You are here

The Therapeutic Boarding School didn’t work out

completely overwhelmed's picture

Probably should have predicted this, but the therapeutic boarding school was a miserable failure and SD found a way she could get herself out of complying with the strict regulations. She refused to eat and drink, so school officials were left with no choice but to have her hospitalized.

To recap, about 3 weeks ago DH decided to send SD (she’ll turn 16 this summer) to an out of state school for troubled teens he found online. We have SD full time and with DH and my work schedules, we simply don’t have time to deal with her needs. She has a long list of diagnosis: ODD, ADHD, anxiety, depression, Sensory Processing Disorder and developmental delays. She’s been in therapy for over 3 years, has taken many different meds and nothing has helped. She’s also developed an abnormal heart rhythm called Drug Induced Long QT Syndrome probably from one of her meds which limits what other meds she can be prescribed. This therapeutic boarding school was a very expensive last resort.

We knew she wasn't doing very well at the school and DH had been getting biweekly updates about problems, but never expected things would get this bad. We got a message on Wednesday that they had called an ambulance and she was being taken to a hospital (which is out of network UGH!). It’s being considered a suicide attempt so it’s at least 2 weeks hospitalization, maybe longer. Plus the school isn’t going to return the money DH has already paid for next month (which SD won’t use) so this misadventure keeps getting more and more expensive.

SD has used refusing to eat as a manipulative tactic for a while now but never taken things this far. Her ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) is severe so when faced with someone telling her what to do, she digs her heels in and refuses. She didn’t want to be there, didn’t want this to work and she wasn’t going to cooperate at all. Things escalated to the point that SD was doing whatever she could to be defiant and avoid the school staff forcing her to comply. And that ended up refusing take meds, eat and then drink.

At the lower levels, the facility is essentially a lock-down residential treatment center and I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant. There was a very strict schedule and students had to follow the rules and accomplish certain action items to move to the next level. All she needed to do was comply, follow the rules and it would get better.

After students reach a certain level, it’s more like a heavily supervised boarding school with a therapy aspect with more freedom, lots of outdoor activities like horseback riding, kayaking, hiking. It sounded like a lot of fun. It was in a nice location in Montana. We’re not the type of people who can afford expensive summer camps but SD was essentially getting to go to one if she just complied with the residential treatment phase of the program.

SD is acting like DH sent her to jail but if she would have just gone along with it and cooperated she would be having a fun summer instead of being in a psych ward.

This is her typical reaction. She’s pissed off her dad sent her to this place, but rather actually trying, doing as she’s told and trying to get better, she essentially throws a major tantrum and draws as much attention to herself as possible. She gets exactly what she wants by putting her health in danger and getting more attention to how horrible her dad is for sending her to the boarding school/RTC from the hospital staff.

She hates her dad and me and cannot let us ever be right. She has to cause as much grief as possible for her dad and knows this is financially destroying him.

I’m pissed that this place – therapeutic boarding school/RTC whatever they want to call themselves – they advertise all over online as the solution for troubled teens and they truly only have a one size fits all program and weren’t able to truly deal with a mentally ill teen. They sold DH on the idea that this could fix her, and it’s only ended up with things getting even worse. I keep getting ads for them wherever I go online and it’s infuriating.

I’m not sure where we go from here. This is SD’s 3rd time in a psychiatric hospital (and there was 4th time but she wasn’t admitted). None of the previous times have helped. I don’t think she wants help or to get better. She just wants to be angry at her dad.

It’s another psychiatrist with new theories but no answers. What frustrates DH the most is the lack of any definitive answers. It’s all guesses. They’ll try this med and after 8 weeks if it doesn’t work, they’ll try something else. There’s never any solutions and her behavior has gotten so progressively worse. 3 years ago she was a B-/C student and just very immature and socially awkward. I know it seems like DH didn’t do anything to treat these conditions years ago, but she wasn’t always like this.

I have no idea what we'll do when SD has to come home. There's no way she can stay home by herself and there's no daycare programs for teens like her and we couldn't find any sort of home aid person willing to deal with an insubordinate, suicidal teen.


completely overwhelmed's picture

Her condition it's that severe. She's not violent towards other people. She doesn't have bipolar or schizophrenia. Psychotic depression has been mentioned, but that isn't as scary of a diagnosis as it sounds.

There are more things DH could be doing (or I could be doing) on an outpatient basis. It's simply would require someone dealing with her full time. That's why DH opted for this school.

She's highly stressed when at facilities like this so there was the hope when she was released back in January that she would do better at home, but she didn't.

completely overwhelmed's picture

That was what DH did last year and it hasn't had an impact. She lies in bed most of the time and does very little. It's trying to actually get her to do things like exercise or at least get some fresh air, brush her teeth and bathe that would make a difference.

