A message to parents of addicts…

A colleague of mine from Fulshear has authored a terrific blog with an important message to parents who are coming to terms with the disease of addiction in their child – and feeling guilty or ashamed.  Check it out at Flushear Blog


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Summer Reading Recommendations

Jeff Brain’s recommended reading for parents with children in treatment, at risk for out of home placement, or considering residential treatment.


Hold On to Your Kids, Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers, Gordon Neufeld, PhD & Gabor Mate, MD

The Journey of the Heroic Parent, Your Child’s Struggle & The Road Home, Brad Reedy, PhD

Not By Chance, How Parents Boost Their Teen’s Success In and After Treatment, Tim Thayne, PhD

Anatomy of Peace, Resolving the Heart of Conflict, by the Arbinger Institute

Raising Healthy Kids in an Unhealthy World, David Altshuler

The Parallel Process: Growing Alongside Your Teen or Young Adult in Treatment, Krissy Pozatek

An Unchanged Mind: The Problem of Immaturity in Adolescence, John McKinnon

The New Co-Dependency by Melanie Beattie

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Stage 5 – Hope Lost & Found

New Roles: Embracing your new role as an agent of change

Parents sometimes assume that sending their son or daughter to a treatment program means that their role has been compromised, or that they are being marginalized. Nothing could be (or should be) farther from the truth! Any good treatment program will have its goal in helping to strengthen your relationship with your son or daughter, and theirs with you. And to support and reinforce your God given role as a parent.

You have always been and will be the most important in your child’s life.  Sometimes that influence has been hijacked by others but it has not been replaced. It can be recovered.

Durable behavioral changes in our children, that is, changes that last after they leave the treatment program requires focused family work. Attending parent support groups, reading good books on parenting (see list provided in my May 31, 2016 blog) commitment to family counseling and even your own personal therapy are important steps to take.

Remember – the treatment program is partnering with you, not replacing or substituting for you. I encourage parents to BE involved, STAY involved and recognize the unique power you have (ironically even more so when your child is away at treatment) with setting the tone of your child’s treatment.

So, in addition to providing the means for their healing and recovery, you are also instrumental in their success.


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Stage 4 – Hope Lost & Found

Realization – Real Healing and Change Takes Time

Everyone likes a quick fix. We are all so time oriented and rushing treatment and intervention is short-sighted. To set a time clock or a pre-determined date of completion stymies real growth and lasting change. When faced with any challenge, or unwanted task, most teens will ask “how long do I have to do this?” or in the case of residential treatment “how long will I have to stay there”? Once a time frame is set, most kids will more often than not, just “do time”. Alternatively, if we set milestones and goals for our children, then they are challenged to meet those goals to move forward. This is consistent with all the development processes we have guided our children through – they walk when they are ready, not by specific age, they cross the street when they can do so safely, the graduate from one grade to another not just because the end of the school year arrives, but because they have learned the material that prepares them to move forward, and so on. Why do we not approach treatment in the same way?

Time in program should be discussed in terms of behavior change and goals, instead of just length of time. Another important consideration is that as young people heal and recover, they are learning new life skills and coping strategies. It’s important for any skill to be strengthened, practiced and become rooted in one’s life. New skills (and ways of thinking and responding) need time to take root and become strong enough to be sustained when the teen is no longer in a therapeutic setting.

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Stage 3 – Hope Lost & Found

Sacrifices & Courage – accepting the sacrifices that must be made and having the courage to take action

As parents, we are quite familiar with making sacrifices for our children; for putting their needs before out own. But the sacrifices that are necessary to attend a private treatment program can be daunting. There is certainly a financial sacrifice but there is also the sacrifice of time, the willingness to have others come along side of you to help raise your child for a time, to give up the comfort and control of having him or her at home, and the sacrifice of disrupting family traditions, routines and vacations. Most parents recognize that the sacrifices are necessary and has they would if they were dealing with a medical illness, accept the sacrifices in exchange for the healing and recovery that they desire for their child. Hope if free but there is a cost to taking action. But there is often a greater cost to not taking action.

