Solstice Residential Treatment Program
In Part I of this interview, we had the pleasure of speaking with Jennifer Weese, Admissions Director at Solstice Residential Treatment Center, a unique program for girls 13-18 located in Layton, Utah. In Part II, I spoke with Kami, MSW, LCSW, Clinical Director. The program created a treatment model called “The Hero’s Journey.” The journey is a process and an individual adventure towards growth and transformation. Read more about their program in the interview below.
PART I – Admissions Director, Jennifer Weese
Is there a Phase Program?
Yes. The Solstice phase system is based on six steps of the “Hero’s Journey”. The phases of the hero’s journey are Orientation, Separation, Threshold, Initiation, Transformation, Atonement, and Return. During the separation phase the girls are leaving their “known” world. Sometimes it’s home, sometimes it’s a wilderness program, sometimes it’s a hospitalization and it’s scary. It’s a new place. What they’re doing is working with a therapist to figure out, “Why am I here? What are some of my struggles? What do I want to gain from this?”
A lot of the girls move through the earlier phases rather quickly, especially if they’ve been through a wilderness experience, or long term hospital setting. Our staff will speak with the previous therapist to discuss progress a girl has made, and hear their recommendations for her next steps in a residential program. During the initial phases, we want to see that a girl is safe, not engaging in self harm behaviors, and is really taking steps to begin her journey. We want to see that she is beginning to identify her struggles and challenges, and is open to the therapeutic process. As she progresses through the later phases, we are seeing that she is making positive changes, and is accepting responsibility for her choices, internalizing change and is becoming self-governing of her life. On the last phase, she is preparing to return home, or a college or school setting. In this phase, she has demonstrated her readiness to become the “hero” of her journey and is ready to face life outside of Solstice.
What’s important to you as far as treatment is concerned?
We are relationship-based program, not behavioral based. We assume the girls can learn from their responses and improve their relationships. We don’t punish the girls for their behavior, we try to get them to look at the underlying issue and then try a new approach.
One of the things that the founders have seen with the behavioral approach is that you can modify the child’s behavior until the child leaves. But then it collapses. Everything the girls do here is a gradual process of change. The girls have a lot of structure in the beginning and then that diminishes over time. By the time they’re ready to transition back home, they’ve had a lot of structures removed. They’re making changes and we can see it. Our therapists have small caseloads, so that they can be more involved with the girls, outside of an office setting. The therapists participate in various activities with the girls. In this way, the relationship is further strengthened, and the girls see the therapist in more of a natural setting; seeing them as “human”, too.
We prepare of girls and families to have a support system in place, before returning home. We may suggest they continue with individual therapy, group therapy, or family therapy. We want them to have support systems in place, even though they’re not going to have the same level of support as they would have in a program.
Who are the Founders?
Dan Stuart, MS LMFT, Keoni Anderson, MS LSAC, and Kyle Gillett, Ph.D. LMFT who is in North Carolina starting the Solstice East program.
How do you define holistic?
A well-rounded approach, based on an understanding of the mind-body connection. We try to help the girls understand that when we take care of ourselves physically, through exercise, adequate sleep, good nutrition, etc, this has a significant positive impact on our emotional well being; just as it has a negative impact on our emotional and mental state if we are not physically well.
There is significant research available now relative to the mind-body connection, and specific to treatment of depression and anxiety. Much of this research highlights the benefits of exercise and nutrition in treating these illnesses, often indicating that they can be even more effective in treating depression and anxiety than therapy and medication combined! These are very compelling findings that we incorporate into the daily work at Solstice in an attempt to provide opportunities for holistic healing.
Do you specialize in helping adopted teens?
We do. We work with a lot of young ladies who are adopted or who have attachment issues. Depending on how many girls we have at any one time who are adopted, we will run a specific adoption focused group.
What does a typical day look like?
A typical day Monday through Thursday the girls are in school from 8 -12:30. Lunch is from 12:30 – 1:30 pm. 1:30 – 3:00 the girls are in specialty groups that can range from women’s issues, DBT groups, Arbinger groups, art & music therapy, processing groups, equine groups and many more.
