"I remember sitting in the Admissions office and feeling the first ray of hope. I remember thinking, 'These are good people'."
I am writing to share some exciting news: Our son Steven graduated cum laude from college yesterday with a degree in history and concrete plans — plans that include working with at-risk students in public schools, then starting his master’s degree in education in a year, and then becoming a high school history teacher for the kind of hard-to-reach students he once was. We know beyond a doubt that none of this would have been possible had it not been for the time Steven spent at Telos.
As I sat in the college bleachers yesterday morning watching the graduation ceremony unfold, my mind kept returning to the journey we had traveled with Steven. You may remember that he came to Telos in 2009 after struggling for years with anxiety and depression that led to academic underachievement, social withdrawal, and treatment resistance. We had exhausted all local therapeutic resources and were frightened for his future. But we were equally scared about sending him across country to a place and people we didn’t know. And we had no idea whether Telos could contend with this complicated situation so many others along the way had failed to fix. Bolstered by lots of research and discussion, we decided to trust our guts and take a leap of faith. I often say that it was the hardest decision we ever made as parents, but it was the best decision we ever made for Steven.
Steven found his place, his people, and himself at Telos. Through the relationships he shared with many special folks at Telos, he felt understood, respected, connected, and content for the first time in many years.
We can’t thank you enough for starting Steven on this journey toward a promising and fulfilling future. We are all the better for having been a part of the Telos family.
Our son, Jeremy, spent about 10 months at Telos. The program made such a difference in our son's life. Jeremy graduated from Arizona State and is now an engineer at a tech company working on rockets, his dream job. Without all the help from John and the other professionals at Telos, we feel that Jeremy would not be with us or at least not successful. He has told us that he appreciates what steps we took to help him.
"Last night I was lying in bed listening to a storm outside and savoring the feeling of having my family safe and together. I feel so blessed. I can't say that I would want to relive the past year. But I know for a certainty that Darrin is stronger, braver, happier, wiser, and more prepared for life now than had he never slipped off the edge. I want you to know how incredibly grateful I am to everyone at Telos." - Parent
"My husband and I are very sensitive to the 'feel' of places. We have never been anywhere that has as much positive energy as Telos." - Parent
"We are so happy with Telos. I truly can't express how amazed we are with all the staff and the superb program. There is absolutely no comparison with the program Alex was in previously. I believe Alex is now learning to trust the staff at Telos and feels secure that everyone has his best interest at heart, which is a far cry from what he has experienced in the past." - Parent
"I remember sitting in the Admissions office and feeling the first ray of hope. I remember thinking, 'These are good people'." - Parent
Learn More about one parent's experience with Telos by reading their in-depth essay.
We arrived at Telos on Wednesday, May 31st. It's a funny looking brick house about 45 minutes south of Salt Lake City, but on the horizon, in every direction, are mountains that in May were still covered with snow. There were three of us-Sam, my husband Bill and me-and none of us had had a lick of sleep in at least 36 hours. We were a wreck, but had no real alternative than to trust in a handful of people we had never met and in the strength and resiliency of our son.
There are thousands of residential treatment centers in the U.S. ranging widely in quality, size, focus, approach, and length of stay. They are all expensive. Telos-which is Greek for "ultimate potential"-cares for boys aged 13-17 whose primary diagnosis is anxiety and/or depression. There are boys there with drug and alcohol problems, and boys who cut themselves, but not sexual predators or violent offenders, although every once in a while someone gets mad and punches out a window. It happens. The average length of stay is 9 months.
My first question was, "Is this place religious?" because there was no way I was going to turn my son over to a bunch of Mormons. The answer was no, and while it is true that Telos does not preach or judge by Mormon rules, most of the leadership is Mormon-or LDS, as I learned to say, for Latter Day Saints. A couple of boys came to my door just the other evening-two earnest 19-year-olds in white shirts. They were radiant, and they said to me, "Aren't you curious about what gives us such joy?" and I had to admit, that yes, I was. I'm still not willing to be a subscriber, but in the eight months since I met the folks at Telos, I have learned to love and respect them, especially Tony Mosier, the clinical director and Sam's therapist, and to appreciate the inner strength he gets from his faith.
In the Telos philosophy, the cornerstones of genuine change are love, family, spirituality, principled living, and insightful choices.