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Stage 2 – Hope Lost & Found

Recognizing that the solution will require something different or unfamiliar

How can it be that the right kind of help means that I have to send my child to a school or treatment program? Coming to terms with the reality that help will not always come in the way we envision it, or it requires the additional emotional cost of having your son or daughter live away from home for awhile, is an understandably difficult process for parents. I always recommend that parents talk to other parents who are either on or have been through this journey. No one REALLY understands it like another mom or dad. The good news is however is that you are not alone, there are options and there are quality programs who can provide a caring, nurturing and safe environment where healing can begin – both for your child and for you as parents.

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Stage 1 – Hope Lost & Found

Acceptance – coming to terms that a problem exists – its more than just “typical teen” behavior

Denial is a natural coping mechanism.  And, of course, as parents we want to give our children every opportunity and every resource to help them. Sometimes gradually and at other times due to a crisis, you may reach a turning point where you decide I have DO something MORE, something DIFFERENT to help him/her.  When you come to that realization, that in fact a problem exists that is too substantial to address at home, you are at an important juncture. The emotions here can be overwhelming – fear, worry and even anger and guilt.  But once you accurately recognize the problem, you are also in the best position to secure the right kind of help.

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Hope Lost…and Found Again

When hope about our child’s life and future is shaken, it changes everything.  Whether your hope has been gradually fading as you watch your child become someone you don’t recognize, or if your hope is suddenly snatched by an unfortunate decision with dire consequences, you know that feeling that comes with not really knowing if your child is going to be ok.

As a therapist, educational/therapeutic placement advisor and as a director of admission at therapeutic, residential programs, I have opportunity everyday to speak to parents who are searching for answers.  It is a significant honor and responsibility to help parents navigate the options to finding hope for their son or daughter.  It is such a wonderful experience to watch parents rediscover hope for their child’s future again.

The out-of-home placement of a child in a residential program, particularly a therapeutic placement like a boarding school or residential treatment program, is one of the most difficult and yet important decisions that parents face. When I examine the type of dialogue that I have with parents, I have identified five stages that define the process by which most parents work through – that is, how they  approach and complete this really difficult decision of deciding upon residential treatment.

The five stages are:

1. Acceptance – coming to accept that a problem exists.

2. Recognition – coming to recognize that help will require something different and unfamiliar

3. Sacrifices & Courage - accepting the sacrifices that must be made and having the courage to take action

4. Realization – realizing that healing and real change takes time

5. New Roles – coming to terms with their (new) role as agents of change.

I’ll address each of these in subsequent blog posts in the coming weeks.

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Program/School tour checklist for parents

A checklist for parents when visiting a therapeutic boarding school or residential program.  (c)  Jeff Brain

1. Be open minded. You are seeking a unique learning and therapeutic environment for your child since he/she has not been successful in traditional settings. Do not define the school by your understanding of what you know works. If that worked, you wouldn’t be searching for a specialized environment.

2. Ask questions. Never assume a question is not relevant, appropriate or proper. Take notes and arrive on time for your appointment. It is important not to short-change your time at the school by arriving late. In fact, its always good to arrive a little early so that you are not feeling hurried, and have a chance to organize your thoughts.

3. Ask what the school specializes in and then judge whether the students they accept match their expertise. A good school will only accept students they have expertise to work with. For example, if a school represents that it can address substance abuse, you should be looking for evidence of expertise in this area. How do they address it? How well versed are staff? What is their approach? How many staff know this? And perhaps most important, does anyone have personal experience with it? It is amazing how many schools and programs are treating kids with eating disorders for example, with no one on staff with personal experience overcoming an eating disorder. It’s appropriate to ask for their admission criteria, and their exclusion criteria.

As an aside, it is critically important that you be fully truthful and thorough in representing your child’s needs, strengths and personality.  A school can only help ensure a good match to the degree that you have accurately and fully disclosed the information to them.

