How Residential Treatment Can Prepare Highly Sensitive Teens to Thrive in a World That is Unkind to Sensitive People

In this episode, therapist Tiffany Herlin, LCSW, and Discovery Ranch’s executive director, Clint Dorny, delve into how residential treatment equips highly sensitive teens to thrive in a world that can be unkind to sensitive individuals. They cover topics such as recognizing the need for residential treatment, what to expect from a program, individualized therapy, experiential and equine therapy, the calf adoption program, structure and routine, consistent cause-and-effect dynamics, role models of healthy relationships, teaching positive adaptation skills, and providing opportunities for sensitive teens to develop and practice resilience through everyday challenges.


Building Resilience: Strategies for Sensitive Teens in Treatment

Navigating therapy options for a highly sensitive teen can be daunting for parents. When traditional methods fall short, residential treatment programs offer a comprehensive solution. Through immersive and holistic approaches to mental health, these programs equip teens with vital skills for thriving in today's world.

In this episode, therapist Tiffany Silva Herlin, LCSW, and Clinton Dorny, Executive Director at Discovery Ranch, discuss:

  • Recognizing the signs that your child needs residential treatment
  • Using educational consultants to find the right placement
  • The role of experiential therapy in guiding the recovery process
  • How structure helps improve relationship building
  • The power of ongoing family therapy through residential treatment

If you’re a parent grappling with how to support your highly sensitive child, we can help. Discovery Ranch provides personalized mental health treatment aimed at empowering teenagers to lead meaningful, independent lives. Our therapeutic program helps in creating life-changing experiences and building strong relationships. Start healing today. To learn more about our services, call us at 855-662-9318.

Residential Treatment for High Sensitive Teens Podcast Transcript

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    Tiffany: Welcome back to our final episode of the season for this podcast. I'm Tiffany Herlin. I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and today I am going to be interviewing Clinton Dorny, who is the executive director at Discovery Ranch, which is a residential treatment program for teenage boys.
    Please remember that this podcast is not a replacement for therapy and please seek out professional mental health if you need any for your specific circumstances.

    All right, Clint. It's great to have you back.

    Clint: Thank you.

    Tiffany: Yeah. Thanks for being here. We're going to dive in today on this episode, how residential treatment can help prepare highly sensitive teens to thrive in a harsh world.

    Clint: Very true. Yeah, that is very true.

    Recognizing the Need for Residential Treatment

    Tiffany: So let's start. How can parents know if their son even needs residential treatment?

    Clint: We get asked that question a lot. How do I know my kid needs treatment? Is it bad enough? What's happening? Typically a lot of parents wait a little too long, frankly. They'll wait until the kid's almost 18 and then hope he can change. So, sooner is better.

    But they've tried other things like outpatient therapy and it's not working. A lot of parents wait until school finally fails when there have been signs all along. So then you've got more things to worry about and work up. So don't necessarily wait until school failure happens.

    Tiffany: Yeah, or there's some big crisis, right? Usually at home or something has happened.

    Clint: Well, we have a parent right now who's afraid to send them to treatment. They want it done a certain way. But I think it comes from the fact that they've tried out patient therapy and it’s not working. A lot of kids can just go tell the therapist what they want to hear and then go do what they want. And a lot of times the parents aren't included in the therapy at all and the therapist takes it at face value and then there's no connection between what's said in the office and what's happening at home or what's happening at school.

    Tiffany: There's no accountability.

    Clint: No accountability at all and you need that. When you need to close those loopholes, that's when I think residential treatment is needed, when there's no accountability anywhere. And it's because that's the way the system's built. If a kid really wants to go to therapy and get help, then it works. And we have a lot of people who do that. But for kids who don't want it and they just want to do what they want to do and don't want to be accountable, they can say what they want and the therapist has no way of following up with it.

    Tiffany: That's the hard part about outpatient therapy, for sure.

    Clint: For sure and I think with an outpatient therapist, you kinda have to be a little soft or slow, right? You can't really push the way we can because you're trying not to lose a client. And so you can push a little bit, but if you push too hard, they'll just stop coming. And so it's a little bit of a slower process if they're being forced to it. If they want to be there, then you can push all you want. There's a relationship built so you can go a little faster as a therapist with someone who's motivated. But these kids are not motivated to be there.

    Role of Educational Consultants

    Tiffany: What are educational consultants and how can they help families find the right residential placement?