3:00 – 4:30 fitness activities
4:30 – 5:30 showering free time
5:30 – 6:30 study hall
Evening group – meeting for their specific team
Friday the girls are off campus participating in different activities. Every other Saturday is community service. On the alternating Saturday they may go to the public library. They also have a block of free time. On Sunday the girls can elect to go off campus for religious services. The girls sign up and we rotate each group to a different religious service.
What kind of work do you do with families?
We have an hour and a half of family therapy each week either over the phone or via Skype. We also have four family seminars a year. They are pretty intensive workshops, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, when the family comes out here to visit.
Families are a critical part of the treatment process, including siblings. As part of the phase program, families are given assignments to work on at home while their daughter is working at Solstice. Therapy is really a family’s journey, rather than just the girl’s, at Solstice.
Are the parenting seminars parenting education, or with the teen?
They are both. A lot of the parents’ work is with their child. Seminars typically include parent support groups, sibling groups, multi-family groups, workshops on special topics, experiential work such as equine assisted family therapy groups as well as ROPES courses, and many other interventions.
How are the students funded?
Most of them pay privately. We have some that are funded by insurance, but generally insurance companies do not pay for much of a child’s stay.
Do you provide any scholarships?
We do. When there’s a need a parent can apply for that and then we take a look at the situation.
How does someone apply for a scholarship?
They can call and speak with our admissions office at (801)444-0794.
How long is a typical stay?
The average stay is nine to twelve months. Some of the girls come in very motivated and get to their clinical work and graduate in 6-9 months. We also have girls that take longer.
What can the residents bring with them?
They can bring their own personal clothing, as long as it fits within the dress code, and bedding. They can bring pictures and family photos in the beginning. Once they reach a certain point in their journey they can have pictures of healthy friends and write letters to friends.
Is there a set of privileges? Could you describe that?
There are privileges associated with the phase program. Each phase has an increase in the privileges that are available. However, while we incorporate increasing privileges, these are de-emphasized. This means that the phases are meant to reflect where a certain girl is in her individual therapeutic journey. They are viewed as a reflection of progress made on this journey, and not a “level” of privileges she has earned.
Not all privileges are phase based. For instance, home visits, one of the most sought after privileges, does not come with a phase. It is based on an individual girls readiness for this important step in her journey.
How far away are the stables?
Arrowhead Stables, which we use for our Equine program, is 2.5 miles from Solstice. About a 5 minute drive.
Are the therapists licensed?
All are at least licensed, master’s level therapists. Some may be PhD level licensed therapists.
Is there a very high turnover in staff?
With our teaching and clinical staff there is very low turnover. These tend to be professional, career positions and stay with us for many years. There is a slightly higher turnover rate among our night staff and residential staff. While many of these staff also stay with us for many years, they often tend to be college students who will typically move on once they graduate to attend graduate school, or gain other employment related to their degree. In general we have a very low turnover rate as our staff enjoy working at Solstice due to having a very employee friendly environment.
Do you have a young adult program?
Yes. Our program, called The Journey Home serves youth ages 16-21. It’s just a quarter of a mile down the road. It’s for girls who have graduated from any RTC or wilderness program where it’s recommended for them to learn more independent living skills. There, the girls will have the opportunity to go to college or to attend a local public high school. Or if they were a student here at Solstice, they can finish high school here. They can find employment or volunteer work, but we emphasize their academic planning, as well.
And about how long do the residents stay in the young adult program?
Our average length of stay in the Journey Home is about 6 mos. Some girls have stayed over a year, and some a few months. This varies greatly depending on the goals and needs of the individual girl.
Part II – Kami Black, MSW, LCSW
What therapeutic approach do you use?
We focus on relationship issues and getting to the underlying reasons to identify what may be causing behavioral and emotional issues for each girl. For example, it isn’t just about a girl pushing everyone away, and not talking to anyone; it’s about finding out what’s going on underneath. Perhaps there has been trauma in her life. She may have difficulty trusting others, or there may be shame preventing her from talking about these struggles. We want to help her feel emotionally safe to talk about her struggles, so that we can help her heal and learn to trust others.
