Educational Consultants for Therapeutic Programs for Teens

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi All, looking for a few parent recommendations  and guidance re: a therapeutic educational consultant for boarding and wilderness placements.  Please know it’s very sensitive as this is for an adoptive child, who has some attachment issues, so placement is delicate. 

    willows in the winds has been very very helpful - 🙏🏼 - but also looking for direct feedback.

    Open Sky? Sorrenson Ranch? Randi Klein? Dore Frances? David Heikenlively? 

    Many many thanks! To better days ahead ...


    Your message says that you are looking for an educational consultant, but also includes a request for direct feedback about Open Sky, which is a wilderness program.  You also ask for feedback on David Heckenlively.  We ended up placing our son at Open Sky after learning about it from friends.  We had met with Heckenlively initially, but learned of OS and selected it without his assistance.  We ended up hiring Heckenlively for advice re: post-wilderness placement, and frankly I wish we had saved our money.  For $3k we got a list of therapeutic boarding schools, a number of which were already on our radar.  Most disappointingly, when we asked him how much each of the schools cost, his response was that they were all between 7k and 8k.  The first one we called was over $13k/month.  

    As for OS, I can't say enough about that place.  It's astonishing to me what they are able to achieve in 12 weeks.  I would recommend them without reservation.  You should know that by the time your kid is getting close to graduating, they will be recommending the next placement (e.g. Residential Treatment Center, Therapeutic Boarding School, home) so you won't need an EC for that.  If I had it to do over, I would have been asking my kid's OS therapist earlier in the process what type of placement they were leaning towards because everything happens very quickly at the end, and it is hard to find time to visit potential placements (we didn't). 

    My final words of advice are to trust your gut.  The situations that lead one to consider such placements are emotionally turbulent and it's hard to find your center in the midst of this turmoil.  But it's still in there.  Best of luck to you on this journey.

    I think I will be in the minority when I say that I did not love the education consultant that we worked with (Shayna Abraham). I talked to others who had a very positive experience with her, but I didn't think that she gave us the personalized and individualized attention that we had hoped she would. As a result, I didn't have the confidence to pull the trigger on sending my child to wilderness, residential treatment, or boarding school. Specifically, she recommended some local programs that my child was literally already enrolled in (and which we had told her about). She made strange assumptions about my child and about our family situation, and ultimately provided a list of residential treatment/boarding schools that she recommended with no explanation of what it was about each program that she felt was a good fit.

    I would definitely interview a few ed consultants before you sign on with one--especially since it is an investment of several thousand dollars.

    Other resources to consult would be your school district's IEP coordinator--they sometimes place students in these programs and some of them actually visit the programs and have insight. You could also ask your kid's local therapeutic team for recommendations.

    I wish you the best--I know that you are going through hell right now. It will very likely get much better.

    I just went through placement with my teen last year. My Ed consultant is Mary and she is very knowledgeable. She explained clearly and firmly on why my teen needed to go to a therapeutic boarding school as I had some concerned and misperceptions about TBS. I could have not done it without her. There were quite a few adopted kids at the program and they were all making great progress there.

    It was the hardest decision I had ever made. My teen eventually ended up thanking me for saving his life.

    I also had contacted David Heikenlively but he cancelled last minute the night before of the appointment and never called me to reschedule. 

    you can email me directly if you have questions.

    Hi There,

    My daughter just completed at New Vision wilderness. She had a great experience there. She is adopted and the program is focused on attachment and trauma. Many wilderness programs aren't. My daughter does not have a major attachment disorder, but being adopted, there are attachment issues that just come with the territory, I think.  My educational consultant is Jennifer Taylor at Jeted consulting. She made very good recommendations. I cannot speak highly enough about New Visions or her. My daughter has moved on to an RTC called Solstice West in Utah. It was a little rocky at first, but she's doing well there now too. Good luck with everything!

    Hi - chiming in a bit later than some, but wanted to make a couple points. I agree wholeheartedly with the person who sent their child to Open Sky. That place saved my son's life, no question. It's a top notch amazing program. We found it thanks to an excellent EC who is no longer in the business. I agree with the assessment of Shayna Abrams, with whom I had a disconcerting conversation when interviewing her. I DO think it's critical to have an EC help with the after-wilderness piece. I disagree with the opinion of the Open Sky parent who said that the OS therapist can recommend places. They typically do NOT do that, because to do so is to incur a conflict of interest. They might suggest a TYPE of place--therapeutic boarding school, residential treatment center, etc--but they aren't in the business of recommending specific programs. There are some good ECs out there, and a whole bunch of mediocre ones, and some bad ones. For reference, I suggest a closed facebook group called "Parents with Kids in Residential Treatment." There are document that that this group has created with ECs (and programs) that they can recommend. You can also post a query to the group asking for advice. Also, I'm open to your reaching out to me - please go through the moderator. I did a lot of EC research and there's at least one name I wish I'd gone with instead of the person I chose. Good luck. I admire you for taking these steps. It's the hardest thing we can do as a parent, but this work can be amazingly transformative. My son thanks me for saving his life. 

Parent Reviews

The best thing to do is to get an Educational Consultant. They help you identify appropriate placements and navigate the system. One place to get help is through a Facebook group Wilderness and Residential Therapy Search. There are lots of very knowledgeable parents on there as well as Units at the top of the page with information. It’s a lot to do on your own but these resources make it possible. 

I would recommend hiring an EC - Educational Consultant. They will help you navigate your options. Also look in to Wilderness Therapy. This might help stabilize before putting her in a therapeutic Boarding School or Residential Treatment Center.  

I have had a teen in residential treatment for the past year.  What we did and what a lot, but not all, parents do is hire an educational consultant.  Educational consultants are very knowledgeable about many different programs and are best qualified to match a teen with a program and to ensure that the selected program has current availability.  Many of these programs will only deal with educational consultants.  We are very fortunate in the Bay Area that there is a support group for parents with kids in treatment or just thinking about treatment.  The name of the organization is Willows in the Wind. Their website has lists of recommended educational consultants and other professionals whom you may need at some point.  There are monthly meetings in three different locations each month: San Rafael, Oakland, and Los Altos.  Los Altos is meeting on May 5, Oakland on May 18, and San Rafael on May 19.

