behavior-modification techniques can solve these problems.  Studies found that Synanon's "encounter groups" could produce lasting psychological harm and that only 10 to 15 percent of the addicts who participated in them recovered.  And as the classic 1971 Stanford prison experiment demonstrated, creating situations in which the severe treatment of powerless people is rewarded inevitably yields abuse.  This is especially true when punishment is viewed as a healing process.  Synanon was discredited in the late 1970s and 1980s as its violent record was exposed.  (The group is now remembered for an incident in which a member placed a live rattlesnake — rattle removed — in the mailbox of a lawyer who'd successfully sued it.)  Yet by the time Synanon shut down in 1991, its model had already been widely copied.

In 1971, the federal government gave a grant to a Florida organization called The Seed, which applied Synanon's methods to teenagers, even those only suspected of trying drugs.  In 1974, Congress opened an investigation into such behavior-modification programs, finding that The Seed had used methods "similar to the highly refined brainwashing techniques employed by the North Koreans."

The bad publicity led some supporters of The Seed to create a copycat organization under a different name.  Straight Inc. was cofounded by Mel Sembler, a Bush family friend who would become the gop's 2000 finance chair and who heads Lewis "Scooter" Libby's legal defense fund.  By the mid-'80s, Straight was operating in seven states.  First Lady Nancy Reagan declared it her favorite antidrug program.  As with The Seed, abuse was omnipresent  — including beatings and kidnapping of adult participants.  Facing seven-figure legal judgments, it closed in 1993.

But loopholes in state laws and a lack of federal oversight allowed shuttered programs to simply change their names and reopen, often with the same staff, in the same state — even in the same building.  Straight spin-offs like the Pathway Family Center are still in business.

Confrontation and humiliation are also used by religious programs such as Escuela Caribe in the Dominican Republic and myriad "emotional growth boarding schools" affiliated with the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs (wwasp), such as Tranquility Bay in Jamaica.  wwasp's president told me that the organization "took a little bit of what Synanon [did]."  Lobbying by well-connected supporters such as wwasp founder Robert Lichfield (who, like Sembler, is a fund-raiser for Republican presidential aspirant Mitt Romney) has kept state regulators at bay and blocked federal regulation entirely.

By the '90s, tough love had spawned military-style boot camps and wilderness programs that thrust kids into extreme survival scenarios.  At least three dozen teens have died in these programs, often because staff see medical complaints as malingering.  This May, a 15-year-old boy died from a staph infection at a Colorado wilderness program.  His family claims his pleas for help were ignored.  In his final letter to his mother, he wrote, "They found my weakness and I want to go home."

Synanon diagram

* Has disavowed extreme and humiliating tactics



When will people finally see that these programs are killing our children?  I mean literally killing them.  If they don't kill you, they mentally suck the life out of you and a person will never be the same.  At least I was never the same after being placed in Straight at the ripe old age of 11 because I snuck out of my window a couple of times and tried pot once, which I found under my parents bed by the way ... How can anyone endorse a program that they have not experienced themselves?  It is impossible for a child off 11 years old to convince a parent that they are being abused, physically and emotionally.  Especially when you have not even lived life yet, but you are forced to admit to all of these things that you never even did because if you don't, you will never move up phases and you will never go home.  Then once you have lied about things you have done just so you can hug a sister or a parent, they tell your parents all of these horrble things you have done, when in fact, nothing was true.  I went in there a carefree pre-teen and came out a screwed up teenager that never looked at life the same way again.  But I am surviving the best I can.  I am now 29 years old and still have nightmares about the abuse and neglect that I experienced in Straight.

Posted by:Jennifer Poague on August 19, 2007 11:20:36 PM

Dear Jennifer, please stand and make your voice heard.  E-mail, telephone any representative you can.  Call your local paper to see if they will do a story.  The most healing thing you can do is help those kids that follow YOU.  Get pissed.

Posted by:The Dude 1369 on August 20, 2007 4:58:10 AM

Straight spin off L.I.F.E. (Life Is For Everyone) in Osprey,Sarasota County Florida should also be included on this list of abusive cults.