The first thing each of us had to do-not just Sam, but Bill and I, too-was to make a list of at least 10 personal life-principles or values. We had to define them, put them in priority order, and write an essay on why our principles were important to us-and whether or not our actions match them. [In the order of service, behind the announcements, you'll find the list they gave us to choose from, and I invite you to do the exercise yourself.] It was revealing process for us, and very meaningful. Bill and I were stunned by the beauty and eloquence of Sam's choices, even just a day or two into the program, and I was reminded all over again of why I chose Bill as my life partner.
Further along in the program, we put together a set of family principles. Our family worked together to come up with a set of five, with definitions: Love, Openness, Togetherness, Generosity and Responsibility. I'm pretty proud of our definitions. Eventually, we built on them to form a whole system of family rules and consequences based not on arbitrary decisions but that flow meaningfully from the principles. We donâ€™t always follow the rules, but just having them gives us a clarity we didn't have before. We have a lot of family meetings.
The Telos program integrates several modalities. They use medication-very carefully. The staff psychiatrist asked us a million questions, and talked often to Sam, and over time found a formulation that works for him. The boys do a LOT of therapy-group therapy every day, individual therapy each week, recreation therapy, and family therapy-mostly on the phone, although we did spend three fairly intense days out there camping with the boys and their families. Just learning to get along at Telos is a kind of therapy. They also believe in the power of exercise-especially daily cardio workouts-and it's clear that exercise at this level has a profoundly stabilizing effect on the emotions. The boys participate in triathlons, and Sam worked out at a gym at least 1.5 hours a day. Sam worked really, really hard on all of it. He worked so hard he became the first boy to complete the program in three months. To their credit, Telos changed along with him, redesigning the program so that it was right for him.
The rest of us worked pretty hard, too. It was always moving and sometimes painful, but always rich, deep work. Bill and I wrote letters to Sam describing his first week in our lives. We wrote to him about the best and the worst things we had done as teenagers. We described our spirituality. We studied ego defense mechanisms, and communication techniques. We read The Art of Happiness by the Dalai-Lama, Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie, Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, and The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns.
In family therapy, the person who goes to the doctor is the "identified patient," with the rest of the family being the unidentified patients, as it were. We're all part of a system, and we discovered family systems that were not healthy-cycles of unacknowledged depression, codependency, a tendency to make it "too comfortable" to be depressed.
When I came home that day last spring after the bike accident, I burst into tears not just for the boy, of course, but for my own son. Sam wrapped his skinny arms around me and said, "I'll make you some tea." It was a beautiful gesture, and I'm thrilled to have a child who can be compassionate even in pain-but at Telos we learned how much Sam felt responsible for me. He felt he had to be strong in our family, and had to take care of people and make them laugh, and of course that's too much responsibility for anyone.
Sam came home for good on December 23rd. After Telos he went into an affiliated transitional program where he lived in a house with 9 other boys, and went to public school. That presented its own set of challenges, but it served well as a transition from the wrap-around control of an institution to the "real world." In a couple of weeks, he'll start the second semester of his senior year at Wyomissing High School, and graduate with the kids he's been friends with his whole life. Right now, he's working on his college applications-and we'll be ready to send him when the time comes. Six months ago we wouldn't have sent him around the block. Will he ever get depressed again? Almost certainly. Will he always know what to do? No. Does he understand himself better, and have goals and principles and in general a pretty strong handle on making a good life? Yes. I could not be prouder of him. Sam is not just the boy he used to be-or even the boy we knew he could be. He has become a more wonderful, more compassionate and wise, more disciplined and thoughtful, more terrific human being than I could have imagined. He still leaves his socks everywhere, and breaks the rules now and then, but hey, he's 17.
I'd like to close by going back to David Foster Wallace, who I read before the sermon, and the idea of choosing what has meaning and what to worship. First, I want to make one thing as clear as I can. There are terrible, wretched, crippling depressions-and then there are the little vexations of everyday life. They are not the same, nor can they be treated the same way-and not in a million years would I suggest that a little shift of perspective will help someone who is really, desperately depressed-but I can't help but thinking they're part of the same, long mind-body continuum-along which we always have some control. Because we get to decide what has meaning and what to worship.
Everybody worships, says Wallace.
"The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship-be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or whatever-is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, then you will never have enough.
Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.
Worship power, and you will feel week and afraid, and will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, and you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on."
My son Sam says that the most important thing he learned at Telos was to take responsibility for making things the way he wanted them to be. Not to be passive. Not to be a victim. Some of us, and God help us, will suffer from severe depression while others will get away with the blues. But all of us have choices about how we think and what we worship and how we take care of ourselves. May we choose well.
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