I am sorry you are going through this. I have a teen son with similar issues with mellow personality. We hired an Ed consultant and discussed various times whether placing my son in a therapeutic boarding school where there are kids with drug/alcohol or brushing with the law issues was a good fit for my child. Ed consultant reassured me that yes he would be a good fit because all the behavioral issues stem from emotional problems (mostly low self-esteem). They way they manifest their behavior is just different. The Ed consultant was right, he is now in a therapeutic boarding school out of state fitting in well and making great progress. Bonding well with his peers. One thing I have noticed while visiting there is that as soon as the kids are placed in the program they start behaving nicely. So there is not going to be a lot of wild uncontrollable behaviors that your child is going to be exposed to.

You were looking for somewhere in the area but CA law does allow to have those kind of program in the state. You would have to go out of state.

As for your child you would want to discuss with your Ed consultant whether a residential treatment center or a therapeutic boarding school would be a fit for your son.

Good Luck!

Sorry about your daughter. You need an educational consultant; these are professionals that know the various programs, visit them, know the therapists, etc. It really stinks that they cost several thousand dollars, but you are about to make a huge investment in residential treatment and there is no way that with websites and phone calls and even visits that you will have the knowledge and insight on all these programs. There are recommendations on BPN for ed consultants. We waited too long to get an ed consultant and spent 3 months and a lot of money on a program that was not really the right starting point, so I have experience in this unhappy area.

We used David Heckenlively out of Walnut Creek to help us look at options for our emotionally troubled 17 year old son.  In the end, our son went to a therapeutic wilderness environment and then to a RTC that was very therapeutic based.  It was the hardest but best decision we have made and our son learned a lot of skills that still help him in life.  We were lucky in that our son was engaged and actively looking to find ways to manage and cope with life.  His take was that 1/3 of the boys were actively working on themselves, 1/3 were just going with the program and 1/3 were actively defiant or not at all engaged so not all kids will always have a positive outcome.  

Mercedes Carbone, educational consultant in Walnut Creek has guided us through finding the best support and placement for our child. I highly recommend working with her. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have. This can be a very challenging process.

First, I want to tell you I am sorry for your pain, and know this is a difficult time.  I am glad you are reaching out to find out more from folks who have been there.

Our 16-year-old daughter has just returned from 13 months of residential treatment and is thriving--kind, loving, responsible, managing all aspects of her life, joyful and engaged--and I wish that we hadn't waited so long to seek more treatment than simply a couple of therapists.  It was really helpful when her psychiatrist said, "She needs more help than two loving parents who are not trained professionals can provide.  She needs trained and compassionate professionals who can rotate through shifts to provide the high level of care she needs now."

First step:  hire an educational consultant.  They are expensive but know the industry and the many, many programs and what type of program your child will respond to.  After a very poor experience with one consultant (find out how much time you are contracting them for.  We found the first consultant did not accurately represent the kids that were admiited to the program we chose, and were very upset to find kids with much more serious problems than our daughter, and that we only received three hours of direct consulting advice for placement recommendations.), I interviewed 7 consultants from around the country and ultimately chose Vania Mattheus, who is based right here in the east bay.  She's been exceptionally knowledgeable and constructive in her input, and even the residential staff and management express their trust and gratitude for her insights and strategies for supporting our daughter prior to coming home.  Consultants have knowledge about the inner workings of programs, and through experience know when a program is not functioning in a manner that benefits its students.  It's difficult for laypeople like inexperienced parents to truly assess quality and program problems.

Next:  get informed.  Jan Rao and Willow in the Winds is an incredible local resource for learning about educational consultants, types of programs, and connecting with parents struggling and learning in the same process.   An additional resource is SNAP: Support Network for Alumni and Parents for families served by the residential treatment community, and is a offshoot of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP).  The website has an extensive listing of websites, programs, and other support services for families.  

Very helpful books:  Second Shelter: Family Strategies for Navigating Therapeutic Boarding Schools and Residential Treatment Centers; Rebecca Haid (probably the first book you should read, as it covers the range of programs offered and how programs differ);  The Road Home, Ruben Jimenez; The Journey of the Heroic Parent: Your Child's Struggle and the Road Home, Brad Reedy; Not by Chance: How Parents Boost Their Teen's Success In and After Treatment; Tim Thayne; Parallel Process: Growing Alongside your Adolescent or Young Adult Child in Treatment, Krissy Pozatek.

This decision is certainly the most difficult I ever faced, but I am glad to have made the choice and feel profoundly grateful for the growth and healing in my daughter and our family as a result.  Many blessings to you, your child, and your family on your journey.  

I've spent the last couple of years considering options for my teen.  In addition to what you described we also had sneaking out at night, on-going bullying an episode of physical violence against a sibling, barricading in the room for days at a time, refusal to follow house rules or engage in general civil behavior, beginnings of self-harm and cannabis and alcohol mis-use.  A real Jeckle and Hyde, our teen presents outside the home as a "a little down" but basically a good kid with friends and respectful to adults.  At heart this is a good kid who we love dearly, but clearly struggling in a way we cannot parent or help effectively despite "trying everything", including years of evaluations, therapy, and various other "interventions" both individual and family. 

We worked with The Bodin Group in Los Altos ( to explore options. There is a wide range to consider from treatment at home, to therapeutic wilderness programs, to a range of boarding schools (traditional, supportive, therapeutic).  This is serious stuff and traumatic for not only the teen, but also the whole family.  If you are considering a therapeutic option, I highly suggest you work with a professional and speak with many parents that have been through / are going through it.  Therapeutic programs and schools are truly the point of last resort after "everything else" has failed.

At the beginning of this summer, we were one scheduling phone call away from entry into a wilderness therapy program - application in, acceptance offered, spot held.  A final few phone calls with parents who's teens had gone through the program made us think the move was too drastic for us, we became concerned we risked further alienating our teen.  We realized we we'd be putting our teen in a program with much more troubled teens than ours, and that we hadn't "tried everything".  Getting through the summer was hell.