    Clint: They are so valuable. We work with the consultants all over the United States and even other countries where families will hire them to help find the most appropriate placement. These consultants come and visit. They check on us. They're a great third party watchdog for us. They work hand in hand with us at the same time and help guide families.

    And so they'll meet with the family, do their assessment and because they visited programs throughout the U.S., they know where to go and they can shorten that time and that guesswork. They've done the groundwork for parents so they don't have to spend large amounts of time coming through the internet looking at hundreds of programs.

    Tiffany: Googling is going to be overwhelming for a parent who's in crisis.

    Clint: And they're not going to know the difference between a good program and a bad program.

    Tiffany: Exactly.

    Clint: And so we would highly recommend working with a consultant.

    Tiffany: They have a relationship with the people at these programs and can act as an advocate for the family and their needs. They're just so valuable.

    Clint: Yes, and they hold us accountable when they need to. If we made a mistake, they help us notice so we fix it and keep going.

    Tiffany: Yeah, I just wanted listeners to know that that's an option for them out there and a valuable option as well.

    Quality and Quantity of Therapy

    Tiffany: How does a combination of quality and quantity of therapy provide the ability to individualize treatment for sensitive teens?

    Clint: That is a great question. Let me start with this: our daily schedule is different because we go to school in the afternoon and not during typical school hours. So when I worked at a traditional model of a residential treatment center (RTC), you would have school during the day, just like everyone else does, and the therapists are also there during the day. Then everybody goes home and you're left with just the staff at night. And so therapy and school compete for the same time.

    Tiffany: Yeah, and it's overwhelming when you've got both school and therapy going on at the same time.

    Clint: Yeah, so what would happen is they might miss an hour of class because they're in a therapy session and if they had a really hard session, they couldn't focus on school. They ended up out in the hallway and now you're missing even more time.

    And so with our schedule, school doesn't start until 3:30 in the afternoon. But what that does is allows us to do a lot of therapy throughout the day and to process through those issues. We get them prepared during the day so there is less of a struggle during school time.

    And so with that schedule, it provides a structured time from early in the morning till almost 9 o'clock at night. There's just way more structure and a lot more help and support. So because we have teachers,TAs, tutors, and staff up until late in the night, there's tons of help for the students. I mean, if you look at the ratio that's required for the state, we're way over on that. And so, it's a much more effective program.

    So to answer your question, the schedule allows us to have a better quality because we can spend the time we need to spend and not have to worry about getting back to class. And the fact that they're not missing class allows us to do a lot more off-campus activities, following an experiential model. And for us, experiential is way more powerful because a kid can tell you what they want in the office, but when they get out with a horse or cross country skiing and other recreational therapy, they show you where they're at. You gain the ability to really know where the kids are at, instead of solely relying on them to tell you.

    Experiential Therapy for Highly Sensitive Teens

    Tiffany: Let's dive more into what experiential therapy is. How does it help highly sensitive teens?

    Clint: Well, highly sensitive teens typically don't want to talk about stuff, right? They try to hide and their anxiety goes up. With an experiential model, you get out and learn by doing stuff, learning to do hard things. So it's a double benefit.

    Tiffany: It's getting them out of their comfort zone.

    Clint: Yes. It’s getting them out of their comfort zone. They overcome themselves, but they're also learning more. They're growing more. They learn to overcome some of their fears by getting on a climbing wall and reaching the top. Or repelling between two waterfalls out on a hike. Or you get them on a tandem bike with two kids and the one in the back wants to be in control and the one in front is a little nervous and we watch how that dynamic plays out. So we do a lot more observing than people realize because if you want to know what's on someone's mind, listen to what they say during these experiences and they tell you a lot by how they interact with each other.

    For example, in equine therapy, we'll go for the ground tasks, where there's three horses in a round pen and about six or seven kids with a task to complete. Well, the kids who are confident will jump in and do stuff. The other kids; they let everybody else do the work and reveal themselves through this group dynamic. They reveal how they navigate their world. And so by observing that, they don't have to tell us, we can watch it happen.

    Tiffany: Yeah. It reveals so much.

    Clint: So I think the quality goes way up and it allows us to do a lot more. So we give anywhere from 11 minimum hours of therapy up to 15 because we can individualize their treatment. If they have trauma, if they have issues with adoption, if they have drug and alcohol issues, we add those on top of our core offerings, which is equine therapy, which is an hour and a half each week. Our recreation therapy is an hour and a half each week. And then about every fourth week, they're going off on an off-campus excursion. So right now, we’re doing cross country skiing.