4. Ask how similar or dissimilar your child’s needs are to the school’s typical student. A good school should be able to clearly define for you how closely your child’s needs match their student profile, and which of your child’s needs are unique, unfamiliar or rare for them. You should have a clear sense of where your child falls on the continuum of students they have at the school. This is important to manage “surprises” later related to expectation of success.

5. Ask the admissions staff directly why the school would be successful with your son or daughter. Also ask whether anything about your child concerns them, or suggests that they may not have a successful outcome.

6. What the school does especially well — what its strengths are — will be evident. What is often not as clear is where its weaknesses are. It’s good to ask the admissions staff what they feel are the weaknesses. All programs have them, and are continuously working to improve in one area or another. Knowing and understanding these weaknesses is important for a prospective parent. How well does the admissions staff know these organizational issues, and can they speak to how they are being addressed?

7. You should always have access to students alone (students plural – more than one). If the admissions personnel or staff will not leave you alone with students, assume they have something to hide.  You should always expect to be able to speak to current students. Make sure you speak to students who are most similar to your son or daughter. This will give you the best sense of how the school will respond to your child’s specific needs. It is often interesting to speak to new students. Many schools will not allow this,  but if you can, new students usually offer interesting insight.

8. Most schools have specific times that are optimal for on-campus tours, and this is appropriate. You should also feel free to ask to see the school during times outside of the scheduled tour times, like on a weekend, or at dinner time. This may not always be practical for you, but even just asking the question and seeing if the school is open to that is telling.

9. When you visit a school, try hard not to be influenced by the weather. You generally will have a more favorable impression of a school you visit on a beautiful, sunny, spring day than a school you visit on a rainy, damp, cold day. But, of course, this is no indication of the quality of the school or the match for your child. Try not to be influenced by these types of external circumstances. The view may be beautiful but the view will not be the agent of change for your child.

10. When on campus, spend time just observing. You will want and need to be talking to students and admissions staff, but do take time to just “hang out.” Watch students change classes, observe an activity such as a gym class or sporting event, casually walk around campus. Don’t allow your time to be completely scheduled.

11. Talk to non-admissions staff during your visit. Get a sense of the staff, ask them about who they are, what they do, what the school does. Does the staff represent the mission of the school?

12. Be aware and sensitive to the spirit of the school, or the overall “feel” or “tone” of the environment. Be aware of your gut instinct: Does the school have an overall positive feel to it? (This is different than your own emotions, which may be fear, anxiety, etc.)

13. Ask about the ownership of the school. Is it owned by a parent company or is it privately or family owned? Is the owner on campus? Does the owner have regular involvement with the students? Are you able to speak to the owner? It is important that the ownership of the school be connected to the daily operations and, more importantly, to the students.

14. Ask about the financial condition of the school. How long has it been in operation? How is it equipped to handle difficult economic times? Has it ever filed for bankruptcy?

15. Be aware of how well the admissions staff know the students. Do they address students by name and do students know them? It may be unrealistic to expect the admissions staff to know all the students’ names (depending on the size of the school), but they should know most.

16. Is the school appropriately accredited or licensed? Ask who it is accredited or licensed by, and what the accreditations mean. Look up the accrediting organizations; they are in essence the independent auditors and regulators of the organization. There are often different accreditations for academic and therapeutic components of the school or program.

17. Is the school a member of any professional organizations? Which ones and why? Look up these organizations online to learn more about their mission. Are they members of professional groups? This shows a spirit of collaboration and involvement in the larger field of education and therapeutic services for youth.

18. Will the school refer you to other schools, programs, services or professionals that will help you determine whether you are making the right decision? You may opt not to use those resources, but it’s important to evaluate if the school is just interested in filling a spot or if it is committed to helping you find the best matched program.

19. Does the school provide help and assistance to parents even if you do not enroll?  As a therapeutic school, it may be meaningful to you if the school makes attempts to help parents even if an enrollment is not the outcome.

