Where Families Find Support & Solutions


November 16, 2016

The School Solution Newsletter – Fall 2016 Families First

Families First

Many years ago, when Wilderness Therapy began, there was very little contact with families and parents. In addition, many Therapeutic Boarding Schools and Residential Treatment Center’s (RTC’s) did not have a visit home until the kids had been there for almost 9 months. That has changed dramatically. Family work, support and integration have become key factors in all of the programs I with which I work.

A few Wilderness programs have two therapists for each family, one for the child and one to support the parents in their own process. Most Wilderness programs have shifted the parent visit to mid-stay in order to assess the family dynamic and help the parents understand, trust, and participate more completely in their child’s work. Also, at the mid-term visit, some programs are extending the visit to 3 days, 1 with a parent group and an overnight in the field with their child and therapist. Frankly, and counter intuitively, the family assessment, involvement, and therapy accomplished at a Wilderness program is often more than is possible at home with the distractions of life.

Therapeutic Boarding Schools and Treatment Centers also have much more integration with families; families visit more often and children visit home sooner and more often to work on changes as a family and to assess if the community and schools can support the child in their healthy changes.

We all know if a child is struggling the family is struggling, and change is only possible if we can support the family through the change.

The School Solution Supporting Families

Families need support in many ways. Both my practice and my website have evolved with the express purpose of supporting families. On my website I have many resources for families available for anyone who needs them. Please see the resources tab where you can find: Books, Articles, Links, Educational Attorneys, and Insurance Advocates. Some families are finally getting some insurance reimbursement for Wilderness Therapy, it is important that families receive any possible financial assistance they can, and I want to be a resource for that assistance

The most important change I have made is working with a Parent Coach. Every family has 3 remote parent coaching sessions with Caretia Fernandez, LCSW. Caretia worked for residential treatment centers and in 2008 she began a long career as the Director of the Parent Program with True North Wilderness Program. From 2008-2015 Caretia developed, implemented and ran the Parent Program for True North. She has spoken at national conferences regarding the work she has done with families and has helped other programs develop and expand their family work. She is committed to helping families identify their patterns, explore generational burdens and heal collaboratively. She is a trained interventionist, Internal Family Systems therapist, and a trained narrative therapist.


 “The process of working with an educational consultant for therapeutic placement is full of thoughts and emotions for all the parents.  Even when all of the decisions have been made and the process is moving forward there are still feelings that swell and churn as the pieces come together.  In the placement process, the focus is on the child or young adult going to treatment and the parents and family are left to hold it all together.  I’ve worked with hundreds of families over the years, and sometimes even when parents know it is the best decision it can still be wrenching, shocking, sad and life changing.  It can also be filled with relief and a sense of calm, a sense that maybe this is the change their child needs.

Having someone to talk through the process can help.  Especially someone who knows the process and can listen to and support parents as they navigate the program requirements, in addition to telling friends and family, supporting other children at home.  When I think about the feeling that comes up most for families, it is grief.  It’s not always apparent but often there’s a voice somewhere that says “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.” or “Why my child?”  Or “Was there more we could have done?” and of course, “Are we doing the right thing?”

It has been my passion to help and support parents in their process and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Karen’s families to ensure that every parent has a chance to share their story and be supported in this journey through treatment that they never imagined when they first became parents.” Caretia Fernandez, LCSW



Three books for all parents with children or young adults in treatment or considering treatment:

The Parallel Process
by Krissy Pozatek, LICSW

Not by Chance
by Tim Thayne, Ph.D

Hold On to Your Kids
by Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D., and Gabor Mate, M.D

Clinical Corner – Treatment or College? 

How do families decide if their child is prepared to be successful and safe in college, should they take a gap year before or during school for mental health and growth? Some statistics to consider:

  • One in four college students has a medically diagnosable mental illness. (Source: NAMI) 40% of them do not seek help and 80% of them feel overwhelmed. The top diagnoses for college students are:
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicide
  • Eating Disorder
  • Every year there are 1,000 suicides on college campuses—that does not count the kids who are not on campus at the time—and 10% of all college students have contemplated suicide or made a plan. The truth is that suicide is the second cause (after accidents) of death for adolescents from age 15 to 24. (Source: CDC)
  • At 22.9%, the percentage of college students who meet the medical definition of drug addiction is nearly three times the general public at 8.5%. Plus, 49% of full-time college students binge drink and/or abuse drugs (illegal and prescription), and 95% of college campus violence is connected to alcohol. (Source: CASA and NCAAD). Excluding tobacco and children under age 13, more than 20 million Americans are addicted to something. (Source: Addiction Center)

I try to assess both the risk and the skill set the young adult has to cope at school. Do they have a history of healthy self-care; can they wake themselves, do their homework and cope with the social demands of college? How risky is their behavior? How long have they struggled? It is critical to take a mental health medical withdrawal from school seriously; the goal is not to return as soon as possible, it is to get and stay healthy first. The truth is, very few students graduate in 4 years. If it takes one year to grow and learn how to take care of yourself in a place where the main support is not your parents, but professionals, we can do that and it may save a life. I call the young adult programs: safe launching pads, we can help launch the young person into safe independence.

About Karen

karenSo, what do all those letters mean? Ed.S. is Educational Specialist, a post master’s degree in Educational Psychology. NCSP is Nationally Certified School Psychologist, which qualifies me to assess children and young adults for cognitive, and emotional issues and to plan the appropriate educational and social supports for them. CEP is Certified Educational Planner only available after an advanced degree and 5 years of experience. It represents the highest level of professional and ethical standards in educational consulting.

Contact me anytime.


Our capable daughter was struggling in Middle School. We had tried neuropsychological testing, tutors and therapy to no avail. What was going on? Clearly she was frustrated.

- Boarding school parent



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