Our teen is now in the second week of an out-of-state traditional boarding school with an optional supportive program which we found with the help of an independent high school placement counselor.  We are hopeful the supportive program is appropriate to address our teen's challenges that underlie the out-of-bounds behavior. Our teen went reluctantly, but after a few days of radio silence, communication is open and better than it's been in a long time.  Clearly, we're in the early days here, but all looks promising.  We are grateful that our teen is in a structured environment with adults we trust, and for relief from the constant stress day-to-day parenting a teen like this put on our marriage and family.  We'll see how it goes, but I'm glad we made this decision.  I'm more hopeful than I've been in a long time.  (BTW: the $ spent with Bodin was well spent, as it got us to this point, even though in the end we did not follow Bodin's recommendation).

These programs are all ridiculously expensive.  They are deep investments in time and emotion as well as money.  There's something underlying the troubledness.  Do your research thoroughly and find what's the next best step for your teen and your family.  You're not alone, find other parents / parent groups to support your through this phase.  I wish you the best through this difficult process.

I'm writing from the perspective of a parent who is also a therapist for over 25 years.  I had an opposite experience from some of the comments.  I sent my 14 year old to residential treatment for anxiety and depression and it was a very, very positive thing to have done for her.  Yes, it was painful and difficult and she missed the family terribly, and we missed her terribly, but it helped her tremendously.  She came home functioning so much better than she had been, so much happier and with so many positive tools to help her when she has mood issues now.  She is not on any medication whatsoever and doing as well or better than her peers.  I highly recommend considering it.  I would also recommend you get an educational consultant to help you choose the right situation for your family and child.  They can be extremely knowledgable and helpful.  It's just terrible to have a child struggling, but it definitely can get better.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Hire an educational consultant for 20-year-old with serious problems?

Dec 2012

Our 20 year old daughter has had a serious problem for the last 4 years with with anxiety, depression and marijuana addiction. We've tried therapy, medication, outpatient rehab and one inpatient rehab. We've tried tried being flexible and we've tried tough love (kicking her out of the house). Nothing has worked. She is not willing to quit using marijuana, and it's very clear to us that her marijuana usage makes her depression and anxiety much worse. Our daughter's therapist has recommended that we speak to a local educational consultant about a possible longer-term placement for our daughter. Honestly, even though I really like and trust my daughter's therapist, I am very leery of hiring an educational consultant. I'm afraid they're all in bed with the wilderness camps and schools that they recommend and that it's an industry that preys on families in crisis. Am I being overly paranoid? Anecdotally, I keep hearing about people who have spent a fortune with ed consultants without good results. I would really appreciate some feedback from people who have gone this route, either confirming my fears or telling me that your family did it and it really did help your child. Of course I realize that my daughter has to be ready to make a change in her life for it to work- I'm just trying to figure out if I should be working with a consultant so that if and when she's ready for help we have the right help to offer her. Thanks in advance. worried

First of all, I'm sorry that you're having to go through this. It is grueling, heartbreaking, frightening, numbing and overwhelming. I'm speaking from experience. My daughter was younger and I did use an ed. consultant. She was away from home in 2 different programs for almost a year. As to whether or not it was useful, it's a little up in the air. I don't know what would have happened if I hadn't gone that route. Things were NOT looking good. Is it a quick fix?? Not for most kids or families. My daughter would say it was a complete waste of an insane amount of money and the most horrible thing she's gone through. She would also say it has turned her off from receiving any kind of therapeutic help. On the other hand, she's still quite a bit in denial about her issues. I am not convinced I made the right decision, but I made the only decision I could then, for her well being. It did allow me some relief, knowing she was safe for a while.

If your daughter is 20, unless she's a harm to herself or others, she will need to agree to go to any program an ed. consultant might suggest. People have to want to change. Bottom line. If you do decide to talk with an ed. consultant I can highly recommend David Heckenlively in Walnut Creek. He is compassionate and truly cares about the whole family and not in it for the big bucks. He knows the programs well, including the ones for young adults. He also runs a parent support group which is so important. his number is 925-681-1700.

Good luck. Take good care of yourself. Been there

We are a family that spend a good deal of money on an educational consultant, a wilderness program and a therapeutic boarding school, and ultimately it did not stop our daughter from making a serious of disastrous choices that have seriously impacted her life. We don't blame any of the professionals we worked with, however, and left to do it again we probably would have made the same choices. At least she was safe, she gained some skills and some insight into herself (though not enough to stay on track), and we learned a lot about how to let her make her own mistakes without sucking our entire family into a vortex of anger and recrimination.

None of these programs work miracles, and they require a certain amount of buy-in from the children themselves (even for younger teens who enter them against their will). Our children are individuals with free will, and some of them have developed incredibly strong defenses against changing their behavior or facing their innermost problems.

At 20 years old, there is very little you can do without her consent and agreement. Even if you get her to reluctantly agree to something, I would worry that if she is not really committed to changing, the impact could be only temporary. If she is still working with a therapist, that is a good sign, but it sounds as if it might be time for you to disengage a little and let her make her own choices, as painful as that might be.

I hope you have someone you can talk to who is supporting you in this situation. Good luck to you. learning to accept my limits

I feel a GOOD Ed Consultant can in the right situation be worthwhile. We hired one for the placement for our teen daughter. Although I give them credit for heading us in the right direction,in the end it wasn't someone with vested interest in our daughter other than getting our money. Because of the age of your daughter I am wondering if they have the resources to help. I will assume the majority of their clientel has youth under 18. Programs are very difficult to find once they are over 18 because they are adults and therefore have to be the one to make the commitment. I would think for you to send her you will need proof of mental incompacity.

Hopefully parents with older children will answer you with their experiences. I am happy to share with you who I would not recommend and other consultants friends have had good luck with.

