Rudy Bentz and the Swift River Academy
What are teen “tough-love” and “behavior modification” programs like, from the inside?
Reading the book, I recognize all of the details – the forced labor, the bizarre, unregulated, unprofessional group ‘therapies’; the tactics of humiliation, isolation and coercion. I have to say, however, that while the author shows a good facility with chronology, he seems to have done little to no research on the effectiveness, ethical nature – or legality – of what he was witnessing.
He describes the program at the Academy at Swift River, and the ‘behavior modification techniques’ invented by the (now former) Swift River (and former Cedu) headmaster, Rudy Bentz, and his wife, Jill Shwaiko Bentz, who managed the lives of adolescents, with a brutal ‘scared straight/tough love’ philosophy.
The Bentz’s, as well as other staff at the Cedu School, were also inappropriately physically close with students there; it was a Cedu philosophy to allow “smushing“, (or what sexually-active adults would call “cuddling”) between staff and students.
The book fails to offer any insight into the boundariless-ness of the Bentz’s philosophy-in-action, or a sense of ethics regarding the utility, helpfullness, effectiveness, discomfort and lack of compassion on view in the therapies. But it gets many of the details right.
The same philosophy is on view – essentially, “We won’t trust you, educate you, or give you individual counseling for your particular needs; instead, we’ll beat the bad out of you, shame it out of you, humiliate it out of you, bleed it, sweat it, yell, cry it, and scream it out of you.”
These programs still exist, and are truly abusive…and yet very poorly regulated, probably as a result of the blind spot through which we as a society choose to view their existence (or, more specifically, the blind spot put in place by the parents who send their children to them).
A little regulation is in order.
- For more information, Please visit A-START, The Alliance for the Safe, Therapeutic and Appropriate use of Residential Treatment.
- Read more on abusive/coercive therapeutic boarding schools at Fornits.com and ISAC
- Mother Jones: The Cult That Spawned the Tough Love Industry