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Posted: Nov 3, 2004 17:44


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CEO of Provo Canyon School

By Kathy Nussberger (Former Editor of The Woodbury Reports newsletter)

This month's Woodbury Reports profile is on Kreg Gillman, Chief Executive Officer at Provo Canyon School, with campuses in both Orem and Provo, UT. I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Kreg in September when he, Ken Huey and Brad Gerrard stopped by Woodbury Reports for a visit.

Kreg took over as CEO of Provo in January 2004, but first began working at Provo in the early 1990's as a therapist and then in admissions before moving on to another program.

"I came back to Provo in January as the CEO," Kreg explained. "I started here as a therapist in 1993, became Director of Admissions in 1996, and went to work for Aspen Education in 1998 as the Director of Admissions for Aspen Achievement Academy and Aspen Ranch. After three months in admissions, I spent the next three years as the Executive Director of Aspen Ranch. Subsequently, Aspen Education asked me to move into the Executive Director position at SunHawk Academy in St. George, UT, for about two and a half years."

Kreg laughingly recalled a moment in his childhood that transformed his future and created a lifelong intrigue with Provo Canyon and residential treatment programs in general. "I grew up in this area, and I remember driving by Provo Canyon as a youngster and asking my father, what is that place? He responded with that's where I am going to send you if you don't shape up. It is pretty amazing how life comes around full circle."

When he first interviewed at Provo Canyon 12 years ago, they walked him around the campus and he was amazed at the environment. "I had no idea what a neat environment it was; they had a wonderful academic program, great therapists, and even a swimming pool and a bowling alley (back then). I could see the influence of having the students in a 24-7 environment. It was a very powerful experience."

Prior to obtaining his PhD in psychology, Kreg worked with Vietnam veterans as a therapist in Pocatello, ID, for about two years before moving into outpatient services at a counseling center in Idaho Falls. "When adolescents would come in for therapy, they'd feed me a line of what they thought I wanted to hear, but there was no emphasis or motivation for change. It was like being a philosopher and a cheerleader: here's what I see happening, rah rah, now go change. In residential treatment, we can tell the students 'it's up to you,' and we have the leverage to help them change. We also have a better opportunity to recognize and address the entire family's dysfunction. The separation from family allows hearts to grow fonder and softer, and allows all family members to take responsibility in their relationships. In general, it promotes the healing process."

Kreg said the residential treatment arena is a good fit for his clinical style. "I was hooked from day one because it's not just talking the talk; it's walking the walk that gets these kids through the program. I like the leverage because we can challenge the kids on their issues, and we have the structure and support of the staff to back up the therapeutic component."

His personal belief is that therapists who do well in residential and wilderness treatment programs are those who use the milieu/environment to affect change. "Our best resources at Provo are the line staff personnel who work with the kids day-to-day. I love the system of checks and balances because if I (as a therapist) am manipulated by a student, the treatment team straightens me out. My colleagues used to tease me that I loved residential treatment because I could confront the kids on their issues and they couldn't run away."

He added that there has to be struggle for growth to occur. "Some of the students whom I see grow the most are those that really struggle through the program. What inspires me is when I receive letters from kids who I worked with 11 or 12 years ago and they are now married, have careers and children of their own. Residential treatment allows us to see the change we have helped effect, and there is an emotional payoff when we see students succeed. This is dramatically different from outpatient care, because with outpatients it is sometimes difficult to see any real change, and you seldom ever know what the final outcome was for the family or individual. For me, the satisfaction comes when I see these kids and families move forward in a positive and productive direction."

Kreg shared a story about one of the first families he ever worked with at Provo. "The parents were questioning my interventions with their child and were struggling with enmeshment and over-protectiveness. I went to my supervisor and told him that I was doing my best but was struggling with this family. My supervisor said let's get them on the phone and let them know that if they don't support what you are doing it is never going to work. He said, maybe we need to call their bluff. The supervisor got them on the phone and challenged them on their issues. He told them that if they couldn't support what I was trying to do, then they needed to come get their child. They backed off immediately, and for the first time I saw how we were really able to work through the issues with these families and kids to help them overcome their old behaviors. I firmly believe success breeds confidence and each little success for these students leads to more and more confidence."

Kreg and his wife Tracy were married 18 years ago. They have one son age nine, and three daughters, age's 15, 13 and six. "My eternal disclaimer is that I can help your kids, but don't come to my house! So far we've been lucky and our kids are doing well, but I definitely teach better parenting than I sometimes practice. I continually remind parents that effective parenting is one of the hardest things in the world. As parents, we have a natural tendency to enable, protect, and believe everything our children say. My own kids definitely have my buttons figured out!"

Although they didn't meet at Provo Canyon, Tracy did work at the school for a time and has some experience with residential and wilderness programs and what Kreg does. Today, she is a homemaker, and accepts Kreg's need for taking on new challenges. "Over the years, we have moved several times, so when I took on the Provo job last January, she said, the next time you get bored, why don't you just take a class rather than a new job!"

Kreg said the message he is trying to share about Provo Canyon is that despite its reputation of being a secure facility, it is not punitive. "I am a therapist, and the goal at Provo is to integrate clinical work into everything we do. We have always been able to work with fairly challenging students on a behavioral level. We are now enhancing what we have done so well for so long by creating smaller teams, improving training, and basing decisions on each individual student's particular presentation and issues".

To accomplish this, Kreg recently integrated the group living and therapy departments into a single Clinical Services department. "We hired Stephen Biddulph as the Director of Clinical Services. He is a star in the field, a tremendous leader, and he had the expertise to help us integrate the two departments. The treatment teams consist of 10 groups of 12 students each, as opposed to having 36 kids on a unit or 120 on a campus. Those teams live, play, eat, and do homework together. They function like a family, each having a team therapist, as well as team coaches, or counselors. The number of staff has increased to allow team coaches more one-on-one time with each student."

Kreg concluded by saying that he loved the information and publications of Woodbury Reports. "I appreciate what you guys do, and the Places for Struggling Teens website is phenomenal. Keep up the good work."

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