Learn About Our Specialized Programs and Groups

Our talented team is trained on programs that have shown to be effective and create lasting results. Below are the various programs and groups that we utilize. These groups are run on an as-needed basis which shifts with the needs of the milieu.


National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs

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The Board of Directors of NATSAP has long realized that our profession has the responsibility of providing data that examines the impact and effectiveness of therapeutic programs. To this end, NATSAP has sponsored an outcome research project in collaboration with Dr. Michael Gass at the University of New Hampshire for the past decade. This work has resulted in a permanent data base and led to numerous conference presentations and scholarly articles aimed at documenting the effectiveness of NATSAP programs. However, the database has relied in large part on a handful of programs who have contributed the majority of data to this effort.

NATSAP values research and evaluation as a cornerstone of effective programming and advocacy. At Cherry Gulch, we share this belief and have made a commitment to taking part in the data collection process with our students, staff and families, gaining us the title of a Research Designated Program. This effort ultimately helps our program as well as others to access pertinent research information and to engage in the evaluation of our programs in an effort to more fully understand the impact that we have on our youth and their families.

Parent and student participation is crucial in the data collection process. Without the input from our students and parents, the data is incomplete and our research efforts do not reach their potential. The survey process begins at the students’ enrollment and continues through one year post-discharge. We greatly appreciate the participation of our students and parents in this collective process of bettering therapeutic schools and programs nationwide.

Digital Literacy

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As technology becomes an ever bigger part of almost every aspect of life, children are thrown into an environment of stimulation and instant gratification that is intuitive and exciting at an increasingly younger age. At Cherry Gulch, we seek to assist our students in navigating the world of technology in a responsibly.  We teach students how to approach technology use with balance, maturity, and integrity. As they work through our Character Development curriculum, their technology access privileges will increase conjointly with progressing through our Digital Literacy education. This will allow our students to maximize lessons on responsible technology use by being able to immediately utilize their new skills in a supervised and supportive environment. As their comprehension and use of good Digital Literacy skills are developed and established, they will move on to greater freedom and more complex digital literacy issues, eventually preparing them to be citizens that can regulate their own choices and relationship with technology.

Character Growth Curriculum

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The Character Growth Curriculum at Cherry Gulch reinforces the concepts that students are learning and interconnects the components of the program. Our approach is unique among schools for troubled teens. The lessons are cumulative and students are required to continue to practice the habits they have learned from the lower lessons before advancing to the higher lessons. The Character Growth Curriculum can be expanded and/or individualized as needed since each lesson includes one or more target behaviors or attitudes. This gives the student’s therapists, teachers, and other staff members the opportunity to individualize the tasks and assignments of that lesson to fit with the identified needs of the student.

We have more lessons than most youth programs because we feel it is better to break the information into smaller, more manageable pieces. We have also found that students start to get frustrated and lose motivation when it takes months to complete one lesson. Having many lessons gives us more opportunities to provide the student with positive reinforcement and encouragement. We can point out the student’s strengths and the areas where there has been noticeable improvement and personal growth. The student’s self-efficacy for completing the program improves, increasing his motivation to continue to do well. His self-esteem begins to improve, he experiences success and is able to see how his hard work is paying off.

The lessons provide the students with reminders about what they are working on and give them opportunities for discussion in therapy about their thoughts, emotions, behaviors, family, school, and their personal life. The lessons also provide students with opportunities to practice what they are learning so that they can develop healthy habits that will benefit the student for life.

Many of the lessons contain principles from:

  • Sean Covey’s books, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens” and “The 6 Most Important Decisions You’ll Ever Make.”
  • Dr. Michelle Borba’s book, “Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues That Teach Kids To Do The Right Thing.”
  • Dr. Thomas Lickona’s book, “Educating For Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Respect And Responsibility.”
  • Doctors Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson’s book, “Raising Cain: Protecting The Emotional Life Of Boys.”
  • Dr. William Pollack’s book, “Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons From The Myths Of Boyhood.”
  • Michael Gurian’s book, “The Wonder Of Boys: What Parents, Mentors And Educators Can Do To Shape Boys Into Exceptional Men.”
  • Good old fashioned values and morals.

As students advance through the lessons, they earn more freedom and privileges. These include:

  • They are able to go off campus and then on home visits.
  • They are given first pick of chores and electives.
  • They can earn extra phone time.
  • They are allowed to enter 1st into the camp store to spend tokens and go through the meal lines first.
  • They get more responsibility and are trusted to take care of the larger animals.
  • They can also help staff plan activities and can pick and plan a trip within reason.

As they advance through the lessons, they earn the right to wear certain items that denote their achievement.

This proven program is designed to give problem teens a glimpse into how the real work works and show them the value of a hard day’s work.

