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Hell instead of Help: A Therapeutic Boarding School in Montana

“It was incarceration without the American Prison System.” 


Even though it can not be said that all children have experienced trauma in therapeutic boarding schools, this article discusses the horrendous treatment that some minors have suffered.


Hundreds of minors are sent by their parents to therapeutic boarding schools to acquire support for their mental health issues and substance abuse worries. The parents are assured by the staff, teachers, and therapists that the children will seize exceptional schooling and care while at the boarding schools. In confidence that their child would get better because of the program, many children are sent hours away from their homes only to receive hell instead of help. 


A 31-year-old self-employed male from the San Francisco Bay Area attended a therapeutic boarding school in Montana for 20 months after being sent to a wilderness therapy program for two and a half months at only 16 years old. Shockingly, The Montana therapeutic boarding school told the now 31-year-old male parent’s that if their son did not go to this therapeutic boarding school, he would turn up in jail or dead and that the program would be the only thing that would save him. Nevertheless, the source says that he was humiliated, dehumanized, and lived in fear every day that he attended boarding school. 


The reason that the source was sent there was “ I was getting into a lot of fights with my parents, I was drinking, a little bit of self-harm. It was all misunderstood; I was drinking tiny amounts and doing normal teenage stuff at the time. It was more than my parents had their fear and unresolved stuff from their childhood. But it was definitely in the realm of normal teenager stuff.”


The program had brainwashed and manipulated his parents into thinking that his ‘problems' could only be helped by the program itself and made the problems seem better than they were. Instead of reserving help for his ‘MASSIVE’ alcohol and mental health issues, he only received more problems than before. 


“I had PTSD symptoms that I didn’t even address until ten years after the program. I had severe depression because of the program I did not have before. I couldn’t and didn’t deal with it until ten years later because I was brainwashed about the program and inherited the thinking that I had something wrong with me, not something from it. I thought I deserved everything that was happening to me and that I was the problem, and I didn’t have any clarity on my childhood and my situation.” 


What was the program really about, you may ask? “The therapeutic boarding school is about causing you pain and breaking you down and then extending that over a long period. They were about silencing you and forcing you to adjust to an excruciating thing.”


This is why I do not think it is about helping kids with their issues and mental health because the programs come down to causing you pain and forcing you to become obedient, and you can’t do anything about it. Which leads to mental health issues and substance abuse because you are in a painful situation, and you can’t address that pain.”


These children were put into gruesome positions, such as being placed on S.I. or social isolation for minor infections. This can include not doing their chores correctly, not getting good grades, bringing contraband into the school, and not acting happy about the program and situation that they were in. 


Another significant punishment if you acted out was that “there were sometimes chemical restraints and the staff would force you to take some antipsychotic drugs and knock you out. “It was just a way to have domination over you which happened to me at least once that I remember.” Giving someone antipsychotic drugs is much like giving someone a lobotomy which makes the children very loopy and almost like a zombie. 


You were able to make friends at the boarding school even with the strict rules in place. On the contrary, there were limitations to the friends that you could make at the boarding school. The source says that he had to be an agent for the program. “If you have a friend that is not acting ecstatic about the program or they have broken some rule, you are required to tell them, and if you don’t, you will get punished too.” 


There were five levels at this boarding school, and at level five you could graduate from the school. Nonetheless, all the kids lived in fear that they would drop a group and stay there longer if they did anything out of line. To clarify, the higher level you were on, the more you were advancing and doing well in the program. 


“There was absolutely no privacy, and they owned us. The staff would read our journals, so you couldn’t even have your thoughts. You couldn’t even speak to your parents without your therapist there.” 


The worst or most dehumanizing ‘challenge,’ however, that the source recalls is when the children were put through was called attack therapy. Therefore, this is when “you are put into a group, and people attack and humiliate you, and you never know when it will happen. That's the thing. You are always in fear that this is going to be the day.”


The source reveals that this is where most of his complex trauma came from because he was forced to always be on his toes and live in fear that he would not escape the hell that was his boarding school. 

After getting home from the therapeutic boarding school, the male recalls that he still lived as though he was still at the boarding school. The brainwashing that he endured at the program didn’t just go away after returning to everyday life. Additionally, even after 10 years, the male still suffers from the trauma that he endured during his time at the school. In essence, the man exclaims that therapeutic boarding schools are not about helping children to succeed but rather breaking them down.

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