Building brighter tomorrows
for the boys of today.


The milieu at Cherry Gulch incorporates a number of techniques and strategies specifically tailored to this population of troubled children. This includes a Character Growth Curriculum and a token economy. The overarching model is one of positive behavioral-modification. Rules have been established at the ranch and boys are expected to follow them just as every adult has to follow rules. Students and staff alike are expected to follow the rules and face the same consequences if they choose to break the rules. However, the consequences are not punitive in nature. If a student (or staff) breaks a rule, he will have to pull a healthy habit card. The cards include various chores and/or activities the student needs to complete. For instance students, may have to clean a horse stall, wash the school van, bake cookies for his group, or play a game with someone who seems lonely or depressed. Occasionally, students will pull a grace card in which case they have no extra chores to do.

Students who do all their chores and follow the rules so that they do not have to pull any Healthy Habit Cards for a day, receive a token. A student who earns a token each day for a week, earns a bonus of three more tokens for a "perfect" week. In addition, if a student does something nice for someone else, he may be given a RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) chip. Three RAK chips can be exchanged for one token. Tokens can be "cashed in" for things like snowboarding trips, to purchase certain items, or other things that appeal to a student's own interests.

This program, designed by Dr. Matthew A. Johnson, has been getting positive results with troubled kids for over twenty years. For this reason, Cherry Gulch has chosen to use this program as one of our behavioral management strategies. We also encourage parents to adopt a tailor-made version of this program for your own home. Parents set the rules and consequences and then everyone in the family abides by it. We are here to help you design your own version so that it works for you and your family. In this way, as well as others, we hope to support the successful return of your son to living at home with him being a productive, positive member of your family.

Method of Therapeutic Intervention:


        As a therapeutic boarding school, Cherry Gulch strives to entwine the most effective therapeutic strategies into our student’s daily life. Services include, but are not limited to, individual, group, and family psychotherapy, equine therapy, outdoor-based experiential therapy, bibliotherapy, art therapy, music therapy, play therapy,and a culture of positive peers.


        The treatment team is led by a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and each of our therapists are licensed masters or doctorate level therapists. A Board Certified Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist visits campus twice a month. The primary interventions employed with troubled boys are those that are empirically-based and have been demonstrated to be effective either through scientific research and or clinical experience. An eclectic approach to treatment is taken based on the needs of the individual student. However, cognitive-behavioral, family-systems therapy, interpersonal therapy, existential therapy, Rogerian therapy, and positive psychology are the most common interventions employed at Cherry Gulch. Many of the activities that students participate in have a therapeutic purpose yet this fact is generally not apparent to the student.


        Although a sophisticated, empirically based approach to treatment is taken, we realize that the relationship that is formed between a student and his therapist is the most critical aspect of the therapeutic process. We also realize that younger adolescents have a short attention span and often do not respond well to traditional “arm chair” therapy. We make therapy fun and rather than just sitting in an office and talking we engage our student in the therapeutic process while we are hiking or enjoying other activities. We do have scheduled therapy sessions but much of the therapy is done as life unfolds and a student is angry, frustrated, sad, in a conflict with another student, or any number of other events that may have occurred to elicit an emotional response from the student.


        Cherry Gulch offers an integrative approach to the treatment and education of at risk youth. The farming, ranching, and other agricultural aspects of the program are essential because we use these activities to foster a strong work ethic, provide students with hands on learning experiences, and experiential therapeutic activities such as equine assisted psychotherapy.


        Even gardening can be therapeutic for multiple reasons. A simple example of this is when a student plants a seed and cares for it as it begins to grow. That new leaf can be looked at as a new fresh start or a second chance and the student can process how he was able to help the plant grow and what he feels he needs to help himself.


        Cherry Gulch is one of the true American boarding schools and what’s more American than Ranching? Ranching is an important part of the student’s therapy as they will be responsible for taking care of another living being. These activities can be tailored to each child’s needs. For instance, if we have a child who is struggling with adoption issues we can assign him to work with a family of chickens. We would let one variety of chicken set on her eggs but include an egg of a different variety so that when the chicks hatch they will be bonded with one another as well as with their mother. This will enable the student to talk about how they are all family and care about one another even though they don’t all look the same.


        We offer approximately 10 hours per week of structured therapeutic services as directed by the Clinical Director, the child’s primary therapist, and his individualized treatment plan. The entire program is designed to be therapeutic and therapy continues throughout the day and through many of the child’s daily activities and as there is an opportunity for a therapeutic moment. Listed below is an example of the structured weekly therapeutic services offered at Cherry Gulch.


         2 hours of Group Psychotherapy


         2 hours of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy


         1 hour of Family Therapy


         2 to 4 hours of Experiential


         1 to 2 hours of individual therapy generally broken up into half hour sessions


         Additional time as needed or as therapeutic moments occur