Nate Rayburn is a therapist at Shelterwood with experience treating addiction, attachment disorders, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and more. But a decade ago, he was a recent Oklahoma State University graduate, unsure of how he wanted to put his psychology degree to work.

That’s when he heard about Shelterwood’s mentorship program, which could give him some real-world experience in his chosen field. An added bonus? It was in the Kansas City area, where his then-girlfriend, now-wife was also living.

“It was a great opportunity, and the girl that I liked was here,” Nate laughs. “So it was a no-brainer.”

Shelterwood inspired him

Then a funny thing happened: As he mentored Shelterwood’s students, Shelterwood mentored him. He discovered he loved working with struggling teens. He valued the relationships he forged with them. He wanted to be able to do more.

“That’s what really solidified it for me: I needed to go get my master’s,” Nate remembers. “I wanted to affect kids in a much larger capacity.”

After going back to school at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Nate worked as a counselor in various residential treatment programs for five years. He appreciates how residential programs help eliminate some barriers therapists face in outpatient counseling.

Residential programs keep teens honest

“Working in outpatient therapy with teenagers is really tricky, because sometimes they don’t tell you the truth,” Nate says. “That makes my job really, really hard. What I love about the residential piece is that if they are lying to me, I’ll know.”

Nate explains that everything is out in the open at residential programs. For example, therapists know how school is going for a client, regardless of what they say, because they can just walk over and ask their teachers.

“If you have all the information all the time…eventually the kids just stop lying,” Nate says.  

When a spot for a therapist opened up at Shelterwood, Nate jumped at the chance to go back to where it all began—and be a part of that kind of collaborative working environment.

Shelterwood values collaboration & community

Nate cites how Shelterwood integrates all parts of a student’s life into treatment, including academics, therapy, relationships forged with mentors and peers, and additional interventions like Brain Balance.

“Those are all really important pieces,” says Nate. “Getting everyone working together for this kid creates a really different outcome.”

Nate sees Shelterwood’s community atmosphere as one of its biggest benefits. But it also creates one of his biggest challenges as a therapist. The difference between Shelterwood’s high-connection environment and the current tech-isolated culture can create a vacuum for new Shelterwood grads.

Nate elaborates: “Our kids come here and get a great sense of community. They get an opportunity to live with other kids their age who are dealing with similar problems. They get to live with people who are just a little older than they are, who are mentoring them in a direction that is healthy and positive. And then they leave and go back to a world that doesn’t value that.”

Nate starts that community conversation early with the teens he works with at Shelterwood. He wants to make sure they know how to create the kinds of relationships they formed at Shelterwood after they leave.

“You need to be thinking about what it is in these relationships that you’re building here that you enjoy, that you need, and how do you foster that in other people,” Nate says he tells teens. “How are you going to foster healthy relationships with peers when you leave?”

He might give his teens assignments when they are on home visits, like contacting three potential friends and spending time with them. He helps them learn to intentionally structure their lives to create healthy relationships.

Those healthy relationships include forming strong bonds with parents, which is why Nate wants to continue building the impact of family retreats at Shelterwood. Similar to how residential programs break down walls between patients and therapists, family retreats can help parents and their kids connect in new ways.

“Ultimately, I understand that I can do great work with a kid while they are here, but once I hand them off to their parents, it’s up to them to ensure that the environment remains healthy enough for the kid to continue to grow,” Nate says. “My job comes down to how well did I do with the family—not just the individual.”

Beyond Shelterwood

Outside Shelterwood, Nate spends as much as possible with his wife, daughter and two dogs. He is also a passionate cook who likes to wind down every night in the kitchen, exploring new recipes.

“I work in a job where a lot of stuff isn’t in the realm of my control,” Nate says, “so cooking has always been an outlet for me to 100-percent control an environment and get a result I like.”  

Do you know a teen in need of the healing a supportive, integrated, relationship-based environment could provide? Talk to Shelterwood admissions today.