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Posted June 18, 2003 

Cedar Ridge
Residential Treatment Center

Roosevelt, Utah
Pam Nielson, Admissions Director

[Visit on January 16, 2003 by Loi Eberle, M.A.,
Educational Consultant & Editor-in-Chief,
Woodbury Reports, 208-267-5550

It would not be obvious to the casual passerby that Cedar Ridge is a residential treatment center. Located in a rural area near Roosevelt, Utah, Cedar Ridge looks very similar to the other farms and residences in the area. Cedar Ridge students live in bungalow-style homes, typical to the neighborhood. What distinguishes Cedar Ridge from the other homes in the area are the small geodesic domes used for their karate classes and the director ’s office. They are constructing an additional dome, which Director, Rob Nielson, prefers, both because of its very usable space and appealing shape created by the triangular panels. Cedar Ridge is also currently in the process of creating a softball diamond for their frequent staff and student softball games and they are digging a pond in which they will stock fish. While very adequate and comfortable, in all reality, the facility is not the most remarkable part of this program; rather, it is the therapy that seems to be most impressive.

One interesting feature of this campus is that the students who have attained the highest level based on their therapeutic and academic work are allowed to live in the coed dorm. The girls’ bedrooms are on one side of the house, and the boys’ rooms on the other, with a shared kitchen area in between. At night, an awake floor supervisor sits at the desk situated between the two sides of the house, with clear lines-of-sight to both areas. Pam Nielson, Admissions Director, told me they hire someone to be the night supervisor who enjoys something like knitting. They need to be happy to sit there for long hours since by the time the students have earned enough trust to live in the coed dorm, they are extremely well-behaved.

Cedar Ridge uses a combination of cognitive and behavioral therapy, along with other practices that foster awareness and self-discipline, including karate and a form of dialectical behavioral therapy. One therapeutic tool is their level system, which rewards students for demonstrating appropriate behaviors and attitudes and for actively participating in therapy. The program assigns points as a form of feedback to the student, thus augmenting their cognitive therapy by helping them to become aware of their behaviors immediately when they occur. By becoming aware of their behavior, students can then reflect on the decisions they were making when they acted in a particular way, helping them to clarify their underlying beliefs about themselves and the world.

One therapeutic tool to help students become aware of the fears that drive their behavior is “The Fears Chart Handbook.” Director, Rob Nielson, wrote this handbook based both on the work of other psychologists as well as on his own experience as a marriage and family therapist. The handbook was derived from a two-day workshop for Cedar Ridge students and their parents that involved a ROPES course. It offers a simple and useful way to identify situations that cause fear responses and the behaviors that are typically used to ease feelings of discomfort. It includes personal and group activities to help desensitize fears and refute irrational thoughts that accompany “avoiding behaviors”.

Cedar Ridge’s point card system is based on the philosophy that “no human is perfect and so no student at is expected to be perfect.” In application, it means that if five points would be a perfect score, the highest a student is expected to earn is 4; students are essentially expected to achieve four fifths of the total possible points. As part of the therapeutic process, therapists help students identify certain “target behaviors” that need to be eliminated. Each time a student displays one of these target behaviors, it is considered a “significant occurrence” and it carries greater consequences in terms of points lost.

The point system also is used to determine at what level students deserve privileges. One way the point system is used to reinforce positive behavior, rather than to punish, is in the way in which points are deducted. Students may earn approximately half the points back if they accept the consequence with good eye contact, receptive body language and respectful tone of voice.

Since the point system is not intended to be punitive, they have ways of insuring that students don’t lose too many points. One unique way that students can regain points is by turning the compost pile, while being supervised by a staff member. I was aware that this occasionally happened, though what I had imagined was very different from what I saw. The compost was fluffy peat-moss-like material evenly spread on a large, flat garden area that was worked with a hand rake right outside Rob Nielson’s office. In fact, the activity looked easier than raking leaves. It was more about talking to the counselor one-to-one than it was about work; mostly it provided the opportunity for mentoring and a higher level of behavioral monitoring.

I was disappointed that I had arrived too late to watch a Karate class in session, which is a very active part of the Cedar Ridge program. Not only does it provide an opportunity for daily exercise, it also helps students develop skills that increase their confidence and self-discipline. I was aware of the fact that some of the students earn the privilege of competing and winning awards at tournaments in other cities.

Pam Nielson asked a number of students who I had referred over the past year to meet with me privately as a group, which delighted me. Some were about ready to graduate, and had truly made a great deal of progress in terms of their attitudes and behaviors, compared to when I first started working with their families. I was particularly impressed with the students’ insight and clarity about the work they had done. Also, I was happy to hear that a few kids who had been determined to drop out, were in the process of receiving their accredited high school diploma, thanks to the very competent teaching staff at Cedar Ridge! The students who had been there the shortest amount of time were the ones who still were having some issues with their parents and the program. Even so, they regarded it positively. I am aware that some kids move more slowly through the levels than others, but there seems to be plenty of communication with the families and the consultants, in that situation.

Later I met with Rob and the therapists and discussed how important it was for the parents to understand and reinforce the therapeutic work that was being done by their child at Cedar Ridge. They discussed various ways they interacted with the parents and students to enhance their communication, and the ways in which they were working with specific issues with some of my referrals. I was impressed with the therapists I met while I was there, though admittedly, they had not been there all that long, which I’ve noticed is often the case in many programs. The therapists I spoke with seemed to have a clear understanding of the program and good communication with the students and the most of their parents. Rob Nielson gets involved with the students’ therapy sessions as well, and interacts with the parents when appropriate.

When I reflect on my visit to Cedar Ridge, I realize that what left the most lasting impression with me was the interaction I had with the therapists, the directors, staff and students in regards to the therapeutic work they were doing. It is no surprise that the good results I have seen from this program are a result of the strength of its therapeutic work.

PO Box 1671 | Bonners Ferry, ID 83805 | 208-267-5550
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