    You can learn a lot by challenging kids, right?

    Tiffany: Well, highly sensitive kids, like you said, don't want to get out of their comfort zone. They're fearful, anxious, and so asking them to get out of their comfort zone in these experiential therapy situations is really what's going to help them build resilience and that confidence like you're talking about.

    Clint: For sure. And to see them scared at the beginning of the trip and how much fun they’ve had after they get back is great. They learn to do hard things and you just see their confidence grow. That's really what it's about. It's providing these opportunities and not letting them short circuit their experience.

    And so the kids will try to avoid going and doing things but we're right there to say, “No, let's go. We're going to go,” and then we're right there along with them.

    The only way this works is you have to have a side by side approach. It can't be big me, little you. It can't be me forcing you. We model the activities and provide mentors to go with them. Some of the greatest times are out there doing it with them.

    Tiffany: Agreed. Same as a therapist getting out there. I'm actually terrified of heights but I’ve gone out rock climbing with my kids and students .

    Clint: Right and they get to see you overcome a fear and you set the example. And I think because of our schedule, it allows our therapist to be in all these activities. We don't send them to go do recreational therapy. Our therapist goes with a rec therapist with their caseload and goes out and does that. So, because we're not competing with school, we have free access to the kids throughout the mornings for all the different things that we do and offer.

    So I think those combinations of things allow us to have a higher quantity of therapy and also higher quality.

    Equine Therapy

    Tiffany: Agreed. Totally. You talked about the equine program and the calf program, but expound on that.

    Clint: Sure. I think if you told a kid he's going to get up and ride that horse from day one, they're going to say, “No way. I'm not doing that.”

    Tiffany: Yeah, especially if they're scared of horses.

    Clint: Yeah. And so we expose them to horses because I think every person has some fascination about horses or animals. We get a lot of kids who love animals. But there's something about being next to the horse. Our horse professionals are horse trainers. They have done this for 30 plus years. One of them happens to be an AQHA judge for different things. I mean, he's been around it his whole life and they have a unique way of watching the horse react to the student. So what we watch for is if we get a student who's highly sensitive, the horse will become highly sensitive. They mirror.

    Tiffany: They mirror, yeah.

    Clint: Yes, they mirror the student. And so a lot of it is watching. I had an experience one time where we were given a tour and we walked up and there was a group giving therapy and the kid was just squared off. He's like, “You can't make me do this! You can't make me!” You could see his anxiety was up. And I said, “Hey, can I stand here by you and watch?” And he's like, “Yeah.” And then all of a sudden, he's like, “Hey, can I come stand by you?” “Well sure.” And I started asking him questions. I said, “Hey, where are you from?” He's like, “I'm from Louisiana.” And then I kind of switched gears. I said “I'm kind of afraid of horses. He looks at me and he's like, “What? Really, you're afraid of horses?” And I'm like, “Yeah, I didn't grow up around them. It's taken me a while to know and learn about them.”

    And right then the equine guy walked up and was like, “Hey, can you hold the end of the rope so the horse doesn't walk off? Can you just hold over?” And right then the horse reached down and it just wiped its nose like it was doing something to its front leg. And he's like, “Look! The horse! It's trying to bite itself!” So you can still see this elevated anxiety of the kid.

    And we're like, “No, no, no, it's okay.” And then, the equine guy continued and he just said, “Hey, will you hold onto this rope?” And he's like, “No, no, no. I'm not going to do anything.” He's like, “I'm not asking you to do anything. Will you just hold this rope? The horse is right here, but will you just hold it so it doesn't walk away?”

    Well, he finally grabs the rope, and so I started talking to the kid a little bit more and understanding him and “hey, I'm afraid of horses too, blah, blah, blah” and all of a sudden out of the blue, he reaches up and starts petting the horse and just kind of working through it and he's like, “Well, I feel like a ninny.” Because of what he said, it's easy to remember. And he says, “I feel like a ninny because I'm afraid of horses.” So I just validate him.

    Well, a month later, I walked by and he's out there again with a group and he's like, “Hey Clint!” And he's showing other kids how to do stuff. He had worked through the anxiety. And so it's powerful when they learn to overcome those things, their fears, their anxieties and they gain confidence.