We used an ed consultant in SF, Molly Bloom, for a residential placement for our daughter. We were not particularly happy with the placement she recommended and she was curt and unsympathetic. I would not use her again, but we couldn't have found an all-girls residential treatment center on our own in a short time, so I feel we did need an Ed consultant.

For wilderness, we went with Second Nature and did not use an Ed consultant. Second Nature was wonderful, and I highly recommend their program. It was recommended to us by several parents. Good luck! It's a very difficult and painful process. Mom of a 16 YO girl

Need advice on alternative schooling/treatment programs for teen

Oct 2011

My daughter who will be 16 in December is in her sophomore year at Acalanes. She hates school there mostly doesn't relate to the student body of kids especially not much diversity there. She has always struggled in school and now has gotten into drugs. She has gone to raves and done ''E'', smokes weed, took my rx drugs, ambien, ativan and got into vodka/rum and got really drunk and sick. Drugs and alcohol gone from my place, but friends have it. There is nothing current on this site as far as residential treatment centers and if there are any good ones. I've read a lot of dangers of the places especially in Utah and how awful they are to the kids. Need current info on RTC's and Boarding schools that might be good for her. She will spend a day at Holden High School in Orinda to see how she likes it, but what about after school and keeping her from doing crazy stuff. I'm worried sick and need help asap. She lives with me half the time and now doesn't want to go to her dad's cause he just gets angry and that doesn't help. Also does anyone have names of good teen therapists in the area (Walnut Creek,Lafay, Orinda) or Berkeley (dad lives there). Also an education person to help with placement at a school. Nothing current again on this site. Thank you so much!!!! desparate single mom of teen

I suggest you either try Vive, which has a program which includes a mentor for the teen as well as a coach for the parents to try to work things out with the teen still at home. Their website is Read it and see if it might fit your situation. If you feel your daughter needs a residential placement to keep her safe, the best way to find a suitable program is to hire an educational consultant who is personally familiar with programs. They will only guide you to safe programs where there is structure but never anything that would harm a teen's health or safety. Here are some you might try. Don't let geography stop you. You can often do much of the work by phone, email or mail, so you don't need to limit yourself to the closest consultant. Do talk on the phone to several and see which one you think fits. These consultants can have your child out of the house and in a program in a matter of days if need be. I am one of the directors of Willows in the Wind. We are a free support group for parents while their teens are away. We have monthly meetings in Tiburon and Los Altos Hills, and have had experience now with more than 100 families who have been through this process. Here are the names of some of the educational consultants they have used successfully.

David Heckenlively has offices in Walnut Creek and Mill Valley his website is It has contact info and info on his services

Molly Baron is at McClure, Mallory, Baron and Ross in San Francisco. Their website is

Jennie Heckman is in Palo Alto. Her telephone number is 650-941-4662 If you Google Jennie Heckman it will take you to a site called Caring 4 Youth which has more information about her and what she does.

Vania Matheus has her own website She works throughout the Bay Area

Also please call me or email me. Those of us involved at the Director level in Willows have each had a teen go through the wilderness, therapeutic boarding school process. There was no help when we did it, and we don't want people like you to struggle the way we did. There is no charge for talking with us on the phone or attending our meetings or emailing us. Robin Sacks robinsacks [at] 650-996-0897

I am sorry to hear what you are going through. I don't have any advice but you were asking for a counselor. My son has been seeing Paul Lewis in Walnut Creek for several years. He works primarily with teens and their parents and I can highly recommend him. My son is a high school student in the Acalanes school district and also a child of divorced parents. Paul is very familiar with Acalanes and often conducts workshops/readings at the school. You can contact him at 925-944-5523. mom of high schooler

First of all, my heart goes out to you. It is frightening and depressing to have a teen who is so out of control. Good for you for recognizing that you can't do it alone and that she needs some kind of intervention.

There are hundreds of therapeutic boarding schools and residential treatment centers, many in states far away and really the best way to find the right one for your daughter is to work with an educational consultant. Our family worked with David Heckenlively and he has been great. He has a background as a therapist and has years of experience working with teens. (

He will probably recommend that your daughter go first to a wilderness program. The one our daughter went to is called Open Sky. This is not a punitive, boot camp program. It is extremely nurturing and caring, with staff that are trained in how to deal with troubled teens, and extremely talented therapists.

No good program should ever be harmful or dangerous. Safety and health should be primary concerns of any wilderness program or boarding school you consider. Ask lots of questions about this if you are concerned. I thought these programs were somewhat unregulated and could therefore do whatever they wanted, but actually they are highly regulated and good ones adhere to really high standards of care.

That being said, these programs can be tough. Teens in wilderness therapy live outdoors for weeks, hiking, camping, building their own shelters, cooking their food, etc. But these programs have a remarkable impact on teens, by interrupting their dangerous and destructive behaviors and making them realize the impact of what they have been doing.

Boarding schools are not as physically demanding, but do impose lots of restrictions and rules, and as a parent, you have to be comfortable with those rules and agree to the restrictions or the program will not be as successful. A good school (and wilderness program) will demand a lot of you as a parent, in terms of communication, participating in therapy, etc.

While it is a relief to have a child in a safe place, making progress in school and emotional growth, parenting long distance is emotionally exhausting and it is a long hard journey for everyone involved.

These programs are also extraordinarily expensive; our retirement savings are going toward the boarding school tuition. But in return we have gotten our daughter back and that is worth any amount of money.

Good luck to you. Been there

My son went to Holden High for a month, and I know a couple of other kids who went there longer. Our experience was that most of the kids there are seriously into drugs, and the school does nothing real to discourage it.

What about rehab? The only one I know locally is Thunder Road which is part of Alta Bates. We had a good experience there. If you have Kaiser, check with them.

