Category Archives: Memoir

Psychological Evaluation

Disclaimer: This is a lengthy post.

While talking with my parents about the SCLA program a few months ago, and watching the Montana PBS documentary on Spring Creek and other similar schools, I made the comment that the program should have done better research on every student they admitted. My mom responded that the program had in fact evaluated me before accepting me, and that my parents still had a copy of this psychological evaluation. My mom then went and got a folder for me with this eval, along with other information they had on the program, and letters I had written home while in the program.

The eval consisted of a standardized assessment, along with an interview portion, neither of which was given by anyone with any legitimate background in adolescent psychology (the Family Representative). These two parts of the assessment were then mailed to a psychologist who combined them into a report and signed his John Hancock. I am still of the opinion that this evaluation was not an adequate measure of the psychological state of many students, myself included. Also, the program seldom followed through on the recommendations suggested by the evaluating psychologist (who actually never met the students he was evaluating). It is my conclusion that SCLA and other similar schools used these evaluations as exemptions from liability should anything go awry with the student…

In this post and the next couple posts, I will be sharing parts of this “evaluation” and commenting on the report’s conclusions.

Date of Examination: 8/14/01

REASON FOR REFERRAL

[The student] was referred to the Spring Creek Lodge Program by his family, who reside in […] Indiana. Specific concerns at the time of admission were [the student’s] escalating acting out behaviors which had recently included his participation in receiving stolen property and breaking into a vending machine. He also at the time was on probation [for fighting in school]. He also apparently had been extensively involved in substance abuse and the family had questioned the possibility of depressive symptoms. [The student] has been court ordered to the Spring Creek Program. As part of the diagnostic and evaluation process at the program, psychological evaluation was requested specifically to assess his current level of psychological and intellectual functioning and to address any treatment and/or placement recommendations.

SUMMARY OF INTERVIEW MATERIAL

As acknowledged, [the student] was evaluated at the Spring Creek Lodge Program in Thompson Falls, Montana. He appeared, at the time of the evaluation, as a casually but appropriately groomed and dressed adolescent who was cooperative with the examiner and who readily responded to tasks and questions assigned him.

  • Mental Status Examination: Mental status examination completed suggests that [the student] is appropriately oriented to person, place, and time. He is displaying no signs of psychotic symptomatology, including delusions, hallucinations, obsessions or phobias. Mood, affect and demeanor throughout the assessment process was somewhat constricted, however, generally within appropriate ranges. [The student] is currently verbalizing no suicidal ideation or intent.
  • Current Circumstances: When [the student] was questioned as to the reason he was referred to the Spring Creek Program, he reported, “Well, I robbed the pop machine,” reporting that he and a friend had broken into a vending machine and had taken in excess of $100. He also reports that he had been on probation at the time. He also is openly acknowledging the fact that “I was doing a lot of pot.” He also reports, “Another problem is that I was lying so much.” He also is acknowledging the fact that as a result of his difficulties he had essentially been court ordered to complete the Spring Creek Program. This was apparently an alternative to incarceration.
  • Current Family Circumstances: [The student] reports that at the time of referral, he was living with his biological mother and father. Also in the family was a 14 year old brother, a 15 year old sister and a 10 year old sister. [The student] is reporting that his father is employed [in the construction field]. His mother is employed as a registered nurse at a healthcare clinic. When questioned concerning the quality of his relationship with his parents, he reports, “Well, for the most part I’d do what they wanted at home just so long as they left me alone.” He reports that he would spend prolonged periods of time while he was grounded “just playing my guitar. He also adds, “Basically, I was just trying to stay away from them.” When specifically discussing his father, he reports, “Well, he’s never really showed a lot of emotion. I guess I’m a lot like him.” With regards to his mother, he reports, “Well, I’ve really never opened up to her. For the most part, I would blow her off when she’d try and ask me something.”
  • Academic History: [The student] reports that he is currently working on eleventh grade curriculum at the Spring Creek Program. He is reporting somewhat of an erratic academic history, reporting, “I pretty much got kicked out of school two years in a row.” He reports that in the ninth grade he had been suspended for pulling a fire alarm. He was also in the tenth grade suspended for fighting. When specifically questioned concerning the quality of his academic performance, he reported, “Well, I would do okay. I’d usually get anywhere between an A and a C” He reports this was primarily determined as to whether he had an interest in the course. He is unaware of any learning disability and, again, tends to characterize himself as a capable student who, however, lacks motivation.
  • Physical and Sexual Abuse History: [The student] denies any history of either physical and/or sexual abuse. He also denies any history of this type of abuse in either the immediate or the extended family.
  • Substance Abuse History: As previously acknowledged, [the student] is reporting a significant level of substance use and abuse. He reports that his drug of choice and most frequent use was marijuana and he reports using “weed a lot of times every day.” He also reports that he had used alcohol “a lot, especially when I was on probation so I wouldn’t get caught.” He also reports that he, for a period of time, had done acid, estimating that he was using it one time a month[…] He also reports that he had experimented with cocaine on two occasions.
  • Legal and Criminal History: Again, [the student] is reporting a history of legal involvement. He reports that he was initially referred to the court system for an assault charge. Recently, he was referred for receiving stolen property. He also reports that he had a shoplifting referral in the eighth grade.
  • Medical and Physical History: [The student] reports no history of serious injury or illness that would, in any way, contribute to his current level of psychological functioning. He characterizes himself as generally healthy. He reports that he has been sexually active in the past, reporting that he has had two sexual partners. Both of these are characterized as girlfriends. He reports practicing safe sex and reports no history of pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease as a result of his sexual activity.
  • Psychological and Psychiatric History: When [the student] was questioned concerning the possibility of depressive symptoms or other psychiatric symptomatology, he reports, “Well, I used to think I was pretty happy but then I’d kind of realize that I tell myself I’m happy a lot (when I really wasn’t).” He is reluctant to admit that he has experienced depressive symptomatology but is actively questioning his feelings at this time. [The student] is reporting that he has seen two therapists historically. However, these have been brief contacts, estimating that he has only seen them for one or two sessions, at which time he was reluctant to go. No history of psychotropic medications is reported.
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More Thoughts from the Ex-Family Rep

…Those days [at SCL] are long gone and I am grateful for that. Its funny how there were so many things that I did not see while I worked up there. I agree, there should have been much better screening when it came to hiring staff. I think that was one of my biggest complaints. I often wonder at how some that were hired seemed to take on some of the roughness and insensitivity that was prevalent at SCL. It almost seemed a contagious challenge to rile a student or push them to anger. It was frustrating to see some of the students, who were good students, pushed rather than pulled. It seemed we drug them down at times, rather than lifted them to higher grounds.

I am sure that many of them were feeling a lot of the guilt that came from being sober and realizing some of the things they had done, or how they may have hurt those they loved. Guilt is a tough thing to deal with and can often drag one down to some pretty deep place. Just like when some of the students would get together and drag each other down deeper into each others crap, so did the staff. I see this in many other places as well, but I think SCL suffered so much more because it was so much bigger. There was no training for the staff on how to deal with so many of the issues. Therapy was tough as well. I am not sure just what their training was, but it seemed that when the student’s hour was up, that was it until next week or two weeks, depending on what their parents could afford. The students didn’t see [the therapists] at any other time and the therapists did not see the students in their environment.

There was a lot of pressure [on me] from other staff when they would want me to toughen up, and felt I was weak because I would listen to my students and would not just lay it out to the student about what they were, how they felt, or what they did. No one knew that information, often, not even the student themselves…

I am excited that you will be getting your teaching license. The job will come and you are wise to be ready for it. You will be good at your job. Just make sure you listen to your students. That is one of the most important lessons I have learned, that kids just need someone to listen to them, it doesn’t matter what their age. I had one little boy that would come in and I always asked him how his weekend/night went. His mom and dad had just gotten a divorce and they were moving in with other people. He would often come up when I asked with big tears in his eyes and tell me what he was frustrated with, then move on with his day and have a great day at school. If he held onto it and I did not ask, he often punched another student and got in trouble. He really was a great boy, just needed to be able to get things out so he could get through his day…

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