    Tiffany: Horses are so amazing.

    Clint: They are. The awesome thing about horses is they're nonverbal animals and the kids want to understand and so there's a process. We don't want to tell them anything at the beginning because it's a setup. We know that they're going to come to this process where they're going to ride at some point. But we want them to be familiar around the horses. We want them to feel safe and the equine ground therapy creates that environment where they start to get to know the horses.

    And invariably the kids will get to know a horse that they like and then when you ask them why they liked that horse, they will describe themselves to a T. And they've bonded with this horse. It's like, an oppositional kid will choose an oppositional horse. A kid who wants to do nothing will choose a kind of lazy horse.

    But then when they ride that horse, it's a battle, a mirror of themselves. And we know that's coming and so it's awesome and it happens consistently with the kids. We want them to have this experience but the process ties them in.

    We're not trying to make them into cowboys just like wilderness programs aren't trying to make them into hippies, right? It's just not there but they'll gravitate towards those things.

    But it's the principles that we're teaching. Then they can go from ground therapy. Everybody does ground therapy and everybody does horsemanship and riding, but then we can get into cult training and off campus rides and just accelerate. If they want to keep going, they keep going.

    Tiffany: It's amazing, the progress. I had a student I worked with who was terrified of horses. He’d never been on them. He was like a six foot kid, huge. And I got him on that horse, I mean, he ended up reverting back to like a five year old. He just sits there and then we asked him to jump over this jump and he had such bad negative self-talk and was so scared. But man, when he finally did it and overcame his negative self talk and got that horse over that jump, it was like he was a new kid. It was so powerful. So I've had those experiences with these horses that are just great. And it's not like I told the horse to do that or to set that up.

    Clint: They can read the kids. They can feel it, right? So there's a lot of information around the equine and they're way more sensitive than we are and they can read us. And so a horse trainer can look at the horse and go, “That's what's happening with this kid.”

    Tiffany: They're miraculous.

    Clint: It's awesome. And so if you ask the kids from the ranch, and we've done this, they'll say the equine is probably the most powerful thing that they've done.

    Calf Adoption Program

    Tiffany: So what about the calf program? How does that help highly sensitive kids?

    Clint: It’s a tremendous help! The boys love and care for their calves. It’s especially helpful with the adoption kids who are highly sensitive. It's a mirror of life really. It's them becoming a surrogate parent. They're going to take this calf and they're going to bottle feed it three times a day and they're going to care for it. We give them immunizations.

    Tiffany: Really? That's awesome.

    Clint: Yeah. We take care of everything. But it's awesome to see how kids love and care for their calf. They name it. One of my favorite names was 2%. And these calves are actually the Holsteins, the black and white cows. They produce the most milk but it's a low cream content, close to 2%, compared to Jerseys which have high cream content. But we've had a cow named Elvis. We've had kids name them after a therapist from their wilderness program just before coming. The kids really get into it and it exposes them to some of their fears of caring for something and losing it. Not that they're losing the calf, but that it is a fight for their lives. There is a chance that the calves will pass away because their antibodies don't kick in.

    Tiffany: I didn't know that. Yeah, that's fascinating.

    Clint: So there is a certain percentage that we lose but it's all part of that process, that it's exposing them to these things and them gaining resiliency and realizing that life goes on because they're going to face loss at some point in their life. And many of them have. Some of them haven't and it's the first time.

    Tiffany: It's not "if," it's “when.”

    Clint: Yeah. And so it gives us an environment where we can help them work through that. But the calves go through a maturation process of being bottle-fed three times a day for two months. Then they go to a feedlot and we sell them at auction. We don't process them here or do anything like that. But it's them getting to be a part of that cow’s development.

    And it's work, right? It's work and you can see the joy in work.

    Tiffany: It's got to be such a powerful program.

    Clint: It is. So one thing that we watched, and I wish we would have said that we knew this at the beginning, but we watched our adopted kids. They love the calf. They jump right in and that transition from the first calf to the second calf is huge. It exposes them to this loss that they fear, but they get a second calf and continue the process over and you'll watch and they'll reject the second calf. They'll take longer to name it. It's this process of exposure to their fears.

    Tiffany: Fear of abandonment.

    Clint: We'll have them do it three or four times just because they realize they're okay. And the calf is still there on site for a while. But it's powerful, especially for our adopted kids.