Posted by:L.I.F.E.  Program on August 20, 2007 6:53:50 AM

Thank you for illuminating the tiresome debate over the illegal placement of teenage Americans in institutions like the ones mentioned above.  Maia's is at it again by brilliantly and delicately exposing the loopholes in the American justice system that hurts teens and cons parents.  When will it STOP?

Posted by:Blownawaytheidahoway on August 20, 2007 7:20:02 AM

Ignore your kids until they make you look bad ...  Buy a MASSIVE McMansion: so you can put them in another WING instead of UNDER YOURS... or just DO WHAT THE UberClass / ButlerClass do: send 'em to 'Private School' like Spartans... you see, parenthood is just so TEDIOUS, you know??  Spread Love...  ... but wear the Glove!  BlueBerry Pick'n can be found @ ThisCanadian DOT com "Silent Freedom is Freedom Silenced"

Posted by:BlueBerry Pick'n on August 20, 2007 1:51:20 PM

The article is biased.  What would YOU do with a teen that constantly attacks his smaller schoolmates and tells you to do an anatomically impossible thing when you call him on it.  Of course we want to brainwash them.  That's what the army does to socialize people.  That's why their techniques nave been borrowed.  150 died in camps?  How many dropouts died of drug overdoses?  The problem actually resides with those of you whose only interest is to protect these kids.  Get it, these are the next wave of lawbreakers and we have little time to save them or society.  They have been "protected" too long by mothers and fathers who haven't the vaguest idea of how to be a parent.  Stop calling behavior mod "punishment."  It is that but it is much more.  Any program will require some logical consequences for bad behavior.  Do you want to talk to them?  By the time they got to these places they have been talked to death.

Posted by:Dick Marron on August 20, 2007 3:54:23 PM

@Dick: You wrote "of course _we_ want to brainwash them".  Wow.  "WE"... You accuse Maia of being biased, as if a comment from an industry member is completely devoid of opinion.  Do you have any proof at all that your methods are effective in comparison to therapy, or even doing nothing, or is it just marketing to scare naive parents into believing their kids will die or end up in jail without you and your program as a divine savior.  Did I need to be "saved"? Judge for yourself.  See what I was sent to program for: http://fornits.com/docs/referralInfo.pdf  I was sent to a CEDU clone (Benchmark Young Adult School) for religious and sexual preference.  Do you honestly think programs care about why somebody is referred to them?  Do they ever reject a kid?  No.  Because the parents must have tried everything right?  They must know if the kid has a "problem".  And yet you say that they haven't the vaguest idea of how to be a parent.  You can't have it both ways.  Regardless of who it is that believes the kid has a problem, programs are essentially incarceration without due process for any and every reason under the sun.  It's worse than incarceration.  At least then your mind is safe, rather than being brainwashed into changing.  It takes away choice.  It allows a parent to coerce a child into behaving in the manner they want, even if the "behavior" is a charachtaristic they were born with.  The program didn't care, they weren't going to question the motives of those who were paying the bills.  You think that is right?  Why should you care.  You are on the recieving end of the cash.  I find your views sickening, and for good reason.  I've personally suffered at the hands of you people, and now I work to put every single one of you out of business and/or in jail.  I will see it happen or die trying.

Posted by:Michael Crawford on August 20, 2007 5:18:02 PM

Dick: NO program has the right to kill children to "save" some of them.  No program has the right to inflict life-long emotional & mental disorders (PTSD for example) in order to "save" some of them.  Brainwashing is mental ABUSE ... NOT treatment.  Physical ABUSE is NOT treatment.  Verbal ABUSE is not treatment.  There are LAWS in this country against the various above-mentioned forms of child abuse.  You do know that many institutions BREAK LAWS every single day which is routinely justified as "necessary to save a child's life," dont you?  For someone who is so concerned about future lawbreakers, you would think you would be absolutely outraged by the CURRENT LAWBREAKERS running these abusive institutions.  People like myself want to stop people from breaking the LAW by harming children in the name of "treatment." Yes, children need to be protected from LAWBREAKERS who get away with CRIMINAL ACTIVITY every day in "troubled teen programs."

