Archive for May 2018

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.