Ironwood Maine Web Update

A ship is safe at port, but that’s not what ships were built for.  – Grace Hopper

While each student is on their own individual journey, there are quite a few similarities to the path of the students here at Ironwood. Each journey starts with some degree of resistance.

Ironwood is a completely new world with unknown expectations and environments. For our new students, it’s a bit like being a fish out of water. As a recent student suggests, “All of my outlets are no longer available, and that forces me to deal with today.”

During the first few days, students participate in what is known as Initial Reflection. This opportunity is given to allow student to take some time to observe what’s happening around them. It allows for a moment of clarity of where they were, where they are, and hopefully where they might want to go. This reflection space is their harbor.

Further into the program, students are testing the waters. Deciding where they want to go. This past week I had a discussion with a newer resident that wasn’t very interested in participating in the day’s activities.

I took some time to validate her feelings. Sharing my compassion with the struggles of residential life and frustrations of obligations and responsibilities. When I asked her what her plan was for the rest of the day, she had no answer. She was floating around with no direction. I shared with her that both within this program and in life, she could explore and conquer as much as she could possibly dream. I shared that she also has the right to stay in a comfortable space and not challenge herself at all. However, she has to pick a direction. Whatever the direction is for today, you have to orient yourself to a course, making some headway.

He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards a ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast. – Leonardo Da Vinci

After a destination is set, our next step is digging deep to see what’s below the surface. The hidden ingredients of thoughts, feelings, relationships, and expectations. During this week’s gardening workshop, students took the time to physically dig with their hands to dissect the soil. They learned about the variety of materials within the soil and how the variety of materials contributed to supporting life. Students were also taught the importance of natural soil fertilization through cover crops, reinforcing the concept and need to support existing environments. The transference is evident, but we also enjoyed finding worms and “really neat” rocks.

​The final phase of this adventure is for each of our students to navigate through the regular surprise of challenges that show up along the route. As the sea has changing currents, cresting waves, rocky shorelines and sand bars, we humans similarly shift based upon social, emotional, relational and familial impacts.  At Ironwood, we try our best to offer support as young captains try to master the navigation of their own vessels. They are in a safe space to move fluidly through each success and failure. They have staff, resident peers, therapists, horses, and most importantly you, to encourage when times get tough, and affirm and love, whenever possible. Thank you for placing your trust in Ironwood and our apologies for all the cheesy nautical references in this writing.  Have a great weekend.​​​​​​​​​​​​​

I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship. – Louisa May Alcott


Ironwood Maine Web Update

It is hard to remember that life is supposed to be fun. We spend the majority of our days managing responsibilities, obligations, and the needs of ourselves and communities. We invest countless hours of our time and immeasurable amounts of energy into solving dilemmas, and aspiring to achieve personal, professional, social, and academic growth. Students here on campus fight the same battle. They are challenged daily with rigorous schedules of self-analysis, academic pressure, and social obligations. This week, I want to share a few of the moments outside of the clinical setting and classroom.

This past week was Ironwood’s first fishing days! It sparked some potential new hobbies for some students and offered other students the opportunity to teach what they know about the sport. We were lucky enough to catch enough fish to have a little snack too!

Separately, setting up tents and wearing blindfolds aren’t very fun activities, but if you combine them together, you can have a bounty of good times. This activity also challenged student to practice effective communication skills, and to utilize senses other than sight to accomplish a task.

We’ve also been able to spend more time exploring the surrounding area. This past week we managed to fit in a few short-day hikes to some scenic local spots. Some of the ironwood pups came along as well and enjoyed the opportunity to cool off in Sandy Pond after a strenuous hike up Sugar Ridge Trail. The scenic views atop the mountain offered a great opportunity for transference in relation to hiking and their individual programs.

And with greatest anticipation, we’ve been ramping up efforts to get our hands dirty in the gardens (setting the “ground” work so to speak). To start the process, students had to orient themselves with a compass, consider the path of the sun, and share ideas in relation to garden designs. They also were challenged with measuring out a garden plot, and computing how much space they had to work with and what exactly could be done within that space. Once enough question and answers took place, we handed them shovels and the project is underway.