There's not a lot to take away. SD never has had a cell phone. She really had a difficult time using them because of her problems with fine movements with her hands. She can't play video games because she can't use the controllers. She has no friends.

The more someone tries to control her, the more she does to resist - like refusing to eat or drink. Her therapist here locally already told us months ago to avoid having battles over those because it gets serious very quickly.

completely overwhelmed's picture

Equine therapy was one of the things I liked about the therapeutic boarding school, but students weren't allowed near the horses until they were at a higher level (after about 4 months typically).

It's something I think could help but I'm not sure where she would do it here. I found programs for autistic kids, but I'm not sure people want some mentally ill teen around their animals.

completely overwhelmed's picture

I know someone who has horses and I have a feeling she wouldn't want SD near them since we can't be sure how either the horses or SD would react.

As for volunteering at a animal shelter, I found those so sad to see the poor animals in cages and without homes. I have a feeling SD would likely get upset. Her mother is currently in jail, so it's not something that would be a positive association for her.

Peridwen's picture

I'd agree with you about a regularly trained 'kid-safe' horse, but therapy horses go through special evaluations and training. Not every horse can be a therapy horse, but the ones who can are amazing! And some are only good for those with extra needs. There was one 34yo Morgan gelding (Zeke) I remember, who was a pain in the rear to handle until he stepped foot in the barn. He was solid and steady when he was working. I watched a teen in a wheelchair roll around him while grooming him, and Zeke never moved an inch. A 4yo who spent most of her lesson screeching and kicking (not maliciously) was perfectly safe aboard him. He never put a foot wrong. And the nonverbal boy who avoided coming within 3 feet of any human being would snuggle into Zeke's neck and stay there. Zeke'd cock a hind leg, rest his head on the boy's shoulder, and doze while the therapist did her thing with him.

Now, if I tried to train my old horse to be a therapy horse - I'd have been one dead lady. Shak did NOT have the special personality a horse needs to be a safe therapy horse. Loved him dearly - just was not a particularly patient animal. And I was an exercise rider for an "old, kid-safe" horse that a family purchased as a Christmas present for a 10yo. My first experience at telling an 'employer' that their horse was not suitable for what they wanted and old doesn't equal safe in the horse world. That 18yo scoundrel dumped me in the dirt so many times I lost count.

But as long as the equestrian therapy facility is a good one, it should be as safe as is possible when working with living animals.

Indigo's picture

Bless you. You are speaking 1000% truth. Therapy horses are a different animal than your typical boarding stable or backyard pet. Just because a horse is old or "dead-broke" or "kid-broke" does not make them suitable for therapy.

I spend hundreds of hours training my horses specifically to the task.

I've had Arabians that I paired with clients because of their intuitive reactions which were especially helpful with clients with depression, emotional crisis, and eating disorders. One quarter horse, in particular, works well with my autistic clients. My Norwegian Fjord mare specializes in TBI/Stroke-survivors. She will stop dead if she feels a client shift out of position and then proceed to buck off able-bodied riders. Some horses are specifically matched to sensory-seeking clients while others are matched with sensory-avoidant clients.

Enough said. Stepping off the soapbox ...

completely overwhelmed's picture

Thanks to everyone for the information about equine therapy. I called one place near us and I think they really could help. It's difficult to get SD excited about going to any sort of therapy so anything that I think she would want to go to would be fantastic.

completely overwhelmed's picture

She's not violent luckily - except harming herself. All I know about the current situation is that she has said it would be a relief to die when told if she didn't drink water she would die.

I don't think she's a sociopath. In general, she's not manipulative in a verbal way (unless it's tossing herself on the ground and having a temper tantrum). Her ways of manipulating people are pretty similar to my 4 year old when she was in the Terrible 2s.

Pharlap's picture

Screw therapeutic school, freaking military school. They WILL make her shape up whether she likes it or not.

completely overwhelmed's picture

I wish that would work, but she's being hospitalized for refusing to drink water at a residential program (she did drink at the hospital). What exactly would a military school be able to do? Force water down her throat?

The more people try to force her to do something, the more she resists to the point she's left with only controlling what she's left to control.

hereiam's picture

They WILL make her shape up whether she likes it or not.

Yeah, no they won't. I have a cousin who was kicked out of military school (more than one, actually). They will only tolerate so much.

Dontfeedthetrolls's picture

Did they tell you she was not eating and drinking. It is very disturbing that this "school" allowed it to get to the point that she had to be put in a hospital.

completely overwhelmed's picture

Yes, refusing to drink was the reason for them to send her to the hospital. We knew she was refusing to eat (specifically she was refusing to go to dining hall) and they were struggling to get her to take meds (this is an ongoing issue). Refusing to drink was new.