Posted by:Kris on August 20, 2007 6:02:08 PM

I've heard that in some parts of the world people believe that Americans eat their children.

Posted by:John France on August 20, 2007 6:35:20 PM

Dick Maron: Unfortunately, Dick, there is no excuse for abusive facilities.  You can say that some of the children are really bad (and some may break laws) but you cannot justify a program such as Tranquility Bay in Jamaica (one that beats the children there and who has no professionally trained staff).  Some kids need some help, and for that there are community based programs that do not separate the child and parent or the child and their community.  To separate, like many do, you create another void which leads to another set of problems.  Instead of stopping these horrible future law breakers, you are increasing the likelihood of future law breaking.  The fact of the matter is that most of the wilderness or other behavior mod programs are created for a purpose, and it's not saving the kids - It's making a buck.  This is very easily understood if you look into who's running the facilities and how much they charge.  Fortunately awareness is going up, and hopefully soon we can get some real action to get them straightened out soon.

Posted by:CK on August 20, 2007 8:19:51 PM

Dick does have one point, the point is that our society makes drug users criminals.  Our society also makes kids with disabilities, who can't conform to social norms, or cannot perform in a typical school setting, criminals.  The schools and society punish the kids who are down and out, who have the cards stacked against them.  We teach them to be true victims in the deepest sense, and then if some of them lash out in anger with an outrageous gesture by mass murder, true crime with victims and violence we ponder and wonder how such a thing could happen ... We create so much, most of the dysfunction in our society by choosing to be paternal harsh judgmental and the tough punishment (falsely called tough love) oriented society ... We slap labels on kids, and make sure they stick, we want to believe our self creating/perpetuating labels ... When we believe in the faulty concepts, we are justified and hero's for the harsh, dirty deeds we do to one another ... Control freak USA, it's all about control and power, forget love intelligence and treating the individual as an individual with respect and awareness of their unique needs and life situations ... That's just too hard ... It's all about good vs evil, right vs wrong, submission of will and submission to who ever has the power to decide what is good and what is right ... Hey they even get to decide who the Real God is and how we are to worship,, Him (always him of course!) I see the human race as being a mutant evil race that de-evolved from the monkey, you see monkeys couldn't possibly be that conniving, power hungry, deliberately evil, conveniently ignorant, and clueless towards one other!

Posted by:sandra on August 20, 2007 11:23:46 PM

Everyone who has endured a real military boot camp and felt that it improved their outlook and discipline relates to this false image.  "It worked for me; the military made a man out of me" - is the classic response.  The problem was then that this enforced discipline often lead to drunken binges and brawls when out on leave.  Anyone on or near a military base knows that problem drinking and alcoholism are more heavily concentrated in military towns.  That's how many cope with this type of gratuitous personal abuse.  It's not the same as someone who voluntarily sacrifices to improve athletic abilities or for health and fitness.  You can't superimpose discipline@ To be effective someone must have internal motivations and experience internal rewards.  Relief from constant harassment and peer approval do not motivate someone to achieve self-discipline.  Often these encounters result in gang mentality and hedonistic escapes when not being supervised.  Proportionately, people in a "military discipline system" are way more messed up than the general population.  Why would we use the military as a model?

Posted by:JT Barrie on August 21, 2007 6:52:46 AM

While your points on these groups abusing children are worth taking note of, your information about Synanon is factually incorrect.  I did observe parents dropping their wayward kids off, saying "Fix this!" and then going about their own business as if they were not the cause of the problem.  But I have also observed organizations like these completely turn a child's life around, forever.  Synanon's Punk Squad experiment was a failure and did not serve as a pioneer or benchmark for anything except to be a shining example of what not to do.

