Analyzing the Options When Your Family Needs Help

I have written a number of articles about family issues, particularly teen issues, for our sister sites, and one earlier this week particularly struck me. I was asked to review Total Transformation, a program by James Lehman MSW (Master of Social Work), LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) for “fixing” a child’s behavioral issues.

Having never seen or used the product and having no preconceptions about it, I found good cause to take issue with it right on the homepage. The observations seem important enough to share here.

These critiques say nothing about whether the program might be useful in a particular case. You may have used it and love it. I’m not commenting about that at all. Rather, I’m making a point about the dangers of presenting a program in the way Lehman does. If you have strong feelings about Total Transformation and/or if you have a child who is struggling, I hope you will read these comments for what they’re meant to do.

The top of the Total Transformation homepage blares out in bold red letters:

Finally! A Step-by-Step Solution that will
Stop Your Child’s Defiant, Out of Control
Behavior—Right Now

Now, the fact that some people who have reviewed the program have said it didn’t work for them (as well as common sense) suggests that this is over the top: it simply isn’t likely—given the diversity of people and situations—that the same program will work for everyone. Why use overblown prose if you have a valuable product? Why not describe what the product can do and admit what it can’t do?

My first point of comparison for programs to help youth is NATSAP (National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs), the members of which are accredited programs that follow NATSAP’s Principles of Good Practice. These organizations are in essentially the same business as Lehman—helping troubled youth—but their websites don’t scream and they don’t over-promise. They make it clear that their programs work for a select population, and the programs are varied in their approach, with some offering a family style setting, some offering a wilderness experience, some providing equine therapy, etc.

But perhaps the most important thing that the NATSAP programs don’t do is that they don’t treat a child sight-unseen. They don’t take a parent’s word for it that the problem is the child (not that a parent is necessarily wrong: just that there may be elements of the situation that the parent may not see): they use their professional expertise to make their own assessment.

Lehman’s assumption, implicit in the homepage—that any child of any person who comes to the site and is willing to pay $327 plus shipping and handling is guilty of willful disobedience that his program can “fix”—would be naive in someone untrained. It is shocking in a professional.

Children are “defiant” and/or “out of control” for many reasons, and quite a number of those reasons need intervention and/or professional treatment. Causes could include ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder), ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), bipolar disorder, depression, substance abuse, learning disabilities, a dysfunctional family, bullying, or abuse, to name a few.

Just because the (presumably untrained) parent sees a problem emerging in the child’s behavior does not mean the child’s attitude is the problem. And it is inappropriate for Lehman to offer parents this solution with the implied promise that it will work in every case.

The homepage of the website reads like a cheap sales pitch, not like the measured prose of a person who has a quality program and will convince you of its value by explaining its good qualities in a rational way. It plays on the desperation of parents who don’t know what to do, rather than addressing them in a considered, responsible way.

If you are ever concerned about a child and in need of help beyond your child’s pediatrician and the network of medical specialists available to you, I suggest you read the NATSAP Ethical Principles

and—if you’re considering a residential program—the NATSAP Principles of Good Practice.

Then, use their program search and go to the websites of a few programs. Even if you don’t use one of their programs—and I am not suggesting that you should or shouldn’t—it will provide an example of the measured prose you should expect to find in the description of a program that is well-conceived and well-run.

And in your assessment of any program, I hope that—having read this post—you will consider the manner that the program is presented as meaningful, indicative of something, and worth considering as you make the best choice you can for your child and family.