I can highly recommend Second Nature Wilderness Program. They have sites in Utah and Oregon at least. My 15 year old daughter went there this past summer and absolutely loved it and got a tremendous amount out of it. I can't say she's home and sober now, because she is in a residential treatment center (in Utah, they're not all bad), but many RTCs won't take your child unless they have first been to Wilderness Therapy. Or so I was told. If you're serious about taking the RTC or Therapeutic Boarding school approach, you should get an educational consultant like Bodin or David Heckenlively. mom of another troubled teen

please see my message to 16-year old doing drugs. david heckenlively can consult with you about alternative programs for your child. he placed our son in two wonderful programs and during a recent home visit invited him back to speak to the parents' group. as you know, it is a difficult journey; the most difficult thing i've ever faced and heckenlively helped our family navigate it with honesty, openness, humor and hope. been there, too

Help finding a facility for a troubled teen

April 2011

We recently used the services of Bob Casanova (707-526-5800), a therapeutic/special needs placement counselor with McClure, Mallory and Baron. Bob is one of two counselors who find treatment programs away from home for at risk youth. While various people in our lives recommended we look into having our 14 year old very depressed daughter go to a therapeutic boarding school, we kept trying to solve things here at home with counseling, medication, consequences, and then a day program at John Muir Hospital.

Unfortunately that was not enough, and after residential treatment only available for a month and one-half through insurance, it was clear that coming home was not yet a good option. We were very lucky to see a flyer about a talk Bob was giving in Santa Rosa. Although we live in the East Bay, and Bob is based in Santa Rosa, he quickly started to work to find us the next step for our daughter. As with other educational consultants, he has visited many of these places, and has professional relationships with the owners who trust his judgement about who would fit in and benefit from their program. We also wanted to find a place where our daughter would be able to continue developing her creative talents. He honed down 15 possibilities to 5, and recommended we visit all five. We actually only needed to visit the one that appealed to us the most for us to realize it would be a great place for our daughter. All this he did under emergency circumstances for a very reasonable cost, in comparison with other consultants we knew about.

Bob has followed up with us to be sure things are working out, and we are very happy that our daughter is at a special place where she can overcome her depression and accompanying trauma. Bob's clinical background enabled him to do the necessary homework about our daughter's issues. He was realistic and straightforward in evaluating our situation so that he could get us through this tough time quickly and successfully. We feel incredibly lucky we found Bob to help us.

We also recommend a book that was very helpful in understanding what this situation is all about. It's titled ''What Now: How Teen Therapeutic Programs Could Save Your Troubled Child'' by Dr. Paul Case. S.

Bay Area resource for specialized schools for troubled teens

Oct 2010

We need experienced suggestions for a resource that can suggest a specialized middle/high school for a troubled pre-teen. Molly Barron of MacClure, Mallory and Baron in SF has been recommended. We would welcome hearing of anyone's experience with her, or other local suggestions of placement experts or schools. My son is 12, in the 7th grade and has had recent issues with thievery, skipping school and being disrespectful to his teachers. Thank you in advance for your counsel. A Worried Mom

We used Molly several years ago, as well as David Heckenlively in Walnut Creek, as educational consultants for our troubled teen. Molly is very experienced, but seems primarily geared toward helping families send kids to Wilderness and Residential programs. She was not very familiar with East Bay schools, in my opinion.

Have you tried individual therapy for your son, or family therapy? Coyote Coast in Orinda can be an excellent resource for helping families deal with difficult teens through family therapy, mentors, and peer groups. Good luck! anon

Bay Area guide for choosing a HS for troubled teen

Oct 2010

I am looking for experienced suggestions for a consultant who can suggest a specialized (maybe residential) middle/high school for a troubled pre-teen. Molly Barron of MacClure, Mallory and Barron in SF has been recommended to me. I'd like to hear of anyone's experience with that firm or others with the same expertise. Also, any suggestions for a specialized school in the Bay Area. My son is 12 and in 7th grade. His current issues include thievery, skipping school and disrespectful behavior at school. Thank you for any counsel you can offer. Worried Mom

Best of luck to you. One of our boys went here: It is not local. It was pretty good, but he's a tough case. We used Jennifer Graham at Bodin Associates to help us find a good fit. -anon

Need to find a therapeutic boarding school for my talented, difficult, bipolar 15-y-o

Jan 2009

I have used your site and love it. I'm in Mill Valley trying to find a therapeutic boarding school for my talented, difficult, bipolar 15 year old who goes to school only 50% of the time. School has threatened me with SARB. My daughter has a history of poor attendance as she's tired, depressed even with the meds that have been changed extensively. Does not do well with theraist and she's had many. I'm thinking that expressive arts or a teen group might be better and am looking. It's hard to get her to transition to any place expect being with friends. She's attending AA on her own because of drug and alcohol issues in the past and is on probation with a very skilled probation officer, but that almost over and I'm scared. Tough behavior mod as a motivator partially successful,but tends to lock her into fight mode. She responds better to structure, love, clear consequences, one to one (executive function issues along with working memory problems) and community.

In the process of therapeutic school placement with IEP but don't expect much.Searched your site and read horrific and wonderful stories of placement concluding I need an ed. Consultant and Molly Baron might be good? Also, does anyone have an attorney which I expect to need, but finances are hard as a single parent. Exhaused and not able to work away from home very much, she needs extensive supervision. Joyce

First, Molly Baron is excellent from what I've heard. My daughter attended an RTC in Utah (her problems were not drug or alcohol related but many of the kids had those issues). The school/RTC that we used was Island View in Layton, UT. It has a decent academic program and fabulous therapy. Once you get to a situation where you need this kind of resource, most local therapists aren't able to help much, particularly because they don't see the kids as often as they'd like and they need to balance being honest/helpful with the kids while at the same time not alienating them. Judy

I highly recommend Molly Baron. She helped us place our son in a therapeutic boarding school. She's knowledgeable, responsive, and compassionate.

