Promise Village is a highly therapeutic boarding school, located on a 70-acre ranch in Southern Michigan, where boys, ages 10-17, can overcome challenges, discover their strengths, grow in character, heal from hurts, restore family relationships, develop spiritually, and improve academically. Promise Village is dedicated to improving the lives of struggling teens and their families. They believe that God has an awesome plan, hope, and future for every teen. Their mission is to provide a safe, caring, structured, relationship-based, clinically sophisticated program of the highest quality in a positive home-like environment. This powerful combination creates opportunities for meaningful and lasting change.
“The relationship-based model of care lets the resident know that we are there to help them in any way possible as they work through their issues. “We are truly focused on “alliance” rather than just compliance. Our Life Coaches, Therapists, and ancillary staff are upbeat, loving, and invested in fostering positive relationships with the residents and families we serve. We know that the combination of our external environment and the importance of caring relationships are catalysts to nurturing internal change.”
At Promise Village the Animal-Assisted Therapy model is used in the treatment planning and is an integral component to the therapeutic process. The research that they’ve done has uncovered the many benefits of using animals in helping those with emotional need challenges. The animals, in a very real sense, take on the role as therapist with the residents they work with. They enable them to heal emotionally, develop self-confidence, become more empathetic, form attachments, and also develop a safe bond.
Animals can become safe transitional objects for the residents to attach and form a healthy bond with, while learning to care for and take responsibility for something. The animal can also help them develop empathy and compassion they develop this relationship. The animal will listen to all of their cares, concerns and worries without exploding or criticism. The uncritical, listening ear that the animal provides helps them learn to trust something, even if initially it is not a person. Ultimately, the goal is for the empathic skills and newly developed ability to trust, be transferred to their relationships with other human beings.
Arguably, the most innovative component of the Promise Village: Home for Children residential intervention/prevention and treatment program is Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT), especially the emphasis on Equine Therapy.
Why Does Animal-Assisted Therapy Work?
In many cases, they experience companionship, intimacy, and a sense of inclusion and self-worth. Seen through a child’s eyes, an animal/friend is non-judgmental. They perceive other benefits such as, unquestioned loyalty, physical contact and returned affection. It is not uncommon for at-risk children and teens to feel depressed, withdrawn and even unwanted. In order for the healing process to begin, they need to feel connected and to experience a personal bond with another living thing. For some, connecting with an adult or peer may be perceived as threatening. In such cases, an animal-friend becomes a logical alternative.
Residents learn important lessons by interacting/relating to animals. These lessons become stepping-stones for establishing connections with people. The experience of nurturing an animal and receiving affection in return, help establish feelings of self-worth, and as a result, they may be encouraged to risk human connections. Learning to care for animals seems to develop a sense of responsibility and caring. Many struggling kids and troubled teens that come to Promise Village are angry and hurt due to very difficult situations or choices they have made. Each of them experience direct contact and interaction with the animals. The contacts range from playing with a dog, grooming and riding a horse, handling the exotic birds, holding and petting the cats, or take responsibility for feeding and cleaning the animals during chore time. These kids are more apt to risk a friendship with an animal because the animal will not ask questions, will not judge them, and will not tell their secrets to anyone. In our therapeutic riding program, the Farm Director arranges for each of them to have their own horse to groom, ride, and develop a bond with. The relationship with the horse facilitates relationships to develop with the child’s therapist, other staff, their peers and eventually their families.
Every resident at Promise Village will be assigned to a primary therapist and will meet with them for individual therapy 3-4 times a week. The frequency and duration of the meetings can be adjusted to meet the individual needs of the resident. Each therapist will work with the resident and parent/s to develop a Master Treatment Plan that identifies personally tailored goals and measurable objectives targeted to work toward, during their time at Promise Village. There will be specific timelines defined for each objective. This plan will guide the therapeutic process by identifying the core issues and help the resident to heal from past struggles, restore family relationships, learn healthy coping skills, eliminate thinking errors, resolve conflict, repair relationships, and develop a new attitude toward life. The Master Treatment Plan will be developed soon after admission into the program, and it will be reviewed and updated every 90 days or as needed throughout the Treatment Plan Review process.
Therapy is conducted by fully licensed therapists who are at a master’s or doctoral level. Interventions are planned and developed using multiple theoretical frameworks adjusted to the needs of the resident. This eclectic approach permits the therapist to determine the best model for each situation and works in collaboration with both the structure and freedoms of the program. All interventions are consistent with the Promise Village Treatment Approach and are instituted to effect change in the lives of the residents. Promise Village therapists utilize “best practice” approaches based on research and practice experience. Individual therapy with a trusted therapist truly allows for the resident to “heal, change, and grow.” There will never be more than six residents/families on each therapist’s caseload, in order for an intensive investment of time to be dedicated to address complex family, emotional, and behavioral issues.
Promise Village believes that family therapy is a key part of the resident’s overall treatment and progress. It is important for families to witness the efforts made by their child/teenager and for them to encourage and support continued growth. Family therapy will focus on issues specific to each resident’s family and will comprise of improving communication, repairing relationships, learning conflict resolution and conflict management, and addressing treatment concerns as they arise. Residents will gain insight into what they have done to contribute to conflict and chaos in the family. They will be challenged to “get things right” with their parents/family members and make changes that will enhance these relationships. Sessions designed to teach and empower parents can also be scheduled, as needed. These sessions will focus on increasing parenting skills by learning how to set limits, establish healthy boundaries, consequent negative and inappropriate behavior and design structure and expectations in the home. Family therapy will take place on a weekly to bi-weekly basis depending upon current needs and logistics for parents. Sessions can take place on a conference call or through webcam technology for families that live out of state or a significant distance from Promise Village.