Grief and Loss Group

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After the loss of a loved one, we experience a wide assortment of emotions and feelings. The ever-changing emotions we experience with grief can catch us off guard, causing us to act out of character, or contrarily to our usual personality and manner. Grief changes with time and circumstances. “Grief never ends… But it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith… It is the price of love.”- Author Unknown

We all need a support system to help us as we move through our grief journey. Cherry Gulch offers a grief and loss support group for our boys. A support group can become a valuable resource to assist in education, companionship and coping. In the support group, the boys will find new companions also living life after loss, and the support of a therapist who specializes in Grief/Loss. The grief support group offers camaraderie and understanding from others who have experienced a loss, and are experiencing the similar challenges that living with grief brings.

Cooperative Play Group

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A small, specialized group in which students work on improving and enhancing physical, social, cognitive, and emotional development through cooperative play activities. The group is facilitated by an occupational therapist using a variety of expressive media, physical, and social modalities to provide students the opportunity to work on specific skill development. Students develop communication and socialization skills through interactive play, focusing on assertive communication, sharing, and turn-taking. Additionally, students work on their ability to collaborate and compromise with others while receiving coaching on problem solving solutions to difficulties and disagreements. Sensory, gross, and fine motor components are integrated into play activities to facilitate the learning experience.

Social Skills Group

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Utilizing Michelle Garcia Winner’s “Social Thinking” resources, the Committee for Children’s “Second Step” curriculum, and Preparing for Life and Social Skills Training by Dr. Jed Baker, students are engaged in exciting and informative social skills development. From “Superflex” taking on the “Unthinkables,” to learning skills such as taking other perspectives, to role playing how to disagree respectfully, students are able to increase their understanding and awareness of social norms and expectations. This helps them to increase their ability to meet those norms and expectations. All while having fun!
Functional social skills development and execution are the foundation for getting along with others. Social skills group is co-facilitated by a licensed therapist and occupational therapist. The focus of the group includes developing healthy social skills to improve students’ ability to interact and develop relationships with others through effective communication and listening skills. Through education, experience, and training the students learn how other people think, attempt to understand other people’s points of view, and why specific social and communication skills are required in different situations.

Anger Management Group

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The anger management group consists of teaching students various components that function together to form an overall ability to manage anger in constructive rather destructive ways. The components are: helping students behaviorally define anger and anger management, non-violent communication skills training, conflict resolution training, mediation training, learning to self observe and measure anger arousal patterns and identify associated triggers, the use of journals and diaries to modify unhelpful internal dialog and reinforce positive self talk, relaxation training (i.e., deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, etc.) to address understanding and self control of physiological arousal, use of role play, systematic desensitization, stress inoculation, problem solving and assertiveness training. Various modalities are used to teach these components including psychoeducational, group therapy, bibliography, experiential education and cooperative play techniques.

The group format has an open enrollment and can be structured to occur in 4, 6, 8 or 12 week blocks with repetition for remediation as needed.

Adoption Group

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The teen years are a crucial time in the development of personal awareness and identity. Young people are trying to figure out who they are and who they want to become, while also striving to fit in and find their place in the world. The inherent difficulties in this process can be exacerbated by adoption. The open-ended adoption support group provides a forum for addressing problematic issues or feelings that can arise and educating participants about the adoption triangle and its three main constituents.

Questions, issues and feelings about adoption are processed and discussed from the viewpoint of adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents. The association with fellow adoptees normalizes the experience and provides connections and support within the group.

The adoption group is held weekly for an hour.

Sensory Room-Coming soon!

We are currently remodeling and are moving into a much larger yurt!

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Sensory Room & Occupational Therapy Services:

The sensory room offers a nurturing, student-centered sensory supportive interdisciplinary treatment space. The room is used to facilitate empowerment, self-organization, relaxation, self-awareness, sensory awareness, and self-expression/communication. The room offers a variety of sensory modalities that the students can explore and use to assist with self-regulating when they are feeling over stimulated, overwhelmed, over loaded, and/or on overdrive. Contrarily, one can use the sensory room when feeling depressed, sad, tired, exhausted, etc. to assist with changing alertness levels to be able to attend to daily activities. The sensory room promotes self-awareness regarding sensory needs to assist the students with being able to maintain functional levels of alertness/self-regulation for a given situation or activity.

Leadership Group

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Leadership Group is comprised of those students who have completed the first ten lessons at Cherry Gulch, possess a desire to lead their peers, and have met the requirements for entry into the group. The primary roles of group members are to be both the mentors and representatives of their student body. Members serve as the representative speakers of their peers in order to relay respectful and organized suggestions and input to the management team at Cherry Gulch. Discussions of effective mentoring skills, role models and leaders are the focus of the group process.