Posted by:Anonymous on August 21, 2007 9:55:43 AM

Any human being, whom we all count ourselves as but surprisingly few even rate sentient, wouldn't hesitate to notice this and try to rectify it.  I myself went to a minor version of one of these camps, and know what they are doing here - something very, very sick and wrong.  Everybody hears and see what we want, and most people ignore it and most parents ignore US.  I am better now but no thanks to them.  I did that, not my mother, who sent me there, not the "educators" who "taught" me there, not my father, who thinks he's doing the right things, me.  The funniest part is, I am the only one who could function in society, and yet I'm the only one who isn't allowed.  Aren't Americans great?

Posted by:Speaker of the Young Ones on August 21, 2007 4:21:47 PM

Sandra is EXACTLY right.  Your society makes me want to kill you all ... or move to outer space, or to inject myself with drugs.  Great work Americans!  You taught me and others like me how to hate you with every thread of our being!!

Posted by:MIND[deleted]ED YOUNG MAN on August 22, 2007 12:15:46 AM

There's a class war a-raging, all right (nod to BlueBerry, maybe more later), but even those who can afford "alternative treatment programs" are shirking good-sense, long-haul, family therapy and hold-on patience in favor of short-term no-fix-em's, as we all tend to be doing, here in America (don't really know about Canada).  Our actual economy sucks, pretty much, and "average people" are struggling to pay their bills: that takes a lot of dedicated time; the kids will have to do the best they can, at school, yow, navigating the gangs and so forth, where the teachers may say they aren't and cannot be "substitute parents."  May I say that the "American lifestyle" as "taught" by external social structuring condones ineffective parenting, altogether ?!  If you are a parent, whatever your income level, your presence, your time, is probably limited by what you do to maintain your standing and your authority is therefore minimal - your most valuable commodity, for kids, is already compromised; but, hey ! you will be told and sold that ours is a model democracy, and that others in the world should emulate our successes (but, what of our failures within our own model ?  And, for instance, do YOU know what's going on in YOUR local public education system ?!).  Of course, certain corporate interests cater to the externally created consumer bent (yes, there is some degree of inclination involved, so the responsibility lies with the consciousness of us individuals), highly inclusive of our young (not earning a living, yet, but aren't they somehow entitled, as Americans, to ever-changing wardrobes, over-priced cell phones and calling plans, and electronic gadgetry galore ?!).  And so, we think, there may be epidemics of ADHD, depression, obsessive-compulsive, addictive, bi-polar disorders, etc., and then, we grapple with the ensuing pharmaceutical industries' legalized drug treatments - which came first ? - then, the prevailing medical scenarios, including questions of the adequacy of, and negative discrimination involved in, health care coverage and treatment.  Don't forget: the USA is #48 in the world for medical provision & performance.  Daily, in addition to semi-seductive pharmaceutical commercials, we experience unabashedly adult-demeaning and/or "dumbing-down," TV advertising, but we adults somehow expect our kids to display "civil values," including "responsible behavior," or self-control.  Kids with disabilities, having generally been mainstreamed into the Pub Ed systems, are more visible now, but not necessarily better-served in that tending-to-mediocre domain.  How to teach in a classroom where needs may be both specific and diverse?!  How to have ANY childcare that is readily available, affordable, attentive and definitely humane?!  You, as an individual, commit to dispelling the double-messaging, eff- the-user and run-with-the-money hypocrisy within our institutions and systems; our society, as currently governed — perhaps in transition — is not (and has not been) encouraged to provide for the REAL material (certainly, not the non-material) well-being of kids OR adults; have you noticed all the empty rhetoric, general absurdity, inability of almost any entity to solve the smallest or simplest problems, rich/poor disparities galore . . . Be vocal, sign and send, network, COHERE on issues more important than what kind of freaking vehicle you have attained, with or without merit (BTW, I am now offended by big, personal vehicles when used as nothing but a sign of self-aggrandizing affluence, and feel that Americans who are guzzling resources by similar shows of quasi-power have deluded themselves into thinking they have "success" by such signs).  Success for us, as a nation of people bound together by SIMILAR interests - let us hope the well-being of our children is one of the factors of cohesion - is running on empty, big-time; as a CONSUMER NATION, what do we expect, but national consumption?!  What do we need?!  A concept of "the beautiful life," which is not restricted to the wealthy, but accommodated by commonly shared expectations, visionary personal consistence, and stated demands for governmental attention to our individual and collective well-being: a simple statement, something we can work toward (by aligning to and with all our other survive-and-thrive strategies), but a complex thing to achieve.  I will also state here, that "one-way" religions do not provide answers for "beautiful living" (though spiritual views may certainly aid), and that any "one-way" mindset may be an impediment to the humane progression of any society.  Yet, think on your concept: what DOES constitute "beautiful living," wherein people feel supported in pursuit of life-purpose and meaning?  Is the character, of a person or a nation, defined by possessions?  And, as parents and guardians of children, are we committed to sharing knowledge about what it takes to attain human well-being, even - especially - during times of elevated social crises?  In closing, I send emotional encouragement to one bravely expressive Jennifer P., personally, without adequate words, but also in the way of continuing to say what should be said, about adult-child relationships and a most fundamental need for trust in human relationships: Jennifer, please forge right ahead with your own program.  And, to all: If we don't state problems and symptoms, whatever they may be, we don't move toward solutions that may empower people to change the circumstances of their lives, and to heal; thanks to all the responsive, for care of self AND others.