20. A good school is active in and contributes to its community. What is its involvement/relationship with the local or regional community and with the local school or school district?

21. Who makes the acceptance decision? In a therapeutic school, someone with clinical knowledge, experience and expertise should be the one deciding whether or not to enroll a student. It is appropriate to ask credentials of the person(s) who make these decisions.

22. What relationship does the school have with its alumni? Are there any alumni working at the school (if yes, that’s a good sign). How does it handle/respond to disgruntled alumni (who usually have a presence on the internet)? Most schools who deal with at-risk or troubled youth have some negative press from alumni. Expect this and feel open to ask the admissions staff about it. Rather than take what is said online as truth, discern the accuracy of the reports when you visit campus and talk to students.

23. Ask to speak to staff who direct, organize or coordinate the activities that you think your child will be most interested in. For example, ask to speak to the soccer coach, or the dance instructor or the art teacher.

24. Ask to receive student-produced material, such as the student newspaper, yearbook or student handbook. Different than marketing or admissions materials, these give a more current and focused glimpse into student life at the school.

25. Ask about the school’s short and long-term plans. Are they planning to grow in size, or downsize? Are there building plans or campus improvement projects underway? Are there program changes anticipated during your child’s enrollment?

26. Ask about costs and fees. Get all costs and fees in writing. Ask if the tuition will increase during your child’s stay.

27. Ask about significant incidents at the school: running away, suicide, fire, death. What you are looking for is a direct, straightforward discussion of this. Suicide can (and does) happen anywhere. You are looking more for the school’s preparation, readiness and sensitivity to these tragedies.

28. Be clear about intervention techniques. Ask about them and especially observe any interventions in action during your visit. Ask to speak to a student who is currently dealing with a problem. The school will necessarily need to be selective and careful in this regard to safeguard the integrity of the student’s consequence, but it should be open to you speaking with a student who can talk to you about their experience. The school should have clear rationale as to why the interventions are used. Arbitrary or capricious interventions should not be used.

29. If the school has a psychiatrist on staff or in a consulting role, ask about the psychiatrist’s involvement with the clinical/counseling team and his/her involvement with you as parents. A psychiatrist should be an active, involved member of the school’s treatment team and be in contact with you directly about treatment.

30. Ask about the screening and training of staff. Are employees screened before being employed and what type of on-going training do they receive? Staff training is a significant component of a quality program. You could request to see recent topics of staff training.

31. Ask about health services. How well is the school or program equipped to address any existing medical conditions or illness/injuries that may arise?

32. How do parents communicate with staff and with their child? Ask about the school’s communication policy and procedures. They should align with the mission and scope of the school as well as with the issues of the students. Some programs should have liberal communication and others should have restricted and monitored communication based on the needs and issues of the students. Any good program will ensure that someone who knows and works with your child has regular communication with you.

33. Ask about the role the school anticipates or expects you to have in your child’s treatment. Most good programs include family counseling and parent education.

34. Ask about recreational opportunities, weekend structure and activities, security, and what a typical day is like.

35. Do not hesitate to ask if you have a specific concern, such as how the school deals with bullying, homosexuality, trauma, abuse, adoption, etc.

36. Always ask for a parent reference list. You may think they will include only parents that will give a positive reference. That may be true, but you can tell a lot from the list itself. Does the program have such a list? How current is it? How diverse and long is it? Does it include both current parents and alumni parents? Does it say that parents are not expected to report back to the admissions office if they hear from you or what you ask about? Does it specifically say that parents are not receiving anything in exchange for being on the list? It’s always a good idea to call one or more of the parents on the list, to hear first hand of their experience.

37. Remember, there is no perfect school. You are choosing the best matched both for your child and for you. But, no school can be all things to all people. Find the one that matches the best.

Good luck in your search!

