Child whisperers and big bucks boot camps

April 22, 2014

Wilderness therapy is attracting interest in the USA. We ask what is behind the approach, and whether it justifies the expense

This week, [April 22nd 2014] BBC drew attention to Eddie Curry, whose wilderness therapy sessions are operated in the desolate hills of Southern Utah, and are reported as lasting two months. The story focuses on one practitioner, so that generalizations come with an assumption alert:

The 45-year-old father knows how out-of-control teenagers tick – he used to be one. More than six feet tall aged 15, there was always plenty of opportunity for trouble. By 17, he was drinking a lot and getting in regular fistfights with his estranged father.

Parents at their wits end find Curry through internet searches, the wilderness programmes he works with or just by word of mouth. And they hire him for all sorts of reasons – drug and alcohol problems, violence and trouble with the police are among them. Often, more conventional treatment like therapy has failed or been refused.

“If you have me there, it’s gotten to the point where talking is done. There is no conversation happening or very little. And the little bit the parents are getting is usually yelling and screaming.”
Many families take out loans and re-mortgage houses to get their child help – a British parent will pay up to $6,000 (£3,500) to get Curry to come to the UK.
Almost every child says: “You’re not going to make me go. I’m not going.” Many children get hysterical, many cry. Some go berserk. To Curry, these kinds of reaction are only natural.

“I always put myself in these kids’ shoes. If I had some guy come into my room at five o’clock in the morning and break this news to me, I’d be annoyed.”

That’s not to say that he believes a word they say though.

“Most of the kids I pick up are just liars trying to get out of going. They’ll look you straight in the eye and lie. But I listen to their stories. I show them compassion. These are kids, not criminals. They might be doing some illegal stuff but they’re just kids that are screwing up, making bad decisions and hanging out with the wrong people. They’re not bad kids. I just wear them down. I’m not going to lose. I tell them that not going is not an option.”

Wilderness therapy has existed across the US for decades, and supporters say it results in better communication between the child and parents, increased self-confidence, and even better academic results.

“The key thing is that it disrupts negative patterns of behaviour and allows us to help them learn and establish some new healthy behaviours and ways of interacting with others,” says Steve Demille of RedCliff Ascent, one of the companies operating in Utah.

But Nicki Bush, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, warns that camps are not the silver bullet parents are hoping for and pay a “ludicrous” amount of money for it.
And though Curry only takes children who agree to go, he says, Prof Bush says many children find being escorted to camps a traumatic experience, and often perceive it as an abduction.

Tough love?

The BBC headline of child whisperers suggests that the approach is comparable to the work of horse whisperers. If that is the case, the method is based on tough love, and favouring the non-violent over violent methods of influence. As with horse whispering, it attracts publicity and cynicism particularly about claims for its effectiveness. In that respect, I was reminded of the story I came across [July 2013] of a therapy involving walking on hot coals.


Sir Martin Sorrell defends leaders’ pay rises

December 19, 2011

Sir Martin Sorrell has an impressive if sometimes controversial business career. His robust defense of his 70% pay rise captures his leadership style

Harvard educated Sir Martin Sorrell has been a candidate for a LWD leadership post for some while. He appeared on the radar screen again, as I caught the end of a BBC interview in which he justifies his most recent earnings rise of 70% last year.

His broadcast performance was consistent with that of an earlier interview [2009], suggesting a leader who was both tough and successful.

Sir Martin Sorrell is the chief executive of WPP, the company he founded in 1986, which is now the world’s largest group of advertising, marketing and communications companies. Widely regarded as one of the most important figures in his field, he recently joined Evan Davis on Radio 4’s business discussion programme The Bottom Line. He shared his vision about the future of advertising, the benefits of scale, why tough love means you sometimes have to bite the bullet and reduce your headcount, and how long the present financial crisis may last.

His 2009 predictions turned out to be rather refuted by events. However, that is largely true for other distinguished leaders in these turbulent times. There is an interesting parallel in his admiration of Rupert Murdoch with the comments made later by Tony Blair in his memoires. These endorsements of the tycoon’s achievements help us avoid the ‘hero to zero’ mentality which can be found in much of popular leadership narratives.

Furthermore, most pundits did not get close to anticipating the aftershocks of the credit crunch emerging in 2008.

Rupert understands…

Somebody like Rupert Murdoch understands that he’s not just in the TV business or the film business. He understands he’s in the communications business. Rather like Theodore Levitt used to talk about the buggy whip industry. They’re not in the horse and buggy industry. They’re in the transport industry. And when the railroads came in, they were threatened; but if you thought about it as being the transport industry, you won.
Rupert understands that. He’s in film, he’s in TV, he’s in outdoor sites in Russia. He’s spread his empire around the world.

“A recovery of sorts”

“The first half of 2009 will be very tough – I think the second half of 2009 will get relatively better. Relative to the first half.
And I think in 2010 we will get a recovery – what we called in a recent statement a recovery of sorts “.

Tough love

Sir Martin’s career has been hugely successful and his success has been rewarded with honours and wealth. He takes risks and cuts his losses when they occur. In the interview he also talked about ‘tough love’ and the benefits of ‘letting people go’ however painful the decision. (Although he didn’t seem too pained, it seemed to me).

The Daily Mail, a popularist tabloid newspaper, was unconvinced about Sir Martin’s case. In an article hostile to his lifestyle The Mail noted:

My pay is very low, moans advertising tycoon with a basic salary of £1 MILLION a year

Sir Martin, 66, said his bumper income, which rose by 83 per cent to £4.2million last year, was fully justified and was mostly linked to the firm’s performance. He added that he considered his basic salary, of just over £1million, to be ‘very low’.

The juicy details

The article also replicated much that can be found on wikipedia on juicy details of his high-profile divorce which has arguably contributed to his celebrity profile, albeit for non-business matters.

Acknowledgements

To the website Short Person’s Support for the image of Sir Martin. The site also offers the following quotable quote:

Aunt Vorthys: “A nice young man … A pity he’s so short.”
Lady Ekaterin: “He’s not so short … He’s just concentrated”

[Lois McMaster Bujold, in Komarr]