By Stephen C. Schultz
Oxbow Academy is now fast on it’s way to 15 years! Wow!
I am writing this specifically for mental health practitioners and allied health professionals. Those in the legal profession may find this interesting as well. Please allow me to share some observations that I have made over the years that may be useful as you assist the families you work with.
The majority of students currently enrolled at Oxbow have come to us with some previous treatment experience. We are often contacted when these previous treatment settings fail to meet the clinical needs of the student. I’d like to share a couple of scenarios that may be helpful in understanding these students and how to assist them in working through their sexual issues.
1) The student enters a general treatment program; wilderness or RTC. They are admitted for the more traditional reasons of anxiety, depression, anger or substance abuse. It may also be trauma of some kind. Any sexual issues are either denied, minimized or not known about. Often if sexual issues are known about, they are not perceived by families and clinicians as being the “Primary” issues.
The student develops a healthy therapeutic alliance with the therapist and program. He feels comfortable and trusts enough to share. He mentions in a group session that he has had some “inappropriate touching” with a sibling, cousin, neighbor etc. The student trusts enough to “risk” sharing this very sensitive information, however, it is usually met with negative responses from peers and staff. Peers often feel uncomfortable around the student. The clinical team will struggle with the process surrounding mandatory reporting laws. There will be questions like; “We know it needs to be reported, but who do we report to? How do we tell the family? Will the family be drawn into some kind of investigation?”
The therapist generally shares with the student that “…we will just talk about this in individual therapy from now on.” While the therapist has good intentions, this kind of response as well as the increased energy from staff in general reinforces the shame the student feels surrounding the student’s issues. Now, the student realizes it’s not safe to share this information anymore. The student then starts to emotionally and behaviorally become dysregulated and the program starts looking for another placement.
2) Here is the next common scenario. The student enters a general treatment program under the same circumstances as the above example. However, this student begins very subtle grooming behaviors and eventually acts out sexually with another student. It appears from our experience with these students, most treatment programs have some kind of unofficial “Three Strikes” policy toward this behavior. We will get a call from the Educational Consultant, therapist and/or program in crisis mode because the student has not responded to the increased “prompts” and supervision. The staff members find themselves in a “Cops & Robbers” situation and the student now poses too big a risk to the rest of the population. The program then looks for another placement.
These are not pleasant situations to be in for any of the parties involved; the therapist, the educational consultant, the family or the treatment program. Below are some links to articles I have written that can be shared with colleagues or families that you are working with. I hope this is helpful.