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This is Your Life – wisdom from the classic David Altshuler


“This is the life I have with my kids. It might not be the life I envisioned, there might not be much champagne and less Greek in this life, but it’ll do.”
This is Your Life
Look, any relationship requires give and take, don’t you think? A parent has a relationship with a child, a married person has a relationship with a spouse, and a reader has a relationship with an author.

You and I have been connected by these newsletters for getting on six years now. As it happens, this is the 300th blog post. So I’m asking your indulgence as my ADD brain bounces around like a Ping-Pong ball in a snowstorm. It may be tough to trace the path of the Ping-Pong ball in real time, but come the Spring it will be easy to find. Admittedly, the analogy breaks down in that nobody needs a stupid Ping-Pong ball given how much work there is to do after the snow melts and why would you bother looking for the darn thing anyway when you could just go buy a package of Ping-Pong balls for a few bucks, but you get what I mean. Anyway, here is a sentence taken from an SAT administered in 1980. (Yes, I have a copy of every SAT administered for the past 35 years. No, I don’t want to talk about it.)


“… the question is not whether The Clouds should be read in Greek or in English: the question is whether it should be read in English or not read at all.”

Or deciphered from ETS-ese: it’s better for kids to read classics in translation than not read classics at all.
The other side of the coin is “Well, if the kids know they can just read the translations, why would they learn classical languages?” I am going to call this argument the “tough nuggies” approach to teaching and parenting. Yes, in a perfect world, all children would learn Latin and Greek. Should you find said perfect world, give me a call and I’ll meet you.

I have been accused of being too willing to lower my expectations. My running career may serve as a useful example. Ideally, I would like to run a mile in just under nine minutes then run another mile in just under nine minutes and so on until I had run 26 miles at just under nine minutes each. My total time of three hours and 55 minutes would allow me, at age 60, to qualify to run the Boston Marathon, a goal I have been attending to, on and off, for the past 36 years. Like Edison said before he actually did invent the light bulb, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Similarly, I know 18 ways NOT to run a Boston qualifying time.

In “tough nuggy” world, I wouldn’t keep running these disappointing marathons. Realizing that I am never going to frigging qualify, I would put down The Clouds or hang up my running shoes. Not being able to run properly, I would not run at all.
Which brings me–”finally” you might say–to my point about parenting for this week: I wish my kids would do the dishes, mow the lawn, clean their rooms. What’s more, I wish they would do these chores without my help. In a perfect world–there’s that phrase again–the kids would wake up early and make me breakfast.
I am not holding my breath.

Instead, I get up and the kids and I make breakfast together. Frequently, we bump into one another in our absurdly small kitchen as we hurry to find the eggs. How hard could it be to find the eggs? It’s a refrigerator for goodness sake, not a haystack. The eggs have got to be in there somewhere. Occasionally, harsh words are spoken as the children and I frenetically scramble to find backpacks, shoes, and car keys so there is some chance that we can get to school before the end of the Pleistocene and avoid the “death stare” from the woman who gives us the “late to class” note.


Remember that guy in “Chariots of Fire” who had his servant pour champagne into those glasses placed on the hurdles? Then, with the castle and the thousand acre estate in the background, Lord Lindsey leaps perfectly over each barrier so effortlessly that not a drop is spilled? I’m betting Lord Lindsey’s kids got to school on time. You gotta figure Lord Lindsey’s kids learned Latin and Greek and didn’t get away with reading the translations either.


I wish Lord Lindsey every success. But I’m going to live the life I’ve got not the life of a guy on an estate with champagne on the hurdles. I’m going to keep running even though I’m never going to run fast enough to qualify for Boston; I’m going to keep jostling and joking with my kids as we try to find the eggs. (There. By your hand. If it was a snake, you’d be dead.)

This is the life I have with my kids. It might not be the life I envisioned, there might not be much champagne and less Greek in this life, but it’ll do. May I take this opportunity to commend you on the life you are living and the way you are interacting with your beloved children? Whether or not your kids are learning Greek, whether or not you are spilling champagne as you bumble over the hurdles as best you can.
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