The True North wilderness program located near Waitsfield is mostly known in the public for a case where a detainee in the program ran away in 2019 for some time. Here is a testimony from a mother about what she saw when she placed her son in the program.
Our son graduated from TN 15 months ago. Before and during his stay, we disclosed that he had body dysmorphia, extreme anxiety, insomnia and OCD and that he had stopped functioning. During his 94 days at TN, he lost over 33 pounds. No matter how you look at it, that means he simply did not have enough calories to sustain his weight under the extreme conditions. No one at TN ever expressed concern to us about his diet or his weight. In fact, we were constantly reassured that the "kiddos" had plenty to eat. During the second week there, he ran away and made it all the way from the wilderness camp in the woods to the Roxbury library before they found him a few hours later and before anyone called us. We made him finish the program anyway.
When he graduated from TN, he still had body dysmorphia, extreme anxiety, insomnia and OCD. At TN, he was hungry all the time and he learned to tolerate hunger. He has since lost an additional 25 pounds and been diagnosed with an eating disorder as well as with PTSD from the assisted intervention we used to transport him to the program and from other physical and emotional feelings of cold, isolation, fear and abandonment that he experienced while there. After more than a year, he still won’t sleep in his old bedroom because the memories of being “escorted” or “gooned” are too traumatic. He stays under the covers when it snows or if there are thunderstorms and has frequent panic attacks. He doesn't understand how we sent him to TN in the first place or, given his letters home and constant pleas, how we could possibly have left him there. He may never forgive or fully trust us again and, although I hope to change that, I can understand where he is coming from. TN had recommended that we send him to a therapeutic boarding school after graduation. We almost did. Thankfully, we changed our minds and brought him home so we could all heal together.
Within a few weeks after he came home, our son posted several negative reviews about TN using his own name as well as pseudonyms. He detailed the hunger, the weight loss and the running away, among other things. TN quickly abandoned any therapeutic interest in our son and became aggressively defensive about the business and hostile in their rhetoric towards him. We found their approach to his distress particularly shocking given the therapeutic nature of their role and the fact that, when our son graduated from TN, his course leader emphatically invited him to apply to be a guide one day in the future. We nonetheless asked our son to remove all but one review, which he did.
Thankfully, he is living home and now working really hard in outpatient therapy with a therapist who gives him hope and helps him build real skills to move forward. It is a long road and we are all learning to be patient.
I have thought long and hard about whether to post this review. After all this time, I have decided that I need to share my experience with others who are considering residential wilderness programs, especially for anxious kids with no history of substance abuse, violence or any other dangerous externalizing behaviors.
Every parent gets to decide what is best or right for their child. But I have concluded that no anxious 16 year old should be isolated from everyone he knows and loves and left to sleep in a tent for 93 consecutive days without heat or electricity during the brutal Vermont winter. I know that there isn’t enough support for kids who are struggling or for the parents of those children. The options are limited. But I have concluded that highly unregulated outdoor, therapeutic wilderness programs shouldn’t exist. It certainly was not an appropriate or effective therapeutic environment for our