There is no such thing as a dragon.
Or so claims one character in a story Charter Canyon Hospital shares with its teenage suicidal and drug/alcohol abusing patients. In the story, Billy tells his mother there's a dragon wrecking the house, but his mother refuses to see the problem.The beast continues to grow until Billy's parents admit there really is a dragon. Once the problem is acknowledged, the dragon shrinks to manageable size.
The teens in Charter Canyon's program learn to face their dragons head on.
"They learn it is better to face their problems before everything is blown out of proportion," Ann Rawlings, adolescent program director, said recently. "They learn they are not victims; they can learn to be capable and responsible for what happens in their lives."
It's a giant step for most of the kids, in more ways than one. After several weeks of counseling to identify the root of emotional problems, strict compliance to "house rules" to learn discipline and aerobics to break passive behavioral patterns, patients face a more conventional obstacle course.
"It's called ropes," Rawlings said. "There are stations with different kinds of physical challenges. Working their way through will make everyone face their `demons' at one point or the other." Teenagers go through the course twice, the second time with their parents.
The group travels to a farm in Lindon, then all but one teenager are instructed to keep eyes closed. They hold onto a rope, and their guide calls out instructions to get them safely through the leaves, brambles, rocks and branches, to the first station.
"One teenager learns to take responsibility and lead," counselor John Burr said. "The others learn whether they are able to trust people and play by the rules." Successes, failures and feelings about each are discussed after each exercise.
The next exercise is the trust fall. Each teen and counselor takes a turn standing atop a 6-foot tree stump and falling backward into the arms of the rest of the group. Fallers are asked to announce their intention to fall and to do so with arms folded to protect group members.
"They face the unknown and they conquer it," said Fred Levine, creator of the ropes course and owner of the business called Ropes. "They learn more about themselves than they have in their whole lives." Rawlings added the course can do as much good as two weeks of counseling.
It took a little extra trust for David Cunningham, a hospital aide who weighs 260 pounds, to fall backward into skinny teenage arms, but the teenagers beamed with accomplishment at catching him safely.
The course also includes stations requiring patients to climb a huge tree and jump down while secured by a safety harness.
"It's remarkable how vulnerable people are to therapy when they are standing on a tiny block of wood a hundred feet up," Rawlings said. "It breaks down resistance and forces people to deal with their fears."
Levine says he regularly works with business, church and family groups.