Stages of Change
At Shelterwood, we use the growth process of a tree as a metaphor for identifying and measuring personal growth, modifying behavior, building character and improving attitude. The word “Shelterwood” is a forestry technique that is used when larger, more mature trees shelter the smaller ones that cannot stand the intensity of the sun and other elements. The picture of a tree growing up from under a protective canopy is a fantastic one for parenting. While at Shelterwood, each teen works through five stages of change and is given reports that summarize progress. Parents, therapists, teachers and mentoring staff are all involved in this process of helping students grow, bloom and eventually be transplanted back into their home.
The goal of the Seedling Stage is to provide security and stability for your family. During this phase your teen will be confronted with the need for change and the family will begin to identify the issues that might need to be addressed. This orientation typically lasts two weeks and can be a very emotional and tense period.
In the agricultural world, grafting is the technique where the stem of one plant is joined with the stem of another plant that has a better rootstock. Grafting produces more hardy and disease-resistant trees. People also benefit from these acts of deep connection and we use this time to begin the growth process between the student and the staff. It benefits both the giver and the receiver and both become stronger and more resilient to pain and struggles as a result of their connection.
Initially, youth struggle with this stage of growth, as they doubt the severity of their problem and dispute the validity of the request to change. This stage will require significant effort on the part of parents and staff because they are being asked to deepen their relationship with the very teen that is resisting them. During this level, your teen completes a problem checklist, takes a personality inventory, compiles a list of strengths and weaknesses, shares his or her life story in Big Group, and develops personal goals in the following six areas: family, social, personal, spiritual, physical, and academic. It takes students approximately four to six weeks to work through this stage of growth.
Pruning is the natural outcome of successful Grafting. Grafting is a period of deep connection and Pruning involves what you do with this connection. During the Grafting Stage we have begun to increase the teen’s awareness of the risks and problems with their current behavior. In the Pruning Stage we have the opportunity to tip the balance, providing more reasons for change and strengthening the teenâ€™s belief that change is necessary and possible. As your teen works on those problems that have been identified, they will develop honesty with self, staff and peers, learn to take feedback from others, and demonstrate responsibility by following rules and guidelines. During this stage parents can expect their relationship to deepen with their teen. The Pruning Stage varies in length, depending on how hard the student works.
As time passes and we are completing the hard work of pruning, it will begin to have its promised effect and new growth will emerge on the tree. You will know when your teen is in the Blooming Stage when you start to see the ‘fruit’ of your labor. Flowers and fruit are outward expressions of a true heart change. At this point, there should be a fresh light feeling to the relationship with your teen. It should appear that they have had a ‘change of heart.’ The whole family should be seeing interaction with one another differently. Sure, you and your child might still be making some mistakes, but gone is the walking on eggshells and the fear of saying the wrong thing.
In this stage, the changes are truly a part of your lives and the teen is asked to write new goals to reflect their deepening values and new attitude. Time spent on this stage of growth varies but students should be demonstrating the ability to confront and resolve conflict, take responsibility for personal growth, and reach out to others. Teens are often anxious to test their growth and want opportunities to demonstrate their change of heart. They will be encouraged to reach out and help other students and be given more freedom within the structure of Shelterwood. While still growing in stature, a tree that blooms is healthy and resilient. Returning to our Shelterwood metaphor, the parenting canopy that has been offering protection can be thinned and the young tree can be exposed to greater weather and risk.
Trees normally need to be transplanted when they have outgrown their surroundings. If a tree is planted too close to a building its growth will be stunted and might actually begin to die. It needs to be moved, transplanted to a space with more room. By delaying transplanting you can hinder its growth; in a similar fashion the growth of our teens can be stunted when they are not given the space to grow.
Transplanting can take place once the student is able to consistently show a commitment to the values that have been outlined in Stage 4. New attitudes and behavior should become spontaneous and a natural part of every day life.
In the Transplanting Stage we want to create a larger space for the emerging growth of our students, in effect transplanting them into college, jobs, or other endeavors that take them out of the safety of the Shelterwood facility. Wherever the teen is moving, this transition is critical to the overall health and well being of the teen and the family. It is critical that this phase of change is well planned and completed successfully.
Transforming the heart of a teen is a journey of choices – made one step at a time. At Shelterwood, we use this system of stages to provide a framework for identifying and measuring personal growth, modifying behavior, building character and improving attitude. Each teen works through these five stages and is given reports that summarize progress. Parents, counselors, teachers and mentoring staff are all involved in this process of helping students assess and progress.
To find out more about Shelterwood and our residential treatment centers, we invite you to read more about our multifaceted approach to treatment. Please contact us directly to discuss your unique circumstances. Together we can help you determine if Shelterwood and our residential treatment program is the right place for your teen and family.
“This place isn’t about 8 months or 12 months, it’s about God’s timing.”
Brad (Shelterwood Student)