We use Dialectical Behavioral (DBT) training. Part of DBT is practicing new skills and responses to others. Give FAST, is an acronym we have utilized to help the girls with relationship effectiveness. These are simple reminders, like be gentle, validate, use easy manners, act interested. The girls ask themselves, what’s the current problem. Are you having trouble with someone? Are you being abrasive, being gentle in your approach, or are you in their face?
The emphasis is on improving the moment. One skill is radical acceptance. Even though you may not like the situation, be willing to accept it as it is at this moment.
Is it harder for adopted teens to be separated from their parents?
They do have a game where they say come close and then push them away. A lot of adopted kids have been pushing their parents away for a long time. So they’re here and they’re okay with it. I don’t see the separation issue as that significant.
Do you have kids who have reactive attachment disorder?
Yes. We have some now. We do EMDR work that targets memories that are stuck. Through eye movement it helps process the memories to another part of the brain.
Are other staff trained in that?
Yes, two other staff members are able to do EMDR.
EMDR is fascinating. I’ve seen a lot of good results. There’s not a lot of talking going on. I have a light box machine where they follow with their eyes. The idea is when we’re in REM sleep we process our memories. When we have a really traumatic experience, the memory gets stuck in portions of our brain and won’t process through to a functioning memory. It creates anxiety. That’s why as forty-year-olds we still think about memories we had when we were five or six. It can still affect us. The memory is conscious, but it’s still not processed, so it’s creating anxiety.
For example, someone who was made fun of in school may have a lot of performance anxiety as an adult. They can’t present in front of large crowds because they still feel like a little kid in their head. They think people are going to laugh at them or make fun of them. Being able to process that memory out helps the anxiety to decrease. There’s a lot of research on EMDR and it’s effectiveness.
Could you handle a girl who is severely depressed and suicidal?
It depends on the severity of the situation. We are not a hospital so we can’t provide 24-hour care. We manage our suicidal kids very well. They can’t get access to sharp objects. If they’re on suicide precaution, they’re within arms length of staff at all times, to ensure safety.
Do you have a problem with kids using alcohol or drugs while they are at Solstice?
We’ve had girls relapse when they’re on a home visit. The goal is that we have enough structure in place and the parents are vigilant enough that when the girls do go home, this doesn’t happen. However, sometimes parents make their own choices and maybe they don’t follow the contract closely, or the girl is really invested in using again so she sneaks out. Even if that happens, that’s a really good learning opportunity when the girl returns. We would ask, “What are you missing? Why are you so invested in your old behavior?” Although we may see the girls have setbacks, this is to be expected. We want to see how they learn to manage these setbacks. Seeing that there are weak spots is a clear indication that additional work is still needed. Let’s help them process through these situations and learn how to manage future situations.
How do you measure success?
Let me talk about one girl. She was in a really abusive home until she was ten and then she was removed from a home where her mom, grandmother and grandfather abused her. So she has had significant trauma. She ended up being adopted and we have her here because she would steal money and hoard food. She was pretty oppositional. She has reactive attachment disorder.
Some adoptive parents, because they have their own issues with grief, struggle to cope with or recognize what’s going on. For instance, the parents were locking the pantry, as advised by a therapist, who probably didn’t understand what was going on. Since she’s been here, we’ve tried an alternative approach. We’ve allowed her to carry food around with her at all times. We gave her a granola bar. It sounds silly, but her anxiety level, thinking ‘I’m not going to get food,’ just decreased. She hasn’t been stealing food. I think there’s some beauty in how we approached her. We validated her experience, how scary it is to go without food. Then, without saying we’ll never let you in the kitchen because you can’t manage yourself around food, we validated her by giving her what she needed to decrease her anxiety.
Was she not fed as a child?
For the first ten years, she wasn’t fed. When she was adopted she was fed. Because those early memories were so stuck, it created fear and anxiety for her that she was not able process. She would steal money to go to McDonalds. Giving her that granola bar just seemed to decrease her anxiety. So we took a different approach and it freed her up. She’ll be 18 soon. This girl is college bound. She’s looking at colleges. She will graduate high school in December. She didn’t attend any schooling in her first ten years of life and she’s a genius.
If you would like information on Solstice, contact Jennifer Weese at:
Solstice Residential Treatment Center
1904 W. Gordon Ave.
Layton, UT 84041