Teens Are Trapped in Abusive, Cult-Like ‘Drug Rehab Centers’
If you like Army Wives, Preachers’ Daughters, Dance Moms, or any other TV show attempting to create a taxonomy of women based on the professions of their husbands, fathers, and children, then you may well have caught an episode of Teen Trouble. It’s a reality TV show on the Lifetime network where a guy named Josh Shipp sends “at-risk teens” to “alternative rehab centers,” where they’re forced to endure emotional and physical abuse before being allowed to rejoin society.
Shipp is your classic Jerry Springer brand of therapist—no real qualifications, a huge ego, and a penchant for money and entertaining TV over science and genuine psychology. “I’m a teen behavior specialist,” he says in the intro. “My approach is gritty, gutsy, and in your face.”
But the show is a lot grittier than you might expect from that typical teleprompter spiel. The unregulated “troubled teen” industry is able to persist despite numerous allegations of physical and sexual abuse,torture, and death at various institutions, and Shipp is exploiting that same system for monetary gain. Even when they aren’t abusive and/or deadly, the pseudoscientific practices used at “tough love boarding schools” have often proven to be ineffective and can lead to PTSD, anxiety, depression, and drug addiction. Maia Szalavitz, author of Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids, told me about some of the horror stories her own research uncovered.
“The classic list is food deprivation, sleep deprivation, public humiliation, beatings, and denial of access to the bathroom to the point where you wet or soil yourself. But I’m also constantly hearing stories of people being forced to re-enact various traumas, like being raped,” she told me.