Posted by:Elspathanne on August 22, 2007 6:48:57 AM

It's apparent that most of you all do not work with delinquent youth.  It's apparent that you take random bad examples & use it to define a whole approach . . .  Family therapy?? ....  That has usually been tried over and over and over — if the parents in many many cases even made an effort to make sure their kids went, much less go themselves . . . I have seen minimally significant growth in the kids sent to the boot/wilderness/sport-oriented camps for behavioral reasons — but I have never sent a kid to one of these programs & they come out worse.  Sometimes their home/family lives are not conducive to good old family therapy (maybe "dys-functional" family therapy) ...  I do get disappointed when I hear of a boot/wilderness/etc program that went too far — and it's too bad because if that one incident wouldnt have happened, I think of the success stories that could of been . . . I do not work for these types of programs by the way.  I work for a court program that makes the referrals & I am always at war with these agencies (including family counseling agenices) for taking too long to sign up a juveniel, or closing a case to easily, or not providing consistent enough services.  These agenices are so frustratingly inept — but that doesnt compare to the ineptness of the public school system in mid-size cities.  Tax payers should be forced to walk through those schools.  They'd be embarrased that the community doesnt support those schools better — the hearts of the communities that the suburbs built themselves around ....

Posted by:Marcey on August 22, 2007 10:14:14 AM

torture and humiliation are no substitute for the healing power of love; they certainly do not make good teaching tools unless the lesson is hate and violence.

Posted by:aurora e hunter on August 22, 2007 2:35:16 PM

Tip of the iceberg.  Google 'Operation Monarch'.  Google 'MK Ultra.'  Inform yourselves, America.  You lost your Democracy a LONG time ago.  AND your children.  Sorry.

Posted by:steppenRazor on August 22, 2007 3:40:31 PM

Another one that's missing comes below Kids Inc.  Kids of the Canadian West (now the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre) is still open in Calgary, Canada.  When I was 15 I smoked marijuana a couple of times and started becoming very politically involved.  I made food for protests and homeless people with Food Not Bombs, and I sang with the Raging Grannies.  I was a vegan and a social activist.  I participated in local government and I worked for a local human rights lawyer.  But my mother had it in her head that I was an "anarchist" (which I wasn't, it's just not practical).  So, she had me forcibly incarcerated at AARC so they could fix me.  Officially I was addicted to drugs I'd never seen and was an alcoholic (despite having never been drunk).  There I kept in an unheated warehouse during they day and in "host homes" under the watchful eyes of "recovering" prostitutes and heroin addicts.  I was not allowed to attend school, see family, talk to a lawyer, pick up the phone to call the police.  I was told "you don't have to use drugs to be a druggie" and even "druggies don't have rights".  We were under constant threat of physical restraint.  We were not allowed to read - accidentally looking at a cereal box earned punishment.  I personally was not allowed to use anything bigger than 2-syllable words because being an intellectual was "part of my disease".  I was physically and sexually assaulted and hurt in ways I still can't talk about.  After 6 months having not progressed even past "step one" (of the 12 steps of AA) as I could not "accept powerlessness" over an addiction I didn't have, I ran.  I ran in bare feet and pyjamas in -35C weather with snow on the ground.  I was one of the only people to ever successfully run, as I didn't turn to family who would have dragged me back screaming.  Since then I have become very successful in ways that society finds important.  I have a husband and young daughter and I am very happy with my career, unlike many of the "graduates" I've ran into since who have developed problems they never had before.  But still, I have nightmares almost every night.  I wake up screaming, crying or fighting off dream attackers.  I am constantly afraid and I have lost faith in people.  Before I was naive and I believed in the fundamentally good nature of humans and society.  I believed that I was safe.  I was wrong.  And today I am a shell of the person I was and nothing compared to what I could have been.

