Does This Look Like Mental Health Counseling To You?

Mount Bachelor Academy in Oregon is a school for teens with behavioral issues, including violence, falling grades and drug use. One of its "therapeutic" techniques reportedly involves sexual role-playing, including costuming young women like this.

According to Maia Szalavitz, writing for Time:

But according to 10 students, two separate parents, and a current part-time employee interviewed by TIME - some of whom are involved in the state inquiry - Mount Bachelor Academy regularly uses intensely humiliating tactics as treatment. For instance, in required seminars that the school calls Lifesteps, students say staff members of the residential program have instructed girls, some of whom say they have been victims of rape or sexual abuse in the past, to dress in provocative clothing - fishnet stockings, high heels and miniskirts - and perform lap dances for male students, as therapy.

The school, naturally, denies the charges.

Mount Bachelor's executive director, Bitz, says her school uses widely accepted psychological treatments to help children overcome their problems. "We also use a psychodrama treatment approach designed to do one or both of two things," said Bitz in her statement, "get a student to embrace qualities of their character (such as beauty or courage) about which they have doubt, or assist them in recognizing qualities that are unproductive (such as selfishness or conceit) about which they have little insight."

One student described the "psychodrama" treatment.

One 18-year-old former student and victim of rape wept while recounting what happened to her during a Lifestep seminar. Jane, who asked not to be identified with her real name, left the school in March. "They had me dress up as a French maid," she said, describing an outfit that included fishnet stockings and a short skirt. "I had to sit on guys' laps and give them lap dances," while sexually suggestive songs, such as "Milkshake" by Kelis, played at high volume.

"They told me I was dirty and I had to put mud on myself for being raped," she said, in reference to a separate Lifestep session. "They basically blamed me for getting raped."

Unfortunately, slut-shaming for the enjoyment of the male students is hardly a new therapeutic technique at Mount Bachelor.

[Melissa] Maisa attended Mount Bachelor between 1992 and 1994 under largely the same management that runs the school today, and graduated the school with honors. She was sent there in part because of promiscuous behavior as a teen, which Maisa associates with being a victim of child sexual abuse and date rape. "Mount Bachelor made me feel even more dirty and more shameful than either one of those experiences ever did. I just want to make sure the things I suffered through there never happen again," Maisa says.

She describes a Lifestep in which she says she was required to perform an exercise called "the holidays." "I had to stand up in the sluttiest way possible and strut over to every male in the room," including the counselors, Maisa says. She was instructed to sit on the floor before each man, place her left foot on his right knee and say, "This foot is Christmas." She then placed her right foot on his left knee and said, "This foot is New Year's. Do you want to meet me between the holidays?"

Maisa says she performed the holidays more than 250 times. When she failed to show sufficient enthusiasm, Maisa says she and her peers were punished, each having to repeat their own humiliating skit.

The bad treatment plans aren't limited to rape and abuse survivors either. One girl, who turned to drugs and alcohol after the death of her sister, describes what counselors put her through.

According to Ozier and others, in a Lifestep called "Forever Young," students were placed on a mattress and taunted with painful information about their childhood that they had previously revealed, an apparent attempt to trigger regression to infancy. Once more, Ozier was instructed to recall her sister's death against her will. "That was probably the thing that traumatized me the most," she says, describing how she thrashed on the mattress until she vomited. "They prey on people who have already been hurt."

Sounds more like aversion therapy than regression — and certainly it's probably made her rather averse to therapy.

So where the fuck does this kind of "therapy" come from?

Synanon began as a drug rehabilitation program before morphing into a controversial cult and is credited with putting forth the idea that confrontation and boot-camp-style breakdown tactics could cure teen misbehavior and addiction. Synanon's confrontational techniques influenced est and LifeSpring, which began selling weekend seminars designed to prompt emotional breakthroughs in participants.

Food, sleep and access to the outside world - sometimes even to the bathroom - were strictly controlled. Using intense role-playing, humiliation and physical experience, the seminars attempted to liberate people from victimhood by teaching them that they are ultimately responsible for everything that happens to them, including being a victim of child abuse or rape.

Mount Bachelor's Lifesteps appear to share these tactics and philosophy. Several of its top employees formerly worked at a now defunct chain of troubled-teen programs known as CEDU, which was founded by former Synanon members.

I think that's known as "a cult."

As an aside, Szalavitz posts in a related piece on the Huffington Post that Mount Bachelor's parent company — through Aspen Education, owned by U.S. Aspen, owned by CRC Health — is actually Bain Capital. Does that name sound familiar to you? It might, since it's the company founded by former (and possibly future) Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. And while he's been retired from the company since 1998 (before it took over CRC Health), he still receives income from Bain, which it is getting by charging parents to dress their daughters up in slutty costumes to make them accept responsibility for their rapes.

The state of Oregon is reportedly investigating the abuses — but this isn't even the first time they've done so.

In 1998, Mount Bachelor was investigated by the Oregon DHS based on claims by several former employees that students were "subjected to frequent obscenity-laced screaming sessions by staff members; students were deprived of sleep; a group of girls emerged from one group therapy session with bruising on their arms after they were ordered to clasp their hands in front of them and pound a mattress for an extended period," according to the Bend Bulletin. The Oregon DHS cleared the program following the investigation.

Of course they did. Because, after all, it's a bunch of fucked up kids — and mostly girls — making the allegations.

An Oregon School For Troubled Teens Is Under Scrutiny [Time]

Related: Do Lap Dances and Humiliation Treat ADHD— and Should Public Schools Pay? [Huffington Post]
Millionaires-in-Chief [CNN]

[Picture via Buy Costumes]