As you can see, with each of these activities, there are multiple learning opportunities and postive impacts. If it’s framed appropriatly, there can be postive transference to daily living. And let’s also remember to have some fun. 😉

Ironwood Maine Web Update

A few weeks prior I wrote about how noisy it is around campus. It was noted that our days are filled with a variety of structured activities to support physical, emotional, and social engagement. From the time that our residents wake up and shuffled into morning exercise all the way through obligatory journaling time in the evening, this campus is moving and shaking. Creating opportunities for learning, managing challenges, and accomplishing a variety of tasks.

In the days since, I’ve taken to the time to think about how we can utilize this environment to be the most impactful for our students. I am sure we can all relate to moving so ferociously through a day that we are moving on the next task before even completing the one we are working on. Or, while having a conversation with one individual, we are contemplating another situation quietly in our head. This week, I’ve looked at how our program balances the scheduling demands and individual responsibilities of our students and mindfulness.

What is mindfulness? Ironwood’s mindfulness looks quite a bit different than what you might imagine…

I am sure you have all received a letter exclaiming about how “ridiculous” the rules are at Ironwood…especially at Frye.

“I have to ask for permission to sit down, or to leave a room!!!”

At first glance, without appropriate processing or explanation they can be viewed as unnecessarily controlling.  Yet, given context and explanation of transference, these expectations have a far greater benefit than control.

There are several ways to practice mindfulness and Ironwood’s program and expectations help to implement and ensure that this practice is consistent. Asking to sit, or permission to enter creates a conscious understanding of the student’s daily behaviors. It highlights how much movement happens and forces each student to take notice to their actions and movements, before they happen. Monitored conversations have multiple positive factors, one of which is the creation of being mindful through communication. Requesting to speak, and then actively engaging into what is being said, allows for practice in mindful communication. Throughout the program, students participate in reflection periods, which creates an intentional space for mindful observation and awareness. Time taken aware from the day to focus on a specific thought or action. Harvesting firewood, or pulling weeds could be considered pointless, but these Service Reflection activities provide time and space for students to process events or thoughts while engaging in physical activity. This combination of physical engagement is proven to be beneficial when working through a situation, cognitively.

Mindfulness is when you choose to pay attention to the present moment, on purpose. To concentrate attention on what we choose, rather than having emotions, thoughts, or other experiences control us. It requires disciplined practice to slow down and be content. Mindfulness doesn’t need to be practiced in a yoga studio, or on the beach, it should exist throughout the entire day, wherever you are.

There have been countless positive moments throughout our campus this week and your child is growing internally, regardless of his/her current level.

Thank you for putting your trust in Ironwood and have a very pleasant weekend.  Happy Mother’s Day, too!

Ironwood Maine Web Update

Parents often tell us that placing a son/daughter at Ironwood is the most difficult decision that they have ever had to make.  No matter the circumstances or issues at hand, this struggle can never be an expectation of parenting and the emotional toll on the parent(s), siblings and extended family is heavy.  For all who are reading this, the decision has been made and now the focus should flow to the changes that need to take place while your son/daughter is going through the program.

Tim R. Thayne, Ph.D. is the author of Not by Chance, How Parents Boost Their Teen’s Success In and After Treatment, and Tim has a wealth of experience around how to get the most out of this critical chapter within the family system.  Tim notes that effective treatment programs share common elements:

  • A full and balanced daily life structure and schedule;
  • Clinical support through individual and group therapy;
  • Constant exposure to positive role models and coaching from staff;
  • A positive peer culture in which teens who have progressed influence other teens positively…;
  • Clear and consistent expectations and rules;
  • Experiential and recreational activities;
  • Methods for defining and recognizing progress;
  • Academic programming and support;
  • Parent education and involvement in the treatment process.

Ironwood offers up all of these features in its’ internal design and while your child is with us, it’s important that you focus some energy on what will be different at home, when the Ironwood journey comes to a close.

How will you communicate with one another in new ways?

How will you respond when your child triggers you in ways that remind you of the past?

What will your family boundaries look like and how can they become mutual and effective?

How will I show my child that I was willing to adjust my styles and own my part of the conflict?

These are just a few examples of the questions that should be thought on in these next weeks and months. While we have no crystal ball on what will be happening in your family dynamics (post Ironwood), we have ample history that supports the need for parents to be heavily invested in (and willing) to do their own internal work, while their child is in treatment.

