My family was in show business and, years ago, they took me to a Broadway musical in which the lyrics of the show-stopping song went something like this, "I am what I am. I bang my own drum. Some call it noise. I call it music." I recall these lyrics because anyone who knows me describes me as a person who bangs her own drum and, sometimes, I can be noisy. I question authority, especially when I feel it does not seem valuable or necessary.
This brings me to the much discussed questions these days of licensing and designated standards. It may seem odd that I, who believe so much in independent thinking, feel that licensing for therapeutic programs is both valuable and necessary. Let me explain.
I believe that being a former student of Rocky Mountain Academy, an emotional growth school, has been the biggest gift of my life. Rocky Mountain Academy (which is now closed) was formed and run by some wonderful, creative and "outside the box" thinkers. These people were visionaries looking for alternative ways for kids to grow and learn. It was a program with strict rules and regulations. I fought a great many of them, but when I was there, I knew that the people into whose care I was placed deeply cared about me and my growth. Fifteen years later, I found myself in the same industry that I, as a teen, fought tooth and nail not to be part of.
Now, older and somewhat wiser, I myself am running an outdoor emotional growth therapy program. It is called "New Horizons for Young Women." It is small in size, but large in commitment and integrity - a nine week program, only for girls age 13 to 18. We have 31 employees. It is not a boot camp nor a punishment program, but rather a structured environment in which young girls can grow in self esteem and responsibility. We have licensed therapists as well as wilderness instructors who believe in emotional growth. In short, I wanted to have, what I call, a therapy meets emotional growth environment. Some people had an issue with this philosophy because they felt one couldn't combine "regulated" professional therapists with "out of the box" self-help thinkers. But I felt that they could compliment each other and that the goals of both were the same; to help youngsters become healthy, not just physically but emotionally.
I understood that being in a business with living arrangements and employed therapists, I needed to have state licensing. I researched the existing licensing departments and realized that our philosophy didn't fit into any one license. I then made choices. I found the closest Department of Human Services license and applied. I then went to the Department of Mental Health and talked about what the role of our therapists was. At first, the various licensing departments could not understand just what our program was all about. There was a lot of work ahead for us to explain to the licensers what our goals were. Still we felt licensing was important because it gave guidelines to our program and reassured parents that I, myself, and the program were responsible.
Thankfully, the State of Maine worked with us. They realized we were not perhaps like other programs that existed, but that we could still qualify for licensing. We then obtained the two different licenses: one with the Department of Human Services and one with the Department of Mental Health. Both licenses were both logical and helpful. They dealt with issues of confidentiality to keeping things sanitized and emergency drills. These regulations did not affect my creativity or that of our staff. In some ways, they gave us more peace of mind to expand our creativity. We were very happy and reassured to receive both licenses.
After a few years with our two licenses, I felt the company was doing great things. But the more connections we made in the professional mental health world, the more I felt like society was asking me to prove it. Now that I realized that the licensing didn't hinder the philosophy, I felt we would benefit from a national accreditation.
I carefully researched two national accreditation organizations and decided to be under the umbrella of the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, known as CARF. I must say, I didn't know quite what I was getting into. CARF has very specific "core standards." They scrupulously examined our day to day program as well our general philosophy. I had long reports to write and a major financial commitment. CARF also sent representatives to visit our program. At first, when I felt the strong arm of authority, I all but rebelled. But in getting prepared for the first CARF survey, I had help from our friends at the Three Springs program. When I said, "What do I need this for?" they patiently explained how it would help our program. We did our best to show CARF just what a good, reliable and responsible program New Horizons is.
At first, CARF gave us accreditation for just one year. But after two years, we obtained the three-year accreditation. We are very proud to have this accreditation.
The reason I am writing all of this is to say that, although I consider myself independent and usually against all the red tape and bureaucracy, I feel our licensing has enhanced our confidence, that we are doing the right thing and, just as important, reassures the families of our girls that we are careful and responsible. These are no small matters.
The lessons I have learned through all this is parallel to my own life lessons and to the philosophy of New Horizons for Young Women:
- Standards and boundaries give you guidelines, which alleviate anxiety.
- When you alleviate anxiety, you have more energy for creativity.
- People have respect for others with standards and boundaries.
- Conforming does not mean giving up your own standards or boundaries.
- When authorities you must deal with know that you have qualified licensing, they are more apt to listen to you and to "hear" you.
In summary: I feel that our licenses and accreditation minimize risks and better prepare us for difficulties which may arise in programs and schools which deal with children at risk. They do not interfere with personal growth. They certainly have not interfered with mine but have, instead, helped me and my dedicated staff to grow and understand the complexities of the work we have chosen. I still bang my own drum but, with the help of others, the drum beat is getting louder and may indeed even lead to a glorious crescendo.