Daily Schedule

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Cherry Gulch is unique in the field of therapeutic schools. We have placed all our core classes in the Monday through Thursday schedule which gives us flexibility on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays to go on weekend trips. Therapy takes place as life unfolds but we also have 10 hours of scheduled therapy per week which is not necessarily listed on the schedule. Some of the planned activities are experiential therapies like equine assisted psychotherapy initiatives and therapeutic games or recreation therapy. Students generally have the opportunity to ride horses three times a week but some students will choose other activities instead.

Parental Involvement 

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Parents are vital to our program and to the future success of our students. Research indicates that therapeutic programs that maximize parental involvement have better long-term success. The positive life skills students have learned in the program are more generalizable to their family and school functioning if parents were involved in their treatment. Cherry Gulch allows more and quicker contact with parents than most residential programs. Parents are taught the same program that defines our milieu so that when the student returns home, a successful program is already in place that both parent and child understands. Our staff provides parents with weekly updates regarding their child’s progress. When therapeutically needed, family therapy sessions will be conducted via video conferencing.

Parents are encouraged to call their son, write to him, and to visit him at the program. When parents visit Cherry Gulch, they have the option of camping out with their son in one of our tepees or covered wagons. Parents are required to attend a three-day parenting workshop once each quarter. The workshop provides parent training, strategies, support, and help with setting up the positive parenting plan their son’s are participating in at the school back home. Parenting workshops also include bonding exercises for parents and sons, family therapy sessions, corrective emotional experiences, and opportunities for building positive memories. The final day of the workshop includes a special event that students have prepared for their parents. It may be a trail ride, a youth rodeo, a play put on by the students, a camp out, a whitewater rafting trip, or any number of other activities. Parental support does not end when students leave the program as we have staff available to provide support, answer questions, and identify resources, even after students return home.


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Students are not required to attend church services or activities, but they are encouraged to. Spirituality has been shown to be an important aspect of mental health and, for many people, it is an important coping skill as well as an additional support system for struggling students. Students who would like to attend religious services can go to church with staff members.

Good values and morals will be taught and guest speakers may be invited from many different backgrounds and faiths. They will be expected to keep their sermons non-denominational in nature and to speak about topics that will be enriching to all students. Staff members who desire to contribute to the Cherry Gulch community will be allowed to lead small-group study and/or prayer meetings with students of the same faith. If requested, students who have a religious background different from that of our staff or of the churches in the local area will be transported to Boise – or to another nearby community – once a month to attend religious services consistent with the student’s faith. Alternately, a spiritual mentor from that faith will be invited to visit the student on-campus.

At Cherry Gulch, we understand that spirituality is an important part of life and wellness. We remain open-minded about other’s religious and spiritual practices and are careful to respect one another’s beliefs. Students are allowed to choose the level of involvement they have in the spiritual and or religious activities available to them while at Cherry Gulch. Our staff members come from a broad range of spiritual beliefs and backgrounds and we do not attempt to convert students. We simply want to respect the student’s values and beliefs and to help them mature and grow.


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In addition to horses, Cherry Gulch also has a number of small and mid-sized animals for students to care for and interact with such as dogs, goats, donkeys and chickens.

Not all boys boarding schools offer animal-assisted psychotherapy like Cherry Gulch. Taking care of animals can be therapeutic and petting them is soothing. Cherry Gulch has two therapeutic dogs. Stan Lee a Black Lab and Layla a Chocolate Lab. Our dogs have mild temperaments, are loving, patient, and encouraging. It is hard to stay upset when a friendly, concerned dog walks over wagging his or her tail and licks you. A number of scientific studies have documented the therapeutic influence animals have on people.

Staff members who are trained experts in animal care supervise the animal facilities and ensure that the animals are being cared for appropriately. They also teach the students about the animals and how to care for them. There is also an abundance of wildlife around campus.

Camp Stanley 

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Camp Stanley is a “base camp to adventure” for Cherry Gulch students. Groups of students spend a week at a time at Camp Stanley during the summer. It is a fully equipped rustic base-camp located in the breathtakingly beautiful Sawtooth Mountains. There are numerous activities and opportunities available to students at Camp Stanley including horseback rides, backpacking, whitewater rafting, fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, biking, photography, soaking in natural hot springs, scenic back road drives, trips to the ghost town, museum, gold dredge, or a day trip to Sun Valley.

Camp Stanley is also an excellent outdoor classroom and a great place for students to enjoy the largest wilderness area in the continental United States. The excellent therapeutic services provided at Cherry Gulch continue while students are at camp.


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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.


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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. 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

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