If you are unsure where to start, perhaps some direction can be found in this book?  It’s certainly relevant and we have many parents who have found it to be a “good read.”

Our campus is getting more beautiful each day and we are seeing some great progress within our resident ranks.  You have reasons to be hopeful and we wish you a very pleasant spring weekend. Thank you for putting your trust in Ironwood.

Ironwood Maine Web Update

As I visited campus this week I noticed a considerable difference from what I experienced just a few months ago. We’ve been able to add to our incredibly talented and passionate staffing team. We’ve welcomed the pursuit of growth with several new students. We’ve managed good byes and celebrated success in Graduations. We’ve added a new horse to the heard and closed the sugar shack for the season. Most excitingly, students have just put away their flannel lined pants for the season!

In addition to each of these events, there was something else that was different. I didn’t notice anything significant at first. A tractor passing by in the morning or students playing volleyball in the afternoon. Riding lessons in the outside arena and Construction work on the garden area. Groups raking away snow plow piles and a new student’s bombardment of questions and excitement. Groups walking around campus smiling and laughing or a thunderous clapping session for our latest graduate. There is so much going on, it is noisy out there!



This realization of noise made me aware of how much of a positive impact it has for our students to be outside, engaged, and active. Whether it be the morning exercise, walking to school, campus beautification, collecting materials for fire, or enjoying a meal outdoors, our students spend much of their day collecting Vitamin D. One highlight of the week was the students first hike of the season. Frye students took an afternoon to climb the mountain that is the namesake of their campus. They reveled in an opportunity to splash their face in a cool spring and enjoyed the expansive views. The farmhouse students went off campus and spent a day hiking Hogback Mountain where the trail meanders through a beech forest, past a 30 foot cliff with tiny waterfalls, and a summit view of the Georges River.
Through my observations over the past few months, it is obvious the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors has made a positive impact on our community. But I wouldn’t expect you to just take my word for it;

1.Being outside helps with mental health.
A research at Stanford University found that people who walk for 90 minutes per day “showed decrease activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression”

2. Activity and time outdoor correlates to better academic performance
A study on Finnish students found that physical activity directly correlated to better reading fluency, reading comprehension, and arithmetic skills.

3. Nature helps reduce stress levels
David Strayer, a psychologist at the University of Utah, has studied natures calming effect on human stress levels. He has been quoted noting that “Our brains aren’t tireless three-pound machines; they’re easily fatigued. When we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, but our mental performance improves too.” You can find correlating information in several studies, such as this one labeled, Forest Therapy.

Here’s to packing up our winter cloths, breaking out the sunscreen, longer days, spring time breezes and all the noise that comes with it.

Press Release: Ironwood Maine Introduces QNRT to its Teen Therapeutic Treatment Program

Ironwood Maine, a licensed and accredited therapeutic boarding school for troubled teens in Maine, introduces Quantum Neurological Reset Therapy (QNRT) to its proven struggling teen treatment program. The QNRT treatment program at Ironwood Maine is administered by the only Board certified QNRT therapist in the state of Maine: Katharine Davis, N.D. QNRT is a unique therapy based on the knowledge that unresolved emotional, physical and sexual trauma, shocks, and negative life patterns leads to imbalances in life, eventually causing anything from distorted relationships to major disease.

Read the Full Press Release Here

Thoughts From Ironwood Maine

Last month, Phoebe modelled an attitude that we hope to see in all humans who are connected to Ironwood. Full focus and attention, full effort for whatever task is at hand and a positive attitude (tail wagging) when things don’t go as well as you had planned.

Ironwood Maine Web Update

Earth Day Poster from 1970

Earth Day Poster from 1970

This Sunday, and every other April 22nd since 1970 has been a worldwide celebration to demonstrate support for environmental protection, increased community awareness, and a stage for collaboration. Earth Day.

The poster to our left was the first published image for Earth Day back in 1970 and contains a comic book character named POGO, a politically charged Possum explaining the real problem at hand, “US”. On Earth Day 2016, the landmark Paris Agreement was signed by 120 countries around the world officially coming together on the plan to implement a change for environmental progress.

