The Therapeutic Playground
The Therapy Magic Land that is created by a skilled therapist is absolutely necessary for healing to take place; still, patience, persistence, and practice are the only ways to internalize our new skills and make them part of our approach to being.
by Clay Smith
Spring Ridge Academy is a therapeutic boarding school with a commitment to holistic mental health care and rehabilitation. Here, students undergo comprehensive, multimodal individual and family systems therapy while developing appropriate social skills and preparing for the challenges of college in small, rigorous classes with expert, trauma-informed teachers. These three realms—therapy, community, and academics—make up the core of our program and define what makes us special.
Math Magic Land
I had a math teacher in high school who used to talk about “Math Magic Land” (a reference, I believe, to an old Donald Duck cartoon), which referred to a special power the math classroom had. Inside Math Magic Land, everything made sense. The processes and concepts of mathematics fit together nicely, and we understood, in most circumstances, what to do next and why. When we stepped out of Math Magic Land and needed to do our homework or take a standardized test, it all tended to come crashing down. Without the support of our teacher and classmates, making our way through math problems was a completely different beast and one that didn’t always behave like we expected it to. According to this teacher, it was only when we had reached a level of understanding that allowed us to do the problems outside of Math Magic Land that we could say we had really learned the skill. And that level of understanding was only born of patience, persistence, and practice.
Therapy Magic Land
Similarly, it can be difficult to face our traumas (and the often non-working beliefs and value structures that we create to manage them). But as hard as it is, taking the insights we glean in those cozy offices out into the real world and applying them can feel nearly impossible. The Therapy Magic Land that a skilled therapist creates is absolutely necessary for healing to take place; still, patience, persistence, and practice are the only ways to internalize our new skills and make them part of our approach to being. Community and Academics are where the homework happens.
The Paradigm and How It Works
A student who has an incredible therapy session in which they learn, on a profound level, that the walls they have built around their hearts are keeping them from finding connection and that those walls must be replaced by a permeable boundary that both protects them and lets in the good stuff, has taken the first step toward building healthy relationships. The next ninety-nine steps, however, consist of going out into a community of students who are doing similar work, letting people in or holding people at a respectful distance, observing the results, and going back into the safety of Therapy Magic Land to process. The Community at Spring Ridge Academy provides students with just the right balance of supervision and privacy, structure and freedom, connection and distance to allow them to experiment safely with new social skills, challenge anxieties around social interactions, and practice building healthy boundaries.
Likewise, Academics at Spring Ridge Academy gives students a safe and supportive place to practice setting, attempting, and achieving appropriate intellectual goals. Our teachers work to build mentorship relationships with each of our students, and through conversation and observation, they work to discover the precise level of challenge a student needs to balance confidence with academic growth. Students who are working with their therapists on perfectionism, school trauma, school avoidance, or even using school to hide from their emotions will find Spring Ridge classrooms to be a place to take risks and gradually build toward making exciting new choices.
Our philosophy, which maintains this triple-focus on therapy, community, and academics, is put in practice in our Treatment Teams, where a student’s therapist, Community Life Director, and academic mentor meet together with community coaches to shepherd her progress through the SRA program. The Treatment Team discusses a student’s success, growth, and challenges in all three facets of the program, ensuring that each student is seen from all sides. For example, a student who thrives in the therapist’s office, where she is achieving astounding insights and taking on new challenges but is visibly anxious in the classroom, might be carrying around a trauma she’s avoiding. In that situation, a teacher’s insight might prompt the therapist to approach conversations from a new angle. A leader in the community who gives fantastic support to her roommates and helps everyone with their homework might be struggling with boundaries and giving too much energy away. In that case, the teacher and coaches who have been enthusiastically encouraging those behaviors can help her take a step back.
Though it’s tempting to hope that therapy will magically cure us of whatever ails us, like everything else in life, it’s part of a network that scaffolds our growth. At Spring Ridge, our students get the opportunity to examine past traumas and work to build new beliefs around them and test-drive those beliefs in a safe environment, surrounded by professionals who care about her and understand what she’s going through. Here, she can practice and internalize those skills until they become second nature. Then she can take them out into the real world and, despite its temptations and pitfalls, move forward from a place of confidence and self-efficacy and take a real shot at success and happiness.