She wasn't following their program, wasn't participating and most of the time was refusing to get out of bed. They had a staff member assigned to her full time and she gets into these moods where you want her to do X and so she refuses to do that and then Y and Z too.

MrsZipper's picture

I hope someone is able to help this girl, my heart breaks for her. I don't understand how you put a mentally delayed teen with a sensory processing disorder in a lock down facility where there are strange sounds, yelling, rough or uncomfortable sheets. She is probably already agitated from that, and then she has ODD and in a facility which has the goal of making people comply. This sounds like a nightmare that she would try to find any way of escaping. Mental illness that remains untreated is a terrible thing. I hope someone is able to find the right combination of meds or therapy that works for her.

StepUltimate's picture


That's all I have, except a huge THANK YOU for the term, "ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder)" because I never knew there was a diagnosis for this! OMG, I will be researching this because the title sounds like perfect summary of SS17's "resist and refuse even though I'm shooting my own foot!" attitude, which his mom passed down via extensive modeling of the same behavior.

I am glad you're posting and reaching out, and wish I had wisdom to share regarding your specific circumstance, but I can only encourage you to stay strong & be good to yourself (food, rest, reaching out instead of bottling up). SD is very blessed to have you and DH; your love and concern is really evident and I pray SD turns a corner so she can thrive & enjoy the good things in life.

completely overwhelmed's picture

It's been hard to figure out how she can make friends. She didn't quite have close friends at her old high school, but at least people she did know. When she was expelled and went to the alternative high school, she didn't make any friends and didn't fit in at all (which isn't a bad thing, it was all troublemakers).

She acts much younger than she is, isn't interesting in normal teen things. She's been banned from electronics for so long that she has no idea what popular tv shows other teens watch. DH freaked out that she might see that teen show on Netflix about suicide that he got rid of our Roku box so she couldn't access Netflix at all.

I know DH sounds like he was the world's biggest idiot for sending her to this therapeutic boarding school, but he did hope she would meet other kids that she could be friends with and could relate to what she's going through.

At her old school I know she was bullied about her mom being in jail so she didn't talk about it after that. But the vast majority of the kids at the therapeutic boarding school fall into the category of kids who drink, party and do drugs. I'm guessing those would be the social type kids who wouldn't get along with SD who is very quiet, very immature, nearly anti-social and the only party she's attended recently was her half-sister's 4th birthday party.

BethAnne's picture

Is there anyway that you or your husband could cut down your hours or quit altogether (or work alternate shifts?) so that someone can be home with her most of the time? Do you think it would help her if that was a possibility? Would it just help her to avoid suicide or would it help her improve her situation a little?

You two really do seem to be in a tough spot trying to work this all out, it must be exhausting.

completely overwhelmed's picture

I've been trying to figure that out, even suggested DH become a stay at home dad, but he's not willing to give up his job.

It would be me staying home with her. I feel very guilty for saying this, but I don't want to. I know that the problem boils down to the fact that SD doesn't have a mom. If this was my BD, I would be going to the ends of the earth to find doctors or therapist to help her. It's not that DH doesn't want to help, but he doesn't buy into psychology in general. He's frustrated they can't give him answers and that he can't just tell SD what to do and fix everything.

SD and I don't get along. Staying home and dealing with her 24/7 would drive me crazy. I can't do it. I just can't. I need time away from her to maintain my sanity.

BethAnne's picture

I don't blame you for not wanting to take that on. If he is not willing to do it then you should not feel obligated to either. I currently do not work and look after my sd9 around her school schedule and that alone drives me crazy on some days. I cannot imagine making that all day every day with a troubled teen and not going mad. You can only help out so much if your husband is unwilling to lead the efforts to help his daughter.

Indigo's picture

Sounds as if you and DH may be in the position faced by many parents of children with severe disabilities: one parent drops out of the workplace to become a caregiver, teacher, shuttle-pilot, coach and activist for the disabled child.

You may wish to look into Equine-Assisted Therapy/Therapeutic Horseback Riding. PATH International,, may be able to provide you with a list of resources in your area. There is quite a body of evidence that supports successful use of equine-assisted therapy for a variety of physical, emotional and behavioral issues. This is my industry. PM if you have any questions.

Good luck

completely overwhelmed's picture

Thanks for the link. I'll definitely look into the equine therapy. I think SD would benefit from that.

Indigo's picture

Dang,Sue - you delve too deeply sometimes. Spelunking while others are arguing cloud formations.

Sitting up with a dying dog tonight, I read your post & thought of the mental illness stigma. Thank you for expressing the sense of a different reality which is so difficult for a family to cope with ... Thank you also for leveling the playing field metaphorically between physical & mental dysfunction.

