Sending your daughter to a therapeutic boarding school may be one of the most gut-wrenching decisions you will ever make. Most parents make the final decision based upon touring the school, and I often hear them remark that coming to the conclusion of which school is best is more difficult than helping their other children decide upon the appropriate college. We want to assist you in making this difficult decision through explaining how we believe our model offers a powerful alternative to therapies that are based in talk therapy or behavioral interventions. It was once said that people prefer a lot of sameness, but perhaps a bit of difference. In many ways, what we have developed has a lot of difference, while retaining the elements that have been proven to be successful in assisting young people.
The primary distinction at GBA is that we function out of a therapeutic philosophy termed Relationality. When most people hear this term, they construe it to mean that we form healing relationships with our students. While this is certainly true, the relational model encompasses much more than how individuals interact with each other.
There is a powerful quote by the philosopher William James, where he stated;” a person only considers an idea they believe to be useful”. In a relational model our team wants to consider how the “symptoms” of a young person was in their minds useful, or their best attempt to gain personal power, relief or control. Rather than looking at these problems as a mental health diagnosis, we begin exploring what we term unconscious limiting belief systems that contributed to the formation of their identity. It is our contention that these beliefs are largely formed as a result of their perceptions regarding important relationships, frequently ones that occur in their early life development.
As an example, we receive a larger percentage of students than one might expect that come from adopted situations. These young women have frequently been in a great deal of cognitive based therapy to explore their “attachment and/or abandonment” Issues, generally with little resolution of their feelings. Through unique imagery based exercises, a girl at GBA comes to “discover” that they formed the belief that they were not wanted or were undesirable, and have consequently developed a way of living that matches their negative self perception. The unique modalities that are utilized create a sense from the girl’s perspective that her answer came from “within”, and often they report feeling much different after one of these intensive sessions. However, the insight that has been derived on it’s own will not be enough to create the formation of a new identity.
GBA utilizes what we term “dialectic interventions” to assist in the process of helping them reformulate their identity. We are defining a dialectic intervention, as one that occurs through contrast or comparison. This means that we will endeavor to create a number of experiences that allow the young woman to continue confronting the limitations of her old belief system through providing situations that offer a sense of self that is almost a direct opposite from the former state of feeling unwanted. Accordingly, she may be given a number of opportunities to take on leadership roles, mentor other students or develop relationships that in the past she would have unconsciously sabotaged. As the old negative belief recedes, and she begins experiencing the power of her authentic self, she begins the process of creating an identity that is much more true to her actual capabilities.
We have been talking about the intra-personal conflicts that students arrive with, and how our relational model helps them begin to reconcile these limiting beliefs. At GBA we provide a number of relationally based contexts that allow the student to continue developing her new since of self. Her interpersonal relationships are observed, as well as her relationships with family members, and in effect the work that has been done can be “checked” by evaluating whether her relationships are characterized by a greater sense of feeling that she has value and purpose in life.
This developing sense of self is augmented by our Aspirations, which is a student run council based on the attainment of virtue. For most students, somewhere around their 5th month at GBA they come to believe that they are worthy person who is deserving of love and much more readily begin embracing the virtue, morals and values that are presented on a daily basis. Through philosophical discussions, and multiple opportunities for service to others, the girls become ready to embrace the concept that they have a sense of purpose or destiny in their lives, and as a result begin living a life where they are pursuing goals and dreams. None of this would be possible without a resolution of the unconscious core beliefs. As they begin to change their sense of identity, the “usefulness” of their former symptoms begins to dramatically recede. The girls become hungry for qualities that are in alignment with their authentic self, and as a result begin to see life through a much broader perspective.
A benefit of this non-confrontational, empowering relational approach is that we have found the work that is done at GBA to be generative, meaning that they continue to grow long after treatment ends. We recently had an alumni come speak to our community, and she shared that she learned more about the meaning of life during her time at GBA than all that she learned as a philosophy major at a prestigious college. We strive to inspire young women to yearn for quality relationships with themselves, with others and with the world. As they begin to essentially asked the question,” what am I here for, and how can I make a difference”, they are set on a path of self-fulfillment, and are at greatly reduced risk for further therapeutic intervention
Mike Beswick, LICSW, BCD
Clinical Director, Family Programming
Greenbrier Academy for Girls