We also used a lawyer whom I highly recommend. He specializes in representing families of special needs children. His name is Mike Zatopa and his email is mike [at] anon

I had a completely different experience with Molly Baron. Caveat Emptor. Molly recommended one school for my daughter. Molly was adamant that this one school was the only good placement. In the 17 months my daughter was with this school, it seemed that Molly represented the school, not my daughter. In fact, she dropped my daughter when difficulty arose with this program, right at the moment of crisis. The above action caused the caseworker who followed my daughter from our local county mental health program to speak to me about the unethical behavior demonstrated by Ms. Baron. The situation was serious, involving safety, lack of supervison by school staff and abuse. Molly Baron failed to respond to protect her client, my child. I would never, ever recommend Ms. Baron to anyone. anonymous

More Reviews of Educational Consultants for Teens

May 2013

RE: What do Educational Consultants do for Families?

I wanted to provide my experience working with David Heckenlively over the last two years. I was referred to David by a Therapist who told me that I needed to explore some options for my 16 year old extremely depressed & anxious teen. We met with David for three months, investigating options such as Outdoor Therapeutic programs vs. keeping him at his current public high school with more support services. David has a very special way with teens, he relates to them in a way that doesn't ''feel'' like therapy. He gained my confidence after a few meetings, in his vast knowledge of troubled teens and various options available to help families of teens. I am not rich either (referring to another person's comment) but I knew that I had to do what was best for my son. I eventually made the decision to send my son to an Outdoor Therapeutic Program in Utah for kids with social and emotional challenges. It was a very difficult decision but I was concerned that if I didn't make a drastic change, my son might attempt suicide.

David Heckenlively was extremely supportive and provided guidance, strength and support during the entire process. During this time, my son was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome with severe anxiety and depression. Per David's recommendation, after three months at an Outdoor Therapeutic program my son was moved to a Therapeutic Boarding School specializing in teens with Asperger's syndrome (executive functioning, social and memory challenges) .

I have also attended the Parent Support Group which David facilitates and he has many families from all over California who depend on his service, support and guidance. I feel so strongly about David and his ability to provide guidance to troubled teens of which he has dedicated his life, that I have referred my sister to utilize his services for her troubled teenage daughter.

I look at David's role as a parent and teen advocate who has the capacity to guide families through the challenges of the teen years with options / solutions. He travels all over the Western United States keeping in contact with Therapeutic programs so he is current in his knowledge.

I am a single mother, and the costs of these programs is expensive. I had to use my 401K funds to pay for them, but in retrospect, my son is worth every penny. My son has benefited enormously from these experiences; in fact, he is coming home at the end of May, If you find that you have explored all options and you don't know what to do with your struggling teen, and you need support and guidance for academic, therapeutic, addiction, and/or dangerous behaviors, David may have a solution for you -- Check him out: Mom of Aspie who needed help

I usually refrain from giving negative reviews, as I have no desire to hurt people professionally. However, in this case I feel I need to give an accurate picture of how I experienced David Heckenlively's services.

We were referrred to David Heckenlively for educational consultation when my son was expelled from a small, private high school in his senior year. David is a nice, friendly person with one thing to offer; a recommendation to a wilderness program priced upwards of $45,000. His fee for this service is a cool $250.00 an hour, in the form of a $3,000 retainer. He promised (verbally; the written contract was very basic and did not spell any of this out), to give us a written account of his time spent consulting the various professionals who have worked with our son. He knows the details of these different programs, and is able to get troubled teens into these programs very quickly. He describes them as a ''vision quest'', personal growth for confused teens. His friendly, relaxed demeanor is reassuring to parents in crisis, and we were excited about the possibilities. He suggested he could get us an adjustment since we are not rich, and we left, dazzled with the idea of 3 months off parenting and a transformed child on return. He called us quickly with a reduced price on a program. It was still in the neighborhood of $35,000.

Once we decided that this was not an option we wanted to pursue, David had nothing else to suggest. We asked for a refund of money left unused of the $3,000 retainer. He offered to continue to see our son as a ''mentor'', to use up the rest of the retainer, at some unspecified cheaper rate( than 250.00 an hour).

Ultimately, he met once more with our son, and cancelled several other appointments. We never received a written account of who he consulted with, and for how long. He never responded to my 2nd request for a refund. In our opinion, he is a one trick pony. If you are wealthy and desperate, he can get your child quickly into a residential treatment program, where they will meet lots of other rich kids who identify with their diagnoses and are looking for new buddies to party with. That's all he has to offer. We sent our son back to public school, where he was placed in what has turned out to be a wonderful, individualized, supportive continuation program. He is receiving high grades, is on track to graduate this spring, and is already receiving college counseling through his school. We are very happy with our decision and our son's progress. I sure do miss that $3,000 we handed over to David Heckenlively. It could help pay for Senior Ball and Grad Nite. EB mom

If you can find a GOOD Ed. Consultant they can save you a lot of stress and time finding a placement for you child. If that is what your intentions are. If you are looking at them for educational needs I am not experienced using them in that way. If you are looking at hiring an Ed Consultant to assist you with the possibility of sending your child to wilderness or residential placement...please read the post from last week regarding David Heckenlively. They are not alone in their frustrations with (him) hiring a POOR Ed Consultant. I know several that have hired Bob Casenova who is in the Petaluma/Santa Rosa area and have been very pleased with his service. It is a costly endeavor no matter what. If you have questions I am happy to discuss our experience. s

April 2010

Sorry, I don't have advice on particular boarding schools, but I wanted to respond to the post from Bodin associates about their placement and assessment services. A few years ago we paid for their services for my daughter, on the advice of her psychiatrist. I felt they had a very limited perspective on alternatives. Most of the programs they suggested were really designed for teens out of control, not for teens with depression, motivation, and more subtle social interaction problems. When I indicated I did not see the programs they were suggesting as a good fit for my daughter (whom I would have described at the time as depressed, and with nonverbal learning disability issues), the reaction of our consultant was that she guessed we were just not ready to take these steps. She had little to offer that did not involve what seemed to me quite extreme situations that in our assessment could have been a disaster for our daughter. The service was expensive, and may well be worthwhile for out of control kids, but for us it was an expense we could well have saved. Not a Bodin fan

I saw the response about Bodin and wanted to offer one other suggestion. We used McClure, Mallory and Baron to help us find a school for an ADHD (inattentive type) teen. Amanda Mallory helped us find a boarding school that worked for him. While they do offer theraputic placement help, they also have lots of experience finding schools that work for a wide range of student needs. They are in SF.