Cooooookies's picture

All of what sueu2 said. Absolutely all of it. And I have to add...why is your DH expecting other people to do more for his own daughter than he is doing? Not to be harsh or rude, but that IS what he is expecting. Just like people in society expect more from a SM than the own bio parents are doing. It. Doesn't. Work.

My own son has ADHD, ODD and depression so I am talking from someone with a bit of experience. Oh boy was he a frustrating child! Man was he ever! But there is no quick answer. No quick solution. No magic pill to make it all go away. There is structure, structure, structure, therapy and meds that can assist but they will never cure. Never.

Beyond all of that, SD can feel that her own father doesn't make the effort. She already has a mother in jail that is useless. Now dad has given up. So not only does she have to deal with all of her mental illnesses that she doesn't understand...she now sees every single day that one parent is useless and the other has basically given up and isn't fighting for her.

That hurts a well adjusted "average" child to the core, let alone a child who struggles to just exist every day. Your DH may not understand it but he dang well needs to start. Do the research, implement change, take the part time job, spend more time with her, attend therapy sessions. HE needs to do MORE for his own daughter than others do. Way more. The more she knows he's in it for life and is making a pure effort, the better her outcome.

The longer this goes on, the harder it will be to get under control. But it CAN be controlled. However it starts with your DH. He has given up and expects pills and other people to fix her while he sits on the side lines hoping he'll wake up one day and things will magically be better. It starts with him...or this will never improve.

My son made honor roll this school year and is holding a part time job and doing fantastic. It is possible.

completely overwhelmed's picture

DH would have to quit his job to deal with taking SD to more appointments. I've posted a lot about this issue. Even how to convince DH to become a stay at home dad. I'm working more hours now and taking SD to her appointments usually fell on me.

Insurance is what he blames for not quitting. I'm not sure if we could make that work and what options there would be if we tried to essentially lower our income to the point we qualify for assistance. But he defines himself by his job. The owner of his company has tried to be accommodating, but DH taking off time destroys their schedule. DH has been told many times he can't take off more time without being fired (and they can fire him).

We have no idea how to even pick up SD since DH can't miss any more work. The company he works for is already having to pay penalties for not finishing the project on time due to him having to take off work to deal with SD.

DH has put in so much effort to helping SD. It wasn't effective and maybe did more harm than good, but that's the way he is. He wants to fix her. He wants this to be like a broken arm or a disease you take a pill for and it's cured. DH is so frustrated that SD gets a med and she has horrible side effects that impact her ability to function. (she gets nauseous from almost any medication. Even Advil makes her nauseous). The meds she's on make her nauseous, tried and/or dizzy and it's a fight to get her to take them. There's no simple fixes and everything ends up causing more problems.

It really comes down to me doing more, and I have tried but SD doesn't like me and I don't like her. I'm not sure even DH likes her anymore. They're such different people. They're such absolute opposites.

notsurehowtodeal's picture

Has anyone suggested anti nausea medicines? Narcotics make me throw up. I have used Zofran with great success. Compazine also works, but can cause people to get "jittery." There is also the old stand by Dramamine - although that can make people sleepy. I realize using a medicine to counter another medicine could be a problem long term, but it might help for a time.

I have also used the bracelets that go around your wrist and use a pressure point to relieve nausea.

If DH doesn't like SD, even if he thinks he doesn't act like it - she knows. That can't help but make things worse.

completely overwhelmed's picture

She has taken a prescription anti-nausea medication in the past because one of the meds prescribed she couldn't tolerate at all and was vomiting constantly. That was in combination with a medication that made her incredibly sleepy. So she had to have 5 Hour Energy to even stay awake at school, plus the anti-nausea. All for medication that didn't end up helping her depression and anxiety. She was on those meds for about 2 months and then switched to something different which wasn't as bad.

That's one of DH's biggest frustrations. The meds don't work and have so many side effects that create so many more problems.

The message she's gotten from her psychiatrist and a lot of nursing staff at inpatient facilities is that she simply needs to get used to the side effects and if she takes these for years and years, she won't even notice them any more. I'm not sure exactly how we get to that point because as soon as she can stop these meds, she will and forcing them down her throat isn't something DH or I can do.

BethAnne's picture

I fully appreciate that you guys have tried and tried and tried and do not mean to add another thing to that list and make you'd feel more burdened, but ....I was just wondering if you had ever considered looking into medical marijuana or it's extracts to help your sd? If traditional medication seems not to work it may be worth considering. I have no idea if they will prescribe it where you are or if they will prescribe it for a minor but there are a number of different strains and perhaps there maybe one that helps your sd.