    Tiffany: Well, you're helping teach them a secure attachment, even though they live in this unpredictable world where people come and go. I mean, it's such a powerful thing. Yeah, that's awesome.

    Clint: So it is. It's great.

    Clinical Services at Discovery Ranch

    Tiffany: Let's talk about therapy in general. Discovery Ranch is known for the quality and quantity of your therapy. I know you do individual, group, and family therapy. Help our parents understand why you guys stand out from other programs because of that.

    Clint: I think our biggest one is our therapist themselves. Our average experience for a therapist is 23 and a half years of experience. We probably have the most seasoned team in the whole United States. They've been with us a very long time. It's rare that we have turnover. I think that's very important.

    Tiffany: You have dynamite therapists there!

    Clint: They're EMDR trained and they have a wide variety of different things to work with for trauma. We do process groups and DBT (dialectical behavior therapy). We'll also do a healthy relationships class and this is actually built around excessive pornography use and how to build healthy relationships, reframing what that looks like for kids who've had a lot of exposure to pornography.

    Tiffany: Which almost any kid has been exposed to pornography, to some degree these days.

    Clint: Yeah. So it's a course that Brigham started with us many years ago and he had done it in other places but he solidified that with us. So we had the benefit of having him start that with us and he works with other programs too.

    Tiffany: Yeah, he came to a program I worked at and was there as well. Yeah, that's awesome.
    Clint: He's phenomenal. So he's been doing that with us for a very long time and that's on top of what our normal therapists are doing, that Brigham facilitates that class.

    Tiffany: What are the groups?

    Clint: So we do equine and that's an hour and a half long each week. We do a DBT, a process group.

    Tiffany: Which is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, for our parents who may not understand that term.

    Clint: Well, a lot of that's about mindfulness, helping them become aware of themselves and how they navigate their world and their mindsets and things. So there's a lot of acronyms and things that we teach them and they pass off.

    Tiffany: And that's highly researched and so helpful. Yeah, it's a big one.

    Clint: It's awesome and you can apply it anywhere. There was one time I got in an argument with someone who said DBT did not work for kids on the autism spectrum and they were wrong. It actually helps a lot cause it gives them self-awareness. It gives them an actual concrete skill to learn and apply.

    Tiffany: I was just gonna say that. It's concrete.

    Clint: So Marsha Linehan, the pioneer of DBT, did a great job of making that very concrete for them so it actually works really well. Once they learn it, it's a life skill, right? It's an emotional life skill.

    Tiffany: Well once kids on the spectrum learn something, they're dialed in.

    Clint: Right. So yes, they learn those skills.

    Family Therapy

    Tiffany: Let's talk about family therapy.

    Clint: Yeah. So family therapy happens each week. We'll either do it telephonic or over Skype or Zoom.

    Tiffany: And that includes the parents? The kid? Who?

    Clint: The kid and the parents. We want to connect the families as much as we can and so we kind of have some leeway where they get at least one individual session or two and then a family session. But if they need more family sessions and less individual sessions, then we can mix and match depending on what they need.

    And part of that depends on where they're at in the process. Later on in the program, we're going to do more family work because we're getting ready to transition them to home and our therapists will actually fly to their houses and help with that part of their transition process.

    Tiffany: That's awesome.

    Clint: It is. It's awesome. I had an experience where I brought a kid to a wedding and I got to see the whole family dynamic and their friends and just be a part of it. And it was so eye opening that we felt it was important for therapists to spend time there if possible.

    Tiffany: Well, it gives you so much insight into their world and where they came from and what was going on. I've personally gone out with some of my kids for their transition to home and it's just so eye opening. I'm like, “oh, I've been working with you all year, but now I really get to see things in play and help you adjust back into that world.”

    Clint: Social skills is another group that we do. So every boy will go through the group and we just keep repeating it throughout the year. So if the kid has been here long enough, they'll repeat the social skills group. But we have a whole list of different social skills and groups that we work with that on that as well.

    Tiffany: For our listeners, Discovery Ranch is known for the specialty of their groups and how much therapy they're doing. Again, the quality and the quantity of it.

    Neurofeedback Therapy

    Clint: In addition, we also started neurofeedback therapy.

    Tiffany: Oh, that's awesome.

    Clint: So we have a gal who's full time with us and just does neurofeedback with the kids and it's awesome to see their before and after scores and how much it affects their brain and memory.