Current research suggests that group therapy is the most effective therapy in treating the adolescent population. This is due to the overwhelming attention this age group places on their peer group and trying to conform to group norms. Promise Village places significant emphasis on the importance of the group process. Residents participate in a wide variety of group formats including both psycho-educational and psycho-therapeutic models. Diverse age appropriate topics are also covered and include groups on respect, anger, peer pressure, conflict resolution, decision making, emotion management, positive relationship development, spiritual development, and many others. Groups are led by therapists and typically range from 60-90 minutes long. Group therapy sessions allow residents to give feedback and support to their peers and also to receive feedback and support from members of their peer group. The group sessions permit this process to take place in a productive, controlled, and safe environment. This environment promotes a thriving culture where positive behavior is rewarded and negative behavior is exposed as counter-productive. This awareness allows the young person to see that the negative behaviors/peers that they previously aligned themselves with were self and family-sabotaging.
The term milieu describes the social environment/culture of the program. Milieu therapy is an approach that uses the nurturing, caring, and safe environment of Promise Village to facilitate healthy change in the resident. The residents are able to receive and give positive exchanges from both their peers and staff through the intervention of milieu therapy. This approach is based on the concept of social learning and modeling but includes multiple other dynamics designed to foster lasting change in children and teenagers. The staff models a positive attitude and lifestyle to the residents and look for “teachable moments” throughout the day to help them learn life lessons and gain life skills. This helps create a powerful environment focused on positive peer influence.
Psychiatric Evaluations/Medication Management
Psychiatric services are provided in collaboration with St John’s Health Eastwood Clinics. Residents are assessed and monitored throughout the duration of their treatment for any psychiatric/medication needs. A Promise Village therapist will schedule and attend an initial psychiatric evaluation with the resident after a determination of a possible need in this area has been made by the treatment team. The therapist will also schedule and attend with the resident any follow up appointments recommended by the psychiatrist in an effort to manage medication regimens and monitor progress. The follow up sessions are typically monthly to bi-monthly, but are determined by the psychiatrist on an individual basis. This is to ensure the needs of each resident are being met and that the proper and most effective medication plan is being implemented. The focus of the Promise Village clinical approach is to reduce or eliminate the need for medication as the resident grows in their ability to self-regulate and core issues are resolved.
Family involvement is encouraged and expected during the course of treatment at Promise Village. Parent and family involvement is one of the most significant predictors of success. This includes working to resolve family issues (usually one of the key reasons for placement) through family therapy sessions and repairing family relationships through visitation, phone calls, and home visits. Family visits to Promise Village are encouraged when it is feasible and appropriate. The residents need to feel cared for during their stay, but parents also need assurance and support during this hope-filled time. All visits are set up through the resident’s individual therapist and are viewed as opportunities to support family growth and progress. Regular phone calls and letter writing is also encouraged and a great way to nurture and support the progress and efforts of the resident. Lastly, home visits are viewed as a designed therapeutic tool for parents and residents to practice the things they have been working on and learning in therapy. A resident is considered eligible for home visitation after they have completed the Stage I requirements and have successfully been promoted to Stage II. This process generally takes 30-40 days to complete. Once a resident becomes eligible for a home visit, the therapist, resident, and family will examine possibilities and determine the appropriate timing for a visit to take place. Promise Village stresses the notion that home visits are not just vacations and should be time spent as family, practicing newly learned growth strategies. Typically, parents are encouraged to take their child home for holidays and special occasions.
A key part of the clinical program at Promise Village is connection of the residents with horses and various other therapeutic animals, such as dogs and birds. Kids having struggles with a variety of issues including trust, attachment, anger, depression, trauma, low self-esteem, and lacking confidence can benefit from working with our “animal therapists.” These animals are used as a “transitional object” where the resident will first learn to trust the animal and eventually humans. The animals are often the first ones to break through the internal walls put up by guarded youth. The residents will also learn a variety of life/social skills and teach responsibility as they care for the animals and enjoy time with them. The bonding process will encourage them to treat others with compassion, respect, and patience. Time spent with the animals is designed to be therapeutic and fun, as well as create memories that will last long after residents leave Promise Village.
Recreational Therapy or as we call it, Recreational “:Theraplay” is simply recreation and activities that have a therapeutic purpose. It focuses on helping the participant to grow through teachable moments and post-experiential processing.
Some of the gains they make include:
- Social skills development
- Problem-solving skill development
- Increased confidence and improved self-esteem
- Teamwork skill development
- Increased problem-solving and resolution skills
- Learning to trust and depend on others
- Increased patience and frustration tolerance
- How to have fun in a positive way
- Increased creativity and critical-thinking
- Learning to value interconnectedness and relationships
- There are many opportunities for structured and spontaneous recreational “theraplay”. Many occur on the Promise Village property and in the home. Others are scheduled in the community. These include:
- Purpose-Driven Activities planned out and facilitated by Life Coaches.
- Horsemanship and horseback riding
- Art classes
- Team Sports (Basketball, Baseball, Football, etc.)
- Adventure-based challenges
- Fishing on the lake
- Game room competitions and play-time
- Music (guitar lessons, piano lessons, vocal performance)