Posted by:Rachael on August 22, 2007 8:53:05 PM

I think that one of the things these institutions get really confused about is the difference between boundaries and punishment.In my work I see a lot of kids who without any boundaries in their lives have no capacity for managing the emotions that threaten to overwhelm them.  In their attempt to cope they turn to drugs, crime, bad behaviour and harming themselves.  Some parents really care and want to change things but don't know how, others see the child as the problem and others just don't give a ****.  Helping a child to restore some boundaries in their life, respect themselves, see hope for a future and hopefully integrate in their family makes a difference.  Yes of course punishment has it's place in any family and society but it is a double edged sword and it needs to be used wisely with open eyes.  Importantly, punishment also needs to fit the crime and in my mind their is no crime that makes it acceptable to hit a child (or adult).  If we want children to learn better ways of behaving and living, we as therapists must model this.  Many people in these "boot camp" type institutions have little or no training and even if they go into them with good intentions the lack of ongoing support, training and supervision hardens them up.  They feel frustrated and failures at their work and this can end up being turned onto the kids.  This is not easy work and as yet I know of no perfect solutions.  For myself I know it is important to be constantly reflecting on the work I do and my motivations for suggesting any treatment option.

Posted by:Sarah on August 23, 2007 1:03:13 AM

Behaviorism is not synonymous with "tough love" or any other abusive, punitive-based treatment of humans.  B.F. Skinner wrote often about the negative effects of punishment on the individual and society as a whole.  He DID NOT AND WOULD NOT approve of ANY of the programs discussed herein.  I am a trained, board certified associate behavior analyst in Florida who works with abused and neglected youth.  My beliefs, training and code of ethics demand that A)I repudiate any ideas that people should be treated in the manner that is described herein and B) that I challenge the misinformation presented here with regard to Behaviorism.  Read Skinner on punishment and education, learn about the humane treatments and technologies that behavior analysts have developed for people who suffer.  Check out the website of Behaviorists for Social Responsibilty.

Posted by:Michael M. Cripe on August 23, 2007 6:56:19 AM

I worked for the company in CO where the young man died this May.  I did not work there at the time, but I would like to say that the program was in NO WAY violent.  The boy's death was tragic and I have some criticisms of the administration but the program in CO was not at all similar to the other programs mentioned in this article.  We hiked a lot and helped the students acquire coping skills, licensed therapists make several visits a month to the students and a certified medical person checks the students every 10 days or so.  I do not appreciate the blanket assumptions made about such programs.  I agree that there is a lot of abuse going on in programs similar to the one in CO, but our program was run through the state and was an option for teens already involved in the justice system.  We did not kidnap anyone.  I am disappointed in the reporting I have seen lately from Mother Jones, it seems articles are not well researched and are very biased.

