The Efficacy of Applied Relationality

Relationality is the fundamental philosophy that guides Greenbrier’s therapeutic treatment. It permeates all therapeutic and scholastic activities within the academy and is the foundation of our community and culture. It creates the context in which our various program elements are most effective and provides therapeutic elements for resolving anxiety and depression.

Unlike the more common individualistic approach to therapy, relationality posits that relationships matter most in understanding what it means to be human. It is through the pursuit of virtuous relationships that we begin to truly heal while discovering our true selves.

In 2012-13, Dr. Douglass S. Marchant, PhD included observations of the Greenbrier (GBA) model and interviews with current students as support material for his doctoral dissertation on relationality at Brigham Young University. What follows are excerpts taken from the text which illustrate the efficacy of our therapeutic model (applied relationality) within the context of our community.

To gain a deeper understanding of strong relationality and how it differs from individualism as a therapeutic philosophy, please CLICK HERE to read Dr. Marchant’s entire dissertation.

All student’s names are used with their permission.


This study utilized hermeneutically modified grounded-theory methods to inquire into the lived experience of students at Greenbrier Academy. Eight students were interviewed and the researcher recorded observations of daily programming over a six-day period. Results indicated that Greenbrier’s students’ experienced marked changes in the quality and meaning of their interpersonal relationships. They increasingly cared for and served their relationships, engaged in more intimate relationships with others, approached (rather than retreated from) others’ differences, viewed others more holistically, and accepted personal responsibility in relation to their context.


Students described being met with deep caring, and increasingly noticed themselves reflecting a similar concern for others. They were particularly surprised to be met with relational caring in response to interpersonal conflict and experienced peer subgroups at GBA to be quite fluid and welcoming. Students also seemed to value particularly challenging or messy relationships at GBA—feeling served by relationships that provide frank, uncomfortable feedback. - Page 92


Students described and were seen experiencing a deep sense of caring from the GBA community. For many this relational concern was first evidence in how they were welcomed at GBA, though some may not have recognized this caring at the time. Student’s seemed to experience this caring as quite unique and meaningful—different from relationships they have previously experienced. - Page 92


Grace described a similar contrast in caring, comparing how new students are received at GBA against other private schools she has attended. At GBA she has experienced the community as having empathy for what it feels like to be new, not wanting incoming students to feel like they are on display, akin to a zoo animal. Instead she said “everyone kind of understands what that’s like and is sympathetic to that” and that while “people are less curious about you . . . at the same time they still, you know, care about you.” - Page 94


A few students identified the caring they felt at GBA as the main impetus for change that they experienced while in the program. After relating that she sees herself as changing significantly, I asked Jill what helped her make this change and she first credits GBA’s caring milieu: “being like in a complete different environment, and just like, being in like such a, like, I guess caring and fostering place like, people here really care, make you feel good about yourself. - Page 99


For example, Jill relates that prior to attending GBA she would have wanted to reach out to support others, but not with the same “frequency,” “intensity,” or “empathy.” In fact, she says that for a period of time “I wouldn’t have even thought about, another person. I mean I wasn’t thinking about anyone really.” She saw a strong movement toward relational concern for others. Jill noticed herself to be less self-focused such that she better recognized opportunities to help others. - Page 102


Sophia and Jill’s descriptions emphasize how the larger GBA community responds to difficulty with relational concern. This seems a contrast to students’ expectations in their daily interactions outside of GBA, wherein others respond with little consideration of the person who is struggling. Indeed, as Sophia and Jill’s descriptions illustrate, students seem historically accustomed to others responding in a manner that serves their own interests, not the interest of the relationship. - Page 105


They described that the interpersonal boundaries between groups at GBA were more permeable, welcoming, and concerned for the well-being of ‘outsiders.’ Indeed, caring relationships seemed to exist both within and between these subgroups. - Page 106


“[T]he one constant thing that people always connect through is drumming.” Similarly, I recorded how the community seemed to connect together through weekly community meetings. - Page 108


Of receiving and giving “tough love.” Another way several students distinguished their relationships at GBA from elsewhere is that they received and shared honest, straightforward feedback with others, especially their therapists. This was a particularly clear example of how GBA students pursued good rather than satisfying relationships, relationality’s second feature. As will be shown, students reflected that this honest feedback was quite helpful. In fact, students feel cared about because others shared this challenging feedback. - Page 108


Sophia similarly described learning to set relational boundaries at GBA. She described that she has learned to set these boundaries with her father, who she relates as having treated her and her siblings quite poorly, even abusively. - Page 110


In addition to setting healthy relational boundaries with family members, students seemed willing to provide challenging feedback to one another. There were both formal and informal ways that students seemed to say difficult things to one another on campus. - Page 110


Experiencing deep, dependable caring at GBA seemed a vehicle of change for students, enabling a different response to their fears of rejection, which according to feature three is the strongest of all the human fears. As students experienced this caring, they learned that others could be trusted. Students seemed to increasingly begin to take interpersonal risks. - Page 121


Overall, GBA students generally experienced themselves as taking increased risks towards developing interpersonal intimacy, as exemplified in the experiences of Sophia, Jill, Madison, Abby, and Samantha. In other words, most of the students I interviewed described having made growth in both facing their fears of rejection and toward developing more meaningful relationships. - Page 122


She described that she experiences her relationships at GBA to be less superficial in comparison to relationships in other contexts. “Cause once you learn why some people do things, it’s so much easier to get along with them. It is so [said with emphasis] much easier to get along with them, it’s amazing.” - Page 127


She sees herself as having genuine choices to make at GBA, rather than feeling compelled by fear to act in a particular manner. - Page 141


Julie has found that GBA requires her to take more responsibility for her school attendance and work. In contrast, her mom took primary responsibility for her schooling even helping to excuse her non-attendance, when she lived at home. By saying “it’s good for me” Julie seems to frame her taking more responsibility as progress—that she is taking increasing responsibility for herself. - Page 142


As a whole, the community evidenced significant relational intimacy as students permitted themselves to love and be loved. The community particularly seemed to recognize this caring to be genuine given the community’s willingness to challenge one another, grapple with disagreement, and approach differences. Students valued this relational honesty and found that these messy relations drew them closer together. - Page 164


Students contrasted their manner of living and relating at GBA against their experiences prior to attending the school. Indeed, their relational engagement and commitment to good relations at GBA seemed foreign in comparison to previous experiences. In other words, students experience themselves, and the GBA community as a whole, as entirely changed. They saw themselves and others engaged in regular acts of kindness, caring, confrontation, and responsibility—unlike what they had come to experience in relationships before. - Page 164


The results of this hermeneutically modified grounded theory study shed light on the lived experience of GBA’s students. They especially help illuminate the therapeutic impact of students’ experiences confirming that these experiences reflect GBA’s intentions to engender relational change. - Page 165


Overall, the results of this study supported that GBA students’ experienced broad relational change. The lived experiences shared by students and observed on campus demonstrated how they generally experienced and sought meaningful, virtuous relationships. Perhaps most notably, a vibrant community of relational interest was evidenced across the results of this study, in that students seemed to meet each other with exceptional caring and concern. They seemed to prioritize the good of their relationships and the community at large. - Page 169


They seem to describe therapeutic progress as interrelated with their relationships within the community, of being met with loving concern and sharing this same loving concern with others. Indeed, it was in relationship to others that students seemed to enjoy their most meaningful and impactful experiences and change at GBA. - Page 170