There are also directories of boarding schools. You can find something that sounds interesting and then research on your own. Some of the families at my child's boarding school found it that way. Schools will provide references. I got names of several current and past parents and called them all. Good luck. anon

We also found consultants (we used McClure, Mallory, and Barron) unhelpful in a similar case. They made very strong recommendations for wilderness followed by schools that felt inappropriate, and against the school my gut told me was right. We felt guilt tripped -- told we were in denial, falling into the same bad habits that supposedly got us where we were, etc., even though the wilderness program director agreed that it wouldn't be a match. The process wasted time and money and confused my son. It seemed oriented towards teens who need to be separated from a detrimental peer group, have problems with substance abuse, etc. and not more complex or subtle profiles, such as my son's anxiety and learning disabilities. We went with our gut feeling, and our son flourished. It was a residential program back east that helps with emotional, social, and learning issues. At home he had failed in two private schools, refused school, and became socially isolated. He had been diagnosed with ''atypical'' Asperger's or high functioning autism, and schools talked of defiance or even megalomania. That was all wrong -- learning disabilities (masked by high IQ) kept him from doing the work until he had effective remediation, and anxiety made him withdraw, which fooled some professionals into thinking he had social skills issues.

When we told him he'd be schooled at home as long as it took to find the right school -- home study wasn't a permanent solution -- he became more cooperative and optimistic than we expected. Being in a supportive, structured residential situation was a big relief to him. Success, academic and social, turned things around. It was a very hard decision to send him away, but our relationship became so much better! But it was very expensive, and it's nearly impossible to get funding through a school district. Another problem with going away, is that we didn't have continued support when he returned -- but he left because we didn't have it here to begin with.

March 2010

Re: Wilderness program for angry, defiant 14-year-old
I did use the Bodin Group as consultants to help me find a program for my young adult and am pretty pleased with them though they charge a lot for what they provide... best wishes

Please, proceed with great caution. There are lots of wilderness programs; some are awful and dangerous. It is an extreme, last resort sort of decision and you need to know what you are doing. Unless you are in crisis mode (and even if you are in crisis mode), consider whether there is a less severe alternative means to helping your child. Beware of ''educational consultants'' who receive kickbacks from wilderness programs and beware of programs that pay ''educational consultants'' for referrals. The programs are extremely expensive and there is no assurance that the result will be positive. It is often a stepping stone on the way to long-term therapeutic boarding school. anon

Oct 2009

Re: Feedback on Wilderness and RTC
In 2001, my 15 yr old who was spiraling down terribly. I also went to the Bodin group. A therapeutic wilderness program was recommended for my dd, Second Nature. They also recommended a therapeutic boarding school.

Please reconsider. Second Nature worked well for my daughter d emotionally. I asked lots of detailed questions and still did not knnow the harsh conditions. Her diet was restricted to beans and water until she earned the privilege to eat more. She slept on the ground in the snow of the Utah mountains. All she had was a tarp, no tent. My girl was signficantly injured in the program. The program was described as gentle; it was not.questions, but still I did not know what the conditions would be. Caveat Emptor with these programs.

My biggest mistake was sending my daughter away after Second Nature. Many of these therapeutic programs are very behaviorally based. The staff is often poorly trained. The therapists typically are right out of school; they stay one year to be licensed and leave.The staff psychiatrist overmedicated the kids. My daughter received 3X the maximum dosage allow of her medication. My daughter was emotionally harmed by staff and victimized by older boys in the program. I found that Bodin was in bed with the program. When it came to protecting my daughter,they did not act to do so.

This was my direct experience with my own child. Please be careful. Before taking such a drastic step, I recommend consulting with a therapist in Albany, Terry Trotter. She is amazing.

I understand the anxiety about wilderness programs all too well as it was one of the most difficult decisions that my husband and I have ever made. In 2006 we sent our son to a 5 week program I won't name (very well known), and it had limited impact. In 2007 we decided to work with Bodin and subsequently sent our son to Second Nature, and our son then moved on to an 8 month follow-up program recommended by both Second Nature and Bodin. I'd like to balance the critical perspective about Bodin offered by Peggy who posted today, though by no means can I argue that our experience is typical or applicable to others. Yes, it is the case that Bodin is favorably disposed to Second Nature, but Bodin prefers to send clients to programs they know well, and we found that to be a tremendous benefit. Our son's co-therapists talked with us almost weekly, and our Bodin consultant was on the phone with us as well, and therefore we had a network of support. Our son's follow-up program is a program favored by Second Nature and Bodin, and I suppose some parents would be suspicious about that, but, for us, these program relationships facilitated continuity of treatment from one program to another. All this said, after all this treatment, our son continues to struggle, and none of his three programs were 'cures.' On the other hand, we've learned a great deal about our son (as he did about himself), and we now understand that he may never be able to handle his life like an adult. As sad as this is to accept, we've had the input and perspective of many professionals, each of whom has expressed both 'glass half full' and 'glass half empty' perspectives, and offered us hope as well as painful realities. These professionals definitely offered our son hope - yes, maybe the programs are challenging, but our son was loved in so many ways, and he carries that love with him. It's noteworthy that his former therapists are his facebook friends. I'm very sorry that other parents and kids have had less positive experiences with Bodin and Second Nature, but I just wanted to offer another perspective. Best of luck, and a hug of support. anon

June 2009

Re: Residential treatment for RAD ADHD Oppositional Behavior
Call Virginia Keeler-Wolf in Oakland. She is one of a group of therapists who are specifically trained to work with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). There are only a few such therapists in the Bay Area. She is also knowledgeable about residential treatment. A friend worked with her and his son was successfully place in residential for over a year and is now ready to come home. Our family worked with her for several years, and she is very insightful and knowlegeable. One of her partners, Laura Soble, has worked in equine therapy. Mom

