Visit Reports
Visit Reports

Dec 21, 2011, 08:46

Syracuse, UT
Laura Burt
Admissions Director

Visit by Judith E. Bessette, EdD Visit by Judith E. Bessette, EdD - October 10, 2011
- October 10, 2011

Island View RTC opened in 1994. Its founders, both experienced mental health professionals, envisioned a program that would help troubled teens build on their strengths, abandon self-defeating behaviors, understand their unique gifts and accept help. The building blocks for positive change at Island View included therapy, milieu programming, academics, recreation and psychiatry.

Today's Island View describes itself as building healthy futures on a solid foundation and uses the very same building blocks…continuing to help boys and girls 13 to 17 build on their strengths, abandon self-defeating behaviors, understand the their unique gifts and accept help.

Have there been changes at Island View since 1994? Of course! Its ownership has changed, clinical leadership has changed and, recently, there have been several changes in the position of Executive Director. While the school at one time worked with 110 students, they've downsized - another change -- with a current capacity of 76.

In my recent visit, I found that while all of those things had changed…there was much more that remained the same. First and foremost, I was struck by the longevity of the staff…and that includes the leadership team, the therapy team, the academic team and, most surprisingly, the milieu staff itself.

4 of the 8 person leadership team has been at Island View for more than 5 years…with 3 of those folks there nearly 15 years including Judi Jacques, Program Director, Jen Capellen, Academic Director and Laura Burt, the head of Admissions for both Island View and its neighbor, the Aspen Institute. Of their 9 therapists, while the newest (a PhD candidate) has only been there about 6 months, 3 are at nearly 10 years or more…and the rest nearly 5 years. The lead milieu staff (one for boys and one for girls) have each been there for over five years. And, they have team members who have been around as long as 8 years.

When I asked about this legacy of longevity, staff members at every level talked about camaraderie, teamwork, and the sense of family at Island View. I even talked with a student who, after telling me that Island View had (literally) saved his life, went on to say that while he knew the program was "owned by some big corporation" it felt to him like one big family…and a mostly happy family!

The sense of cohesion on clinical team was palpable. Jason Drake, Clinical Director, explained that several therapists have specialty areas…trauma, adoption, ADHD and executive functioning, sexual abuse, grief and loss to name a few…backed by on-going specialized training including EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing); trauma-focused CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy); DBT (dialectic behavioral therapy) and adoption and attachment issues, most recently through the Kinship Center.
They talked about the advantages to them (and to the students) of having their psychiatrists on site four days each week. All of this underscores Island View's ability to serve clinically complex cases.

Milieu staff talked about the ongoing training they get from the clinical team on a monthly basis. They talked about their sense of "really being heard" as an integral part of the treatment process and you could sense their pride in knowing that what they do, day in and day out, is critical to each teen's success.

David Hans, PsyD, Executive Director of both Island View and the Aspen Institute, is a clinical psychologist who has over 25 years of experience in therapeutic programming and corporate management. Prior to joining Aspen Education Group in 2009, he worked with youth and families in a variety of settings including therapeutic boarding schools, residential treatment centers and in private practice.

David reinforced what I had learned from other staff members…that much of Island View's success with complicated teens is a result of a truly integrated program…a therapeutic setting where psychiatry, academics, milieu programming and recreation all have an equal role in treatment.

I sat down with two boys - one there for nearly a year and close to graduating - the other having been at Island View for only a couple of months. Talking with students is always something I enjoy. They explained that every student is part of a team…creating a more intimate group for every student within the larger environment. There are 2 boys and 2 girls teams. Team members learn problem-solving skills, develop accountability and serve as mentors to one another. While Island View is co-ed, the teams are single sex and there are limited and highly supervised interactions between boys and girls.

The boys also talked about having individual therapy and family therapy weekly (more often if necessary) and about having group sessions with their team as well as specialty groups for substance abuse and other issues like adoption.
Both told me that they had learned a great deal about themselves through therapy. One of them who had come to Island View from a psych hospital had extremely complimentary things to say about his interactions with the psychiatrist assigned to his team. That a psychiatrist could actually help him seemed a novel idea.

Speaking of learning, the boys told me they like the small class sizes - about ten students on average - and the range of classes that are offered in the fully accredited school. The school offers a rigorous college-prep curriculum and both of these boys - and almost all of the other students - have every intention of going on to college once they graduate.

We ended our conversation talking about recreation. Students participate in physical education every day. There is a weight room and a newly refurbished rock wall in the gym; an obstacle course outside; and many students participate in local 5K runs and half-marathons. Off-campus trips are scheduled regularly to hike, camp, swim, ski and snowboard. The academic program mixes the beauty and wonder of Utah with recreation through an elective, Outdoor Classroom. Recently, a group of girls camped in Flaming Gorge, Utah and learned about dinosaurs, astronomy, photography and biology.

My visit to campus ended with a walking tour through a pleasant and cheerful environment in the dorm areas, the school, the group rooms and the cafeteria.

I left feeling that the Island View Team is as strong as ever, and remains an excellent choice for both troubled and more clinically complex teens -kids who are depressed, bi-polar, abusing substances, suicidal, emotionally dysregulated, dealing with trauma, self-harming and/or dealing with other destructive behaviors, psychiatric disorders and other emotional issues. Call Laura Burt to set up a visit and see just how solid this program is firsthand.

© Copyright 2012 by Woodbury Reports, Inc.