Teen behavioral centers push 'tough love'

Utah-based network's program draws many cries of outrage

Scripps Howard News Service/July 21,1999
By Lou Kilzer

Denver -- A tall, crewcut 16-year-old boy stares into the video camera and tries to stifle a sob.

"Dad, I miss you," Eric Stone stammers, his chest heaving. "I love you, Dad. I love you a lot.

"I miss you, and I never want to go through this again." Eric is speaking from Spring Creek Lodge, a private behavior modification camp for teen-agers in a remote part of Montana. His mother sent him there.

A camp official taped the 11-minute video to persuade Eric's father, who is divorced from the boy's mother, to keep him there.

The tape has the opposite effect. Craig Stone barely recognizes his son. The once happy-go-lucky boy now seems distraught.

Armed with custody papers, Stone drives from his home near Seattle to Thompson Falls, Mont., and contacts the county sheriff. The sheriff calls Spring Creek Lodge, and soon Eric goes free.

Eric's story involves a Utah-based network of companies operating a far-flung chain of facilities designed to break teen-agers of behavior that has driven their parents to desperation. The companies are commonly known as Teen Help. Teen Help's style is not for the faint-hearted. It helps some parents arrange the seizure of disruptive teen-agers, even from their homes in the middle of the night. T Government regulation of these programs is spotty, and for now, teens sent to these facilities have little legal standing to challenge their confinement. Teen Help was started by Robert Lichfield, 45, a southern Utah businessman who lives on an estate in the spectacular canyon country near St. George.

He hired David Gilcrease to create a behavior modification program to all but guarantee parents would see a change in their teens.

Gilcrease had been trainer from 1974-81 for LifeSpring, a company that perfected a form of encounter session called "large group awareness training."

"Do I say that it's for everybody in the world?"

Gilcrease said. "No, but I don't think everybody in the world needs a psychological examination, either."een Help then ships them to far-off compounds where the message is simple: Cooperate or you won't see Mom, Dad and the outside world for a long time.

They can't do anything, including talking or using the bathroom, without permission.

The aggressive methods have spawned allegations of child abuse, prompting authorities to raid or investigate facilities in Mexico, the Czech Republic, Utah, South Carolina. Facilities in the first three locations closed. Parents pay the company $26,000 to $54,000 a year to modify the behavior of their children. The company does that with methods that include intense group encounter sessions run by "facilitators" who generally have little academic training in psychology or similar fields.

Teen Help has many admirers. Hundreds of parents and teens credit its programs with producing spectacular turnarounds in troubled young people, even saving their lives.

"If we could expose all of our children to this environment, there truly would be peace on earth," Marsha Mandrussow Gallagher, whose son, Collin, lived at Spring Creek Lodge part of last year, said in Teen Help promotional material.

Speculation has reverberated among parents, mental health experts and social commentators about whether Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold could have been helped before they murdered 12 fellow students and a teacher and killed themselves. The debate about Teen Help centers on whether its brand of "tough love" is appropriate for adolescents stumbling through one of the most emotionally vulnerable periods of their lives.

Several psychologists and psychiatrists expressed skepticism and alarm about Teen Help's methods. "There's something very creepy about this," Seattle psychiatrist August Piper said. "It's kind of frightening. It sort of smacks of brainwashing, doesn't it?"


To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.