Jan 2009

Re: Boot camp for 19 year old?
You might consider engaging the services of an educational consultation who specializes in such placements, as they are often able to sort through the variety of programs to match the specific needs of your child. The Bodin Group (925- 283-9100) is one such resource. They have an enormous amount of experience in these matters. Good luck. Andrew

I highly recommend that you work with an educational consultant. We worked with a woman named Virginia Reiss (in Larkspur, CA) and found her to be incredibly helpful and knowledgeable. There are many good people out there who can guide you through the process. It is important to find the right place for her, especially due to the fact that she is over 19 and cannot be legally held against her will. There are also many places that are not safe so it is worth spending the money on a consultant to help guide you. Good luck! step mom of a formerly troubled teen

Sept 2008

Re: Chronically truant 17-year-old smoking weed, won't come home
I'm so sorry to hear your son is struggling, and my heart goes out to you. I recommend the Bodin group, because they refer to a wide range of settings, and they're also skilled interventionists. Of course there is a cost to their services, but, without them, you're handling all this on your own with little confidence that you've made the right decision. Bodin works with you to select a setting, and monitors your kid's progress. They periodically visit every boarding school and therapeutic program, and they know the staff personally. They've been working with my son and our family for over a year now, and we appreciate their expertise and support. I commend you for deciding to intervene now - we hung on far too long and intervened way too late. I was in same place years ago

There are many therapeutic boarding schools out there. I visited several (most were out of state) a year ago when my step son was acting similarly to yours. I highly recommend that you meet with an educational consultant right away. (we went to Virginia Reese and Associates in Larkspur.) Educatinal consultants know the boarding schools intimately and visit them constantly to ensure good teaching and therapeutic staff. They find out as much as possible about your particular child and then guide you to the right schools. Once there (my stepson was actually taken by force....hard to imagine but that is what it came down to) the educational consultant acts as a liaison and can also help guide you to the best counselors etc. I don't think we could have made the choice to send him away without the guidance and counseling and support of our educational consultant. Good luck....and know that you are doing the right thing for your son. p.s. my step son is now drug free and on his way to getting his GED. anon

April 2005

Re: Good boarding school for totally out of control teen
When we needed to send our son away, we had no idea where to start. There must be thousands of boarding schools and programs out there. Some are definitely better than others, and some are better for particular kids.

Fortunately [well, it did NOT seem so fortunate at the time], we tried and my son flunked a local rehab program, and the psychiatrist there referred us to an educational consultant, Bodin Associates [in Lafayette and Los Altos]. They were able to recommend a therapeutic wilderness program and then a boarding school, both really right for our son.

We really needed the support, the assurance that these folks had visited and knew the places they suggested, a reasonable number of safe places to look at [they suggested 8 places, and we discussed 3 more we heard about], and the practical input they had at certain points. I can't imagine how to approach finding a boarding school without some kind of guidance like this. It would be a total crap shoot.

The internet is cool, but -- too many choices, too little info relevant to a particular kid or a particular place.

There was a time the cost of the consultant would have knocked me over, but [a] that is nothing compared to the cost of a boarding school, and [b] much more importantly, our son ended up where he needed to be, and is doing well after 14 months, and he has been safe and supported and challenged -- and also, at his particular school, he got sober plus had fun. And he's graduating next month!

Best to families in this situation.

July 2004

Re: Need info about out-of-state residential treatment programs
This is a tough situation. There are a number of schools with excellent reputations, and a number that are run by absolute charlatans, so my advice, having had a very difficult/high-risk behavior teenager, is to hire the services of an educational consultant. It's their business to know which schools are okay and which should be avoided or have had serious problems. It's not cheap, but making the wrong decision about an emotional growth school creates more problems than it solves. I can strongly recommend the services of Elizabeth McGhee at Virginia Reiss Associates in Larkspur (980 Magnolia Drive/Suite 8, Larkspur, CA 94939/phone is 415-461-4788). Anyone in that office would be okay to work with.

November 2002

Re: Residential school for teen with emotional problems
I have worked with two ed consultants and would be happy to discuss my experience. I think it's important to have a good psychological evaluation of your child done before trying to select a placement. Until you know exactly what the issues are it's hard to select a place that can address them. -A mom who's had similar challenges

I strongly recommend spending the money for an educational consultant. Their services are often a couple of thousand dollars, but considering the other potential expenditures you're facing they are an essential investment as well as being an excellent resource. They should help evaluate your son's situation and try to match them with an appropriate school, and my impression is that they don't recommend someplace unless they're familiar with it's approach and have personally visited the school. The good ones will remain in contact with you during his time there, which helps you understand what's going on.

There are a number of good ones in the bay area, and we used Molly Baron at McClure, Mallory & Baron in San Francisco, who was very helpful. She combined her own evaluation with tests and evaluations from other professionals to help us make the appropriate choices. She also met with us while our son was in the program to help us evaluate his progress and future needs. Good luck to you and your son. anonymous

I'm replying to the mom looking for a residential school and/or educational consultant for her son. Several years ago we were seeking a boarding school for our daughter, at her request, and we went to see a very knowledgeable counselor who specialized in boarding schools. This was in the Fall of 1996, and I don't know if he is still around here, but just in case, here is his name and number: Douglas Bodin Bodin & Associates Los Altos, CA (415) 948-8651 Our daughter ended up at Happy Valley School in Ojai, CA. It is a wonderful school; however, I don't know if it is appropriate for your son's needs -- you might want to check it out. Their web site is Good luck in your search. JS

To the anonymous worried Mom looking for boarding schools and/ or ed consultants. We've been down this road very recently and have gotten VERY good help from Bodin Associates in Los Atos. They are profesional and well informed. they also do no take any money from any school. They are also expensive but in my opinion, worth every cent ( and I am not well of by any means). Their phone # is 650-948-8651. They plan to open a Oakland office sometime soon too. I have been extremely happy with the school that Bodin Associates have helped us find. If someone would have told me 8 months ago how happy and well adjusted my daughter would be now, I never would have believed it. Good luck, it is a very hard road to go but it is harder to watch your child lose hope, self-esteem and get into trouble. Another Mom