    Tiffany: Give me the reader's digest version of what that even is, for our listeners who don't know.

    Clint: So the theory is that there are three different ways that you can affect a brain: head trauma, drugs, and neurofeedback.

    And so after about 30 or 40 sessions, the process is really that you're trying to down train certain areas of the brain that are overactive. Before the start of sessions, there's a pre-test that they go through where they hook up electrodes and then you play a game with your brain and or you watch a movie, right? So you're watching a movie, but if you're not focused, if you're not doing whatever's right and you figure it out as you watch, it helps your brain change.

    Tiffany: It rewires the neurotransmitters in your brain.

    Clint: Yeah, and so through the pre and post test, you can see where all that's been affected. But if you lose focus or you're not doing things right, then the movie stops.

    Tiffany: Interesting.

    Clint: And so it's a whole device that they are connected to that goes through a computer and gives quick feedback.

    Tiffany: It's a biofeedback.

    Clint: Yeah, it's biofeedback. So it's super powerful. The kids will tell us that they can focus better, it just helps with a lot of different things.

    Tiffany: The brain has neuroplasticity, from what we've learned. It can change. You can rewire it and so this is a great tool to help do that.

    Clint: Yeah.

    The Relational Model

    Tiffany: You guys are known for your relational approach and I know you've been working hard to really help your culture and your staff hone in on what that means. So help our viewers understand.

    Clint: Well, everybody says that they're relationship-based, right? But if you really dive into what relationship-based means, you'll have some programs say, “Well, we spend a lot of time processing, we spend all this time validating.” It's almost like if we hug them enough that they'll pull their heads out of the ground and change.

    Tiffany: Yeah. “I just need to love them more.”

    Clint: Yeah. And the reality is that it’s an important piece, but it's kind of like building a house; if you don't have the foundation of the house, you can't build a sturdy house. And so the relational model for me, that as we work through this and created that, it's really about a structure combined with the relationship, that if you have two pyramids, one facing up and one facing down, when a kid first comes in they don't know what's being thrown at them, right? They don't know who you are. There's no relationship yet. All we really have is structure. And most of these kids have not had a lot of structure or too much of this and that. So there's this balance of finding the structure that helps them understand cause and effect.

    And that's the relational model where we provide a lot of structure. We understand that there's little to no relationship at the beginning and over time and experience it builds a relationship. Our ultimate goal is to build a relationship of trust. The saying that I use is that, "Trust is gained in drops and lost in buckets," that we can make one really major decision and we ruin a lot of trust with society and if society doesn't trust us, where do we go? We end up in jail, right? I mean, at the end of the day, those are there because if we make a serious enough decision, then someone else takes over for our lives.

    And so we have that conversation with them to understand that everything you do has a consequence, both positive and negative. As you go through our level system, it's pretty fluid, where we want it to reflect how they're functioning. They can raise up pretty quick and they can drop pretty quick and they can regain it back based on them making amends or rectifying whatever it is that they're working on. And so it's pretty fluid in that sense and it mirrors them pretty quickly. But we want them to maintain that level of functioning because if you do good, you get good, right? And it's this relational model of if I make good choices, I'm going to have good things. Even though bad things might happen to me, I can still make choices out of those things.

    And then we go through a shift from this external locus of control, which we're imposing safety on them to them imposing it on themselves, because that's what you want them to do to function in society. And so the pyramid gets smaller at the top because of that structure but it gets larger at the top of the other one because of that relationship.

    Tiffany: Oh yeah, that makes sense.

    Clint: And so it is relational. But it really is these two inverted pyramids because if it's self imposed structure, then that allows for all the relationship, right? And so it is a relational model between those two things. But some people think that structure is bad or that a level system is bad but for me the level system is there, so it helps define how they are doing.

    Tiffany: It provides guidance. It provides boundaries.

    Clint: Yeah, it provides goals and it provides objective means to verify if a kid's doing well.

    Tiffany: Well, real quick, Brené Brown actually talks about how boundaries allow for greater compassion in relationships and without them you just end up becoming resentful when you don't have that structure and those boundaries in place with people. So I mean, it's kind of the same idea that with structure and that routine and those boundaries in place, they're actually able to have better relationships.

    Clint: Well, if you look at the research, kids want structure. They want predictability and they want to feel safe.

    Tiffany: It creates a secure attachment.

