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Navigating the Field of Therapeutic Programs: A Q&A with Cliff Brownstein

Meet Cliff Brownstein, executive director of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP).  This organization was founded in 1999 to serve as a national resource for professionals assisting students in overcoming emotional and behavioral challenges. Cliff joined NATSAP in 2009, bringing a passion for helping young people and a background in association management.

What role does NATSAP play in the field of therapeutic programs?
We bring together the complete continuum of programs serving this specialized group of students. Our members range from boarding schools to wilderness programs, from residential treatment centers to transitional environments. The mission all our members share in common is promoting the healthy growth, learning, motivation, and personal well-being of program participants.

Every year we host a national conference, organize seven regional conferences, and publish several newsletters to facilitate the exchange of information and best practices among professionals in this field.

How does NATSAP help students and families?
We receive phone calls from many families who are in crisis relating to a child’s difficulties. By the time they call us, most have tried a variety of strategies, but nothing has yet gotten their child back on a productive life path. Our website offers an overview of the general types of programs available and outlines a set of best practices and ethical principles that families can use to evaluate a program’s professionalism. All NATSAP members adhere to these codes and are either licensed by their state or accredited by a national organization.

We also are vocal advocates to inspire support for these programs. Every year we bring a group of parents, educators, and program alumni to Washington D.C. to ensure that legislators understand the impact of these programs. Legislators are particularly moved when young people talk about their lives before a program, how the program helped them, and what they are doing now.

How can families find the best program for them?
We encourage families to work with educational consultants to identify the program that is right for their child because every program has educational and therapeutic components in different combinations. A good educational consultant will have a broad-based knowledge of programs all over the country, and understand how the different points of emphasis serve different children.

Why has this field grown so quickly?
Most of these programs didn’t exist when today’s parents were growing up themselves. The field has grown, however, because of need and because we have developed solid strategies for helping families. Our newsletters and conferences demonstrate how many innovations have occurred. Our members are being effective and want to share those strategies professionally to reach even more young people.

What are important trends in this field?
In the past, it was close to impossible for families to get anything covered by health insurance. And as the economy hit hard times recently, a lot of families did not have the resources for this kind of help. As the economy has changed, we are seeing an upswing in the numbers of families using these programs. Plus, little by little, we see movement in the possibility of getting parts of a program covered by insurance. The change comes as programs itemize components more distinctly on invoices and as awareness grows about the medical value of the therapeutic elements of these programs.