Posted by:a37 on August 23, 2007 8:29:34 AM

This culture of torturing children is also evident in a popular fringe psychotherapy known as "Attachment Therapy" (aka Holding Therapy, Compression Therapy, Rage Reduction, etc.) and its boot camp parenting methods.  Attachment Therapy/Parenting has been linked to kids being starved, killed, and locked in cages.  Here's a clip from a training tape made at the Attachment Center at Evergreen in Colorado: http://youtube.com/watch?v=i5qZrVzqGO8&mode=related&search= And as done in Utah: http://www.kidscomefirst.info State and federal funds go to training therapists and treating children with this stuff.  Horrible.  Horrible.  And it's been going on since the 1970s.  Why do many Americans think breaking the body and spirit of children is beneficial?  What can be done to stop all this abuse?

Posted by:Reader on August 23, 2007 12:21:37 PM

I have posted an extensive response to Ms. Gonnerman's article in the forum under the main article at http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2007/09/school_of_shock.html Matthew L. Israel, Ph.D. Executive Director Judge Rotenberg Educational Center www.judgerc.org

Posted by:Matthew L. Israel on August 23, 2007 11:34:28 PM

And for a fully formatted version of my response to Ms.Gonnerman's article, please see http://www.judgerc.org/ResponsetoGonnermanArticle.pdf Matthew L. Israel, Ph.D. Executive Director Judge Rotenberg Educational Center

Posted by:Matthew L. Israel on August 24, 2007 12:24:34 AM

Just wanted to respond to Marcey — who said that family therapy doesn't work with real delinquents and these programs do.  I would urge you to check out the websites of Functional Family Therapy (http://www.fftinc.com) and Multisystemic Family Therapy (http://mstservices.com).  Both were designed and extensively studied on juvenile justice populations — and research finds them effective.  Research on boot camps does not.  Your anecdotes are not evidence.  You claim — unbelievably — that you have never seen a child get worse after a boot camp program.  You clearly aren't looking — or you have a position within the system where people lie to you for fear of being sent back.  And, to the Synanon person: again, anecdotes aren't evidence.  The whole problem with this field is that people believe that if someone is better after a treatment, that treatment made them better.  The problem is, no control group and the fact that most kids get better over time.  There is no FDA for behavioral treatments — and there should be!

Posted by:Maia Szalavitz on August 24, 2007 11:27:36 AM

@ Marcey et al and other teen boot camp, wilderness therapy, therapeutic boarding school, etc.  apologists: If you think these methods actually address anything other than strictly face-value appearances for the time in question (and the time in question *only*), you've got another "think" coming.  The long-term effects of these brainwashing enterprises last far, far, far into adulthood, and the net result ain't pretty.  I do believe the sanitized term for it is PTSD.  Something will happen, the way it always does ...  life will deal you a sucker-punch or two, and then you're right back there, when you had no control over your life cuz you were too young, and the horror of that brainwashing and the attending bullsh!t side courses comes flooding back ... You think that crap *cures* us?!  WE ARE TICKING TIME BOMBS!!!  tick tick, tick tick, tick tick ...

Posted by:Ursus on August 24, 2007 12:24:17 PM

I was in Elan in the late 70's and I endured all the mental and emotional abuse they dished out.  I was initially sent to Elan because I continuously ran away from home, a place where I was molested at age 11, by a family friend, and never had any emotional parental support - life was so bad at home, my Parents divorced while I was in Elan.  After a year and one week, I was released for a "Family Visit" ..  my "Family" was no longer a "Family".  My father picked me up from the airport and brought me home to meet his new "Girlfriend" which he ultimately married.  I ran away for the "last time" before they could ship me back to ELAN.  I have never ever been accepted into that "New Family".  I have been ostracized from my family and although I am not perfect ...  I know that the emotional and mental abuse I endured at Elan has affected me long term.  I still have very low self esteem and I still find myself in very abusive relationships.  I have never known what it is like to truly be loved and supported.  I will never forget Elan or the horrifying emotional abuse I went through.  I am highly AGAINST these types of "Programs" ..  they are nothing more than ABUSIVE!

Posted by:Pamela Neuens on August 24, 2007 1:13:09 PM

How many more children and teenagers,having to die or be left damaged for life; will it take to finally drive these pseudo-psychiatric facilities and the sadists behind them out of business?!

Posted by:Lacey S. Cannon on August 24, 2007 3:21:02 PM