    Clint: Yes, it does. And so ironically, it's by being consistent as a program, by following the rules, by following that stuff and holding them accountable that they actually feel safe. Then their anxiety goes down because their world becomes predictable.

    Tiffany: It doesn't mean they're not going to fight you on that structure.

    Clint: No, no, no. Especially initially, right? Initially they fight it because it's uncomfortable. They want control but then when they get ready to leave, what's ironic is that their anxiety will spike a little bit because they're like, “I feel safe here and I have this support network. I have this stuff.” And granted we pull the strings off. As they get higher in the levels, they get way more freedom. They can do all that stuff and they become almost like a staff member. I always tease them. It's like, “Now that you're fun, you're going home.” And so those relationships are there, but that that structure does create a level of safety.

    Tiffany: Well, it's consistent, it's predictable, which helps them feel safe.

    Clint: We have kids who will sometimes struggle when they leave and those who are honest will acknowledge that. We had one recently that said, “I'm struggling. I wish I was back at the ranch.” And when he left, he didn't want that, right? He tasted what we did. He struggled. He went home. But now that he's in a different situation, he's like, “I wish I was back at the ranch. I had support. I had help. I had safety.” and, “you guys were right,” basically. And so he's being really honest about where he's at.

    And so we reached out to him and said, “Hey, you learn things here. You can do this. You can pull yourself out, right? You know what that looks like. Go for it.”

    Role Models and Resilience

    Tiffany: How do role models of a healthy relationship help sensitive teens build resilience?

    Clint: So I think when they see it modeled, it gives them a level of safety, that they can see that it actually works when they experience it themselves. We'll have kids who come to the ranch and they have this experience. They go home and suddenly get to do what I want. They turn 21 and they can drink. Then they fall back into that pit. But then they'll say, “I remembered what you taught me and now I'm two years sober. I'm doing this.” They kind of experience life. I mean, everything in life is, “I liked this. I didn't like this. I'm back to understanding what made me happy and now I've put it back into my life.”

    Tiffany: Which is a healthy relationship. I get that same thing all the time with my students I've worked with.

    Clint: But sometimes you have to know the difference, right? And so it's like, they've experienced it here. They struggled in college or whatever and now they're saying, “Hey, I'm doing it.” So it might not come right away but it does come.

    Tiffany: This is an interesting question. How do healthy relationships help regulate the nervous system?

    Clint: There's actually quite a bit of research on that. Even just sitting with somebody, there's co-regulation. And the animals help with that too.

    There's a whole lot about the electromagnetic field of the hearts and brain. There's a lot of those things that have that there.

    Tiffany: Well, let's explain to our listeners. I mean, if you were to hug someone that you trust and love for until you have this kind of let down, it's usually about eight seconds. Go try it at home with your significant other or even your teenager. I do this with my teens when they're having a hard day. I'll just be like, “Hey, let me just hug you. We've kind of got off on a wrong start since you got home from school,” and I'll feel this resistance and then slowly over time they just kind of melt.

    Clint: I'll actually say eight seconds. I'll say it.

    Tiffany: I'll count it and it's just incredible because you actually can help each other regulate your nervous system. Dogs can also be trained to actually know when someone's breathing changes, when their blood sugar level drops. I mean, it's incredible what animals can do as well with that.

    Clint: When you teach them, part of the DBT is becoming self aware of those things and then the skills to calm yourself down and to self regulate. And so there’s the mindfulness piece. And then how to build distress tolerance is one of the skillsets. You're never going to get rid of anxiety completely, right? There's a certain level of pressure that we feel in just daily life. But how do you deal with it? And so that's one of the most powerful tools we teach.

    Becoming Selfless Through Service

    Tiffany: Why is it important for sensitive teens to turn their natural inclination from selfishness to selflessness?

    Clint: I struggle with this part and let me explain that. So I hear in the world that you've got to take care of yourself and that can be a very slippery slope. The Dalai Lama says this whole self love stuff, get rid of it and go out and serve. So his approach is like, “Get rid of that stuff, right? Get out and serve and be of service to people.”

    And so clearly, there's gotta be a balance, right? That you've got to take care of yourself and know when to say no. But being selfish, I don't know anybody who's happy and selfish.

    Tiffany: I agree.

    Clint: But I know a lot of people who were selfless and happy.

    Tiffany: I think a lot of the world's trials and people's anxieties and fears could be solved from being less selfish.

    Clint: I think selfishness is the root of all evil, right? Relationships are ruined by selfishness, right?

