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Schools, Programs, & Visit Reports - Feb, 1992 Issue 

Three Springs Treatment Programs
Amy Sobieszczyk, Admissions
(205) 852-8910
Huntsville, Alabama
Lon's Visit: October 23-24, 1991

The Three Springs program is a marriage of wilderness camping, Indian symbolism, and traditional therapies. Their focus is to be an affordable alternative to hospitalization. My visit included both the boys and girls facilities in Trenton Alabama, and the boys facility in Centerville, Tennessee. The residents looked good and appeared to feel safe in the environment, the facilities were clean and well kept up, the scenery was beautiful, and the staff I met seemed to be competent, professional, and endowed with common sense.

The first campus was started in 1985. Since then, it has grown to five programs in three states with a combined enrollment exceeding 190 residents with an average completion time of 15 months. All the programs are similar except for the program in Courtland, Alabama, which is a secure residential center, and the program in North Carolina which is JCAHO approved. (For a more detailed description of each program, see my Directory).

The phenomenal growth in just six years suggests Three Springs is rapidly becoming a major player in the Special Purpose Schools industry. The growth continues as they add a short-term program this summer.

At the three programs I visited, the original primary emphasis was to use wilderness camping as a healing experience. Although this now has less emphasis, it is still a vital component of the resident's experience. The residents live in tents or buildings they have erected themselves which are a good hike away from the central facility. Groups, ceremonies, some meals, and many outdoor, nature oriented activities take place there. The residents have the healing benefit of close contact with the consequences from nature, and the quality of their life comes directly from the quality of what they build for shelter. Academic classes, some meals, and other activities are held in the central facilities. Ceremonies for each stage of a child's progress through the program are an important part of each child's experience. Taken largely from Indian lore, several residents told me the various ceremonies were the highlight of their experience at Three Springs as a recognition of successfully accomplishing each step on their path toward graduation.

Early after enrollment, each resident is given a medicine bag to be carried with them at all times, and are instructed to pick out a stone from the creek bed to put in their medicine bag. Then, as each resident successfully completes a stage, he or she is honored at a special ceremony by being given a stone for their medicine bag, each step honored by a particular type of stone. When a resident is nearing graduation, he or she is to put the creek stone back where it was found as a symbol of having removed the emotional baggage he or she came to the program with. Each graduating resident takes the medicine bag, with the acquired stones, when they leave as a symbol and reminder of what he or she accomplished.

Traditional therapies are important too, including one-on-one counseling and family therapy. Parent support groups in Huntsville, Nashville, Atlanta, and Courtland meet monthly to discuss issues related to children in treatment. Through their consulting psychiatrist and therapist, medication can be dispensed when appropriate as well as provide individual counseling. The programs also offer specialty groups for the sexually abused child and those with alcohol or drug issues. Though structure is the most important part of their program, and they do very well with behavior problem children, the program is also capable of helping psychologically damaged children.

The Three Springs Creed is prominently displayed throughout each of the facilities. It was developed in 1985 by Mike Watson and Jim Payne. It is a good statement of their philosophy and goals.


We believe that every person, regardless of age, social standing, sex, education, or race, is a person worthy of respect, and whose dignity as a human being should be considered at all times.

We believe that every child placed in our care has a goodness and strength to be found, regardless of the problems or unacceptable behavior.

We believe that the physical and emotional health of our residents is paramount. In no case should they be subjected to undue risk or emotional damage because of our actions.

We believe that growth and maturation comes by doing, and our residents should never be demeaned by having things done for them that they can do for themselves.

We believe that each person involved in our treatment program, be they parent, child, social worker, probation officer, counselor, or friend is a part of a cooperative team, and that little can be accomplished without the valuable contribution of each team member.

We believe in truth, whatever the potential embarrassment.

We believe in fairness, knowing that decisions are never fair to all people all of the time.

We believe in building bridges, rather than burning, and developing friendships based upon understanding and care for others.

We believe in goals, and commitment; for without them our lives are undisciplined and nondirected.

Copyright 1992, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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