This week on campus I was constantly impressed by our students’ willingness to collaborate, compromise, create cohesiveness, and contribute to something bigger than their own day.

Here on campus, each of our students are delegated a variety of responsibilities. Some are designated to barn chores, others take lead on household responsibilities. One student manages the care of campus pets, and others prepare the meals for the day. All throughout the day there are students that are walking with a purpose to accomplish a task for the greater good of the community. It is a schedule so complex even the most comprehensive color coordinated excel document couldn’t come close to being complete. Students also had a chance to carve wood spoons, repair wheelbarrows, be trained in a new veterinarian skill (horse yoga), prep for the campus garden, and complete some post-winter clean-up. All things considered, a huge amount of effort all for the benefit of the community. (Don’t worry, they still made time for school as well).

This focus on community involvement is proven to have a positive impact on youth. Past research shows that empowering youth and allowing them the opportunity to participate in the community supports the development of skills needed to be an effective leader. Those that are engaged show better problem solving and decision-making skills compared to youth who are not engaged. (Brennan and Barnett 2009)

In addition to building leadership skills, engaging youth in a community also creates a sense of belonging and purpose. They will increasingly become more comfortable and confident in their ability to contribute. This allows them to internalize the idea that they are making a meaningful contribution and in turn, feel needed. (Pearrow, 2008)

Ironwood could be called an education center, residential program, rural farm, organization, and a multitude of other adjectives but we are so much more than any one of those terms independently. We are a community that works together, supports one another, challenges our peers to better themselves, and hold the person next to us accountable. Given the effort each of our students have made to make their community here at Ironwood, and their family at home a better place, I’d say Pogo would probably be quite proud.

Video: Ironwood Maine Sugar Shack

Ironwood Maine Sugar Shack

Every ounce of maple syrup we make goes on top of the pancakes of these amazing residents and staff who helped to make it.

Ironwood Maine Web Update

This week at Ironwood was similar to most weeks for anyone. It included feelings of accomplishment, exhaustion, and disappointment for each of our residents. I have the opportunity to observe a unique perspective of the happenings from just outside the daily routine and it is truly inspiring to see each of our residents and staff members owning and utilizing these feelings throughout the week.

The days after Family Weekend are filled with a variety of responses. Some students settle back into their daily routine with a sense of relief after being exhausted from non-stop stimulation and an ever-present desire to make the most of the weekend. Other students are disappointed to accept the fact that they still have quite a bit of work to do. Several students are re-energized by a sense of pride with being able to experience how significant their progress has been, and what a positive difference it makes within their family.

As with any weekend, there is a Monday to surely follow, and life at Ironwood continued on with a wealth of experiences, challenges, and learning opportunities. The daily routines are undeniably effective and important. School, community responsibilities, and therapeutic sessions are an obvious pick for most impactful activities for our students, but I believe the opportunities to engage in a variety of extra-curricular activities are equally as important to our students’ development. To name a few, this week included painting, making homemade dough for hand tossed pizza, tarp shelter construction, and yoga.

Indoor Rock Climbing - Adventure Therapy

Indoor Rock Climbing – Adventure Therapy

This week our students were also able to attend the campus of Unity College for an experience with their Adventure Therapy students on an indoor rock climbing wall. Sure, we had tons of fun, made a few jokes, engaged in some competition, and thoroughly enjoyed the time off campus, but there was something else too. Rock climbing can have more of a positive impact that you may think.

Eva-Maria Stelzer, a psychologist at the University of Arizona, had a feeling climbing was more than just fun. Her and a team led a study with participants with varying mental health challenges. Stelzer and her colleagues found the social, mental and physical endurance of climbing could be successful psychotherapy for improving mental health. The team has since expanded the study to compare the climbing activities with cognitive behavior therapy. Stelzer explained that climbing has a number of other important characteristics that make it especially beneficial for the treatment of mental health challenges, namely that it helps boost self-efficacy and social interactions.

As I mentioned earlier, our week was busy. The difference is in our student’s willingness and ability to engage in their experiences, own and validate their emotions, and put themselves in challenging situations. While it may be scary to look up at the mountain that our students have to climb, breathe easier knowing that all of us here at Ironwood have them,On Belay.”

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