A THERAPEUTIC SCHOOL
Montana Academy is a therapeutic boarding school for struggling teenagers. At its founding in 1997 it was unique in the nation. For it combined well-trained clinicians, an effective therapeutic program and a challenging prep school, all situated on a remote Montana ranch. In the years after its opening, the Academy fulfilled its promise to become a remarkable combination of clinical sophistication, staged incentives and ambitious academics. Emancipated from intrusive insurance companies and the mediocrity of “managed care,” its staff has been free to do its best work. Removed from the distractions of mass culture, shielded from ubiquitous illicit drugs, unplugged from the matrix of modern media and protected by adults, MA students have been free to join with staff in a collaborative culture that is dedicated to a restoration of progress in adolescent maturation.At the Academy we take a distinctive psychiatric approach to adolescent troubles. We recognize that many presenting symptoms and misbehaviors—at school, at home, and among social peers—result from a relative immaturity. For this reason, instead of limiting treatment to symptom relief (pills or brief therapies), we pursue a two-step diagnosis and dual treatment: (a) to identify and then to remove, insofar as possible, the obstacles to psychological development; and (b) to prod students to achieve new psychological milestones and so to restore the momentum of normal maturation. These twin developmental goals require a coordinated and sustained effort, not a quick fix.
Montana Academy’s clinical, academic and program structures have been designed from this understanding and promote this goal–to help struggling students to move on to academic and interpersonal successes, which follow from a restoration of normal adolescent maturity. The Academy’s preeminence as a therapeutic boarding school is built around this premise–and founded upon the following structural elements:
- The Academy’s founders and directors are all working clinicians, who provide the Academy’s senior leadership. One co-CEO is a psychiatrist (John McKinnon, MD), the other (John Santa, PhD) a clinical psychologist; the Academy’s Director of Education (Carol Santa, PhD) is an educational psychologist; the Director of Admissions (Rosemary McKinnon, MSW) is a clinical social worker. These leaders bring to the ranch more than 175 years of cumulative clinical experience.
- A well-trained staff is able to base clinical and academic decision-making upon a sophisticated psychological understanding of each student. Ranch staff include: two board-certified psychiatrists; five PhD-level psychologists; five MSW or MA-level therapists; two certified recreational-therapists; a certified PhD- and seven certified MA-level teachers.
- On-site psychiatric consultation permit students to continue or start new indicated psychotropic medications. Both on-site psychiatrists provide informal monitoring. The Medical Director’s regularly-scheduled appointments with students provide competent, attentive medication management, and provide a collaborative basis (involving students and parents) in decisions to reduce or discontinue psychopharmacology.
- Regular individual, group and family therapies, conducted by trained, experienced clinical staff, are integrated into each student’s weekly life.
- A staged sequence of developmental incentives prods an immature teenager to make up lost developmental ground and replace an immature, flawed approach to the challenges of adolescence.
- An accredited prep school offers demanding academics integrated with program incentives and guided by clinical understanding. All the school’s academic courses are taught by skilled, affectionate teachers in the context of personal relationships, as to produce an academic maturity that prepares MA graduates to perform well in competitive high schools and colleges.
- An intensive family program involves parents in a sequenced clinical and program collaboration with MA staff, so that sons and daughters can restore close relationships with parents and recover the loving rapport of worried siblings and extended family.
- MA’s innovative relationship-based addictions prevention program for substance abuse and other compulsive preoccupations (e.g., computer games, gambling) that disrupt human relationships is clinically-tailored to adolescents, i.e., it is not merely a clunky adaptation of traditional adult programs. Instructive lectures are meant for all students, and advanced seminar-groups are scaled in intensity and prescribed in accordance with a student’s history and risk of adult addiction.
- Not least, the Academy’s Sky House program–for older, advanced students–reduces post-graduate regression and prepares grads for college