    Tiffany: Oh, yeah.

    Clint: And so there is a need for them to serve others and we'll participate in programs Sub for Santa. We do Buddy Ball, where we go out and work with kids that are physically disabled and we teach them to play sports. There is a power in that room that makes you cry every time. Those kids are special kids. The families are awesome. And our kids get to go experience that and see what it's like to not have what they have and it's humbling. And so we get to be a part of the VIP program.

    I also think that the calf program teaches them to serve and sacrifice, to have interdependency in that relationship. So in order for you to have healthy relationships, selfishness can't be there.

    Tiffany: Well, I think all the kids who come to programs like Discovery Ranch, they're so focused on themselves and me, me, me, and being a victim and why life isn't fair. “Why can't I get this?”, and self-destructive behaviors. Being able to help them see outside of themselves through all the things we've talked about is what helps them realize there's more to what their world is, that they can help build resilience and confidence.

    Clint: I think the fun part is we get to model that behavior, right? That really has to start with us. We have to be healthy ourselves before we can help someone else. And I think systematically you have to create that environment as well in the residential treatment center.

    Our amazing staff gets to model that behavior. They get to hold them accountable. We went ice fishing last week and got to see the fun and the excitement with the first time a kid ever caught a fish. Those experiences that we can provide for them are just awesome.

    And part of it's the sacrifice that we're doing for them, right? We're modeling what they can do for their kids down the road. We get to talk about that stuff all the time.

    Developing Coping Skills

    Tiffany: How does Discovery Ranch teach positive coping skills?

    Clint: There are a lot of coping skills there and they could be positive or negative, but there are a myriad of different ways to teach those things. But I think the most powerful part is that we do it through the experiential model because we put them in situations where they have to use the skills or not use the skills.

    So when they do, we reward it. I look at some of their behaviors on a number line. The kid might have a behavior that's a negative 10. But when he gets to a negative eight, that's still progress and you have to recognize that progress. Granted, the goal is to get him in the positive 10, right? But moving across that number line is progress. So you have to model that like, “Hey, that's a win. You used to take an hour to settle down. Now you only took a half hour. Now you're down to five minutes,” and “Hey, now this behavior is gone.” And so you have to honor the wins, even though it's still in the negative, if that makes sense.

    Tiffany: Oh, absolutely.

    Clint: If we're not teaching those skills at the end of the day, then we're not worth anything. It's not whether we care about them. At the end of the day, they have to leave with these skills so that they can function in life.

    Tiffany: I think the beautiful theme too, is with experiential therapy. There's natural positive consequences as well as negative. So when they have their wins, it happens naturally and it's not someone imposing it on them, right? And that just boosts their serotonin in their brain so much.

    Clint: Totally. And I think probably the biggest natural consequence is trust. When you make a decision, you either gain trust or lose trust.

    So at the end of the day, you can always talk about a decision someone's made by asking, “Did that decision build trust with your peers or with us? Did you lose it or gain it?” And I think that is the real natural consequence. You have these relationships of trust and that's when people are happy, right?

    Tiffany: Which takes us back to your relational model, which is all about relationships and getting outside of yourself.

    Clint: Totally.

    Success Story

    Tiffany: I'd love for you to end on a success story for our parents who are listening, giving them hope, realizing that they're not alone. What could you share with us?

    Clint: All right. We had a student early on who was super, super anxious. And we've kept in touch with them. His parents had to do some things to be able to get help for him. They brought him to us with very little hope and he was with us for a year and a half, almost two years.

    Tiffany: Didn't you say he was, like over medicated?

    Clint: Yeah, they had to medicate him to kind of keep things under control.

    Tiffany: He was just so sensitive, highly sensitive.

    Clint: Yeah, and we were able to knock that down. Since then, he's actually become a public accountant. He works for the government where he lives and has become highly successful. He bowls at a collegiate level at that point. We got him into running and he still does triathlons. He's come back and visited quite a few times. And so, you've got to trust the process. You've got to trust that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

    Tiffany: That there is strength in the struggle, right?

    Clint: There is strength in the struggle and it's going to be your kid doing work and you doing it along with them, right? And that's why it makes it successful. We've all got to work together.

    Tiffany: That's awesome. Thanks for talking to us and giving hope to parents who are listening and feel like maybe there isn't hope for their kid, but there is and there's help. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and your stories with us today.