For background on the Troubled Teen Industry, a brief Q & A:

Q: These places don’t really do brainwashing, right?

Well, yes. Here’s how Edgar H. Schlein, a Cold-War-Era expert explained the term:

Brainwashing is a colloquial term which has been used in reference to the systematic efforts of the Chinese Communists (and by implication the Soviets) to persuade non-believers to accept Communist allegiance, commands, and/or doctrine by coercive means. More generally, the term has been applied to any technique designed to manipulate human thought or action against the desire, will, or knowledge of the individual.

Edgar H. Schein, Brainwashing, Center for International Studies Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 3 CE6/6es e / 60.


Q: It’s worth it because the families can heal when the kid comes home, right?

The effects of these programs can be long-lasting, giving no comfort to the troubled parents or the troubled teens they meant to help. In her book on the industry, pioneering author, journalist, and science writer, Maia Szalavitz puts it this way:

Almost all of the former teen participants I interviewed still felt hurt by what had been done to them; many were still upset decades later. even those who accepted that their parents didn’t know about the abuse had this problem. Many, many families have still not reconciled and continue to refuse to have any contact with one another. Most have great difficulty restoring trust.

Maia Szalavitz, Help At Any Cost pp 253-254


Q: This is just a little extra discipline isn’t it? It’s good for those kids, and no one’s really getting hurt – right?

As author Marcus Chatfield says, these practices go far beyond a little extra discipline. He should know – he’s a ‘graduate’ of one of these programs himself.

Adolescents subjected to totalistic reform environments are often witness to a heartbreaking cruelty, but their stories combined tell the larger story of an invisible monster, sold to parents and the public as therapeutic growth. … The practices of many programs can be defined as torture, and according to international law, the federal government is criminally negligent in its failure to provide safeguards against these practices.

Marcus Chatfield, Institutionalized Persuasion: The Technology of Reformation in Straight Incorporated and the Residential Teen Treatment Industry, 2014  p 275


Q: Aren’t these programs regulated as schools? Bad things can’t really happen in a school, right?

These places get around the regulations. Maia Szalavitz explains in a nutshell:

Nail salons and dog grooming outfits are, in fact, more strictly regulated than troubled teen programs, which routinely use corporal punishment and isolation in the guise of treatment.”

Maia Szalavitz, New Efforts To Crack Down on Residential Programs for Troubled Teens in Time Magazine online.


See Resources for links to experts and organizations that work to change the laws and policies to eradicate these programs in the US.