In-Balance is located six miles off a lonely highway that's not far from Tombstone, AZ. My first thought was how stark, yet beautiful the desert was. My second thought was this is not a place most students would think of running away from! As I pulled up to the Ranch, a gate blocked my entrance and off to the left stood several horses. Several buildings were visible from the gate and it did look like an old ranch.
The property was originally an old dude ranch that went bankrupt a few years back. The original owner built what looked like a Hollywood film setting for cowboy movies. Clinical offices were in the bank. There were lectures presented in the Church. All of the old Wild West buildings were converted into living space, school, offices, etc. My first impression was that it must be fairly difficult to supervise boys in such a variety of buildings. I was later told that the school is broken down into separate "milieus," which helped in monitoring the boys.
The owner, Patrick Barrasso had experienced the difficulty of running an outpatient program in Tucson. According to his daughter, my tour guide, Patrick had the unpleasant experience of going to three funerals in a very short period of time. Outpatient therapy was just not enough, so a little more than a year ago Patrick opened In-Balance for boys who more often than not have substance abuse issues. The school is not solely for substance abuse, but there are only a handful of others who have different diagnoses. I did not meet Patrick, but I did meet several of the staff. The program had very little "glitz" and the people were down to earth. I felt a genuine caring and sincere dedication to taking care of young men who had substance abuse and other emotional/behavioral difficulties.
In-Balance describes their typical student by talking more about who they do not take. The program does not take suicidal boys, nor those who are aggressive/ assaultive. Approximately 13 of the current 37 boys are on psychotropic medicine. One of In-Balance's goals, if appropriate, is to slowly get the kids off all medications. The typical boy is average to above average intellectually. According to Linda Hendricks, many of the students are behind in their credits and some are below average in academic achievement.
The daily and weekly schedule is very tight and well structured with academic work, physical education, community service, addiction groups, equine therapy, AA meetings and sports activities. For the educational component, the program uses the University of Nebraska and Keystone. The academic director told me that the boys, if motivated, can complete one full year in half a year.
The boys are each assigned a therapist who conducts one individual session weekly and a family session every other week. The parents are contacted weekly to keep them informed of their son's activities at the program. There are several weekly psycho-educational groups, including specialty groups for grief and loss, family issues and trauma groups. Families are invited to the campus quarterly for family involvement and therapy. The program integrates the parents into a variety of activities like 12-Step gratitude groups, low ropes experiential exercises, communication skill building and others.
The key to the In-Balance system is the positive peer culture model (PPC). They do not consider themselves as "pure" PPC, but they do have several important components of the model. All new boys are assigned a mentor who stays with him throughout his stay. They also have four PPC groups per week, and an important student group called the leadership council that meets weekly and advises the staff leadership team. Importantly, PPC teaches first and foremost that one must care about others if they expect to make progress in life. It was clear to me that many of the staff and boys showed indications of caring throughout my visit.
Aside from the PPC model, individual and group therapies, and 12-Step meetings, the boys are engaged in rigorous outdoor programming. The boys spend three days each month in the wilderness doing experiential and adventure therapy activities. Every quarter, the boys participate in a five-day outdoor experience that includes hiking, climbing rocks, fishing, solo work and other therapeutic activities. The program also uses sweat lodges. It is apparent that In-Balance believes that kids need to have fun, and they are encouraged to bring musical instruments and continue the healthy activities they had in their communities.
In-Balance would be considered eclectic in their approaches, and it did appear to me that they work hard at what they do. The kids looked engaged and I spent 30 minutes with several of them. They were open, helpful and all the boys felt that they were at a place that was helping them. The boys told me that the staff was honest and there was a strong trust between staff and the boys. At the higher levels, some boys have near-staff levels of respect and in some instances, responsibilities. They told me that the kids here care, and so do the staff. They said it was important to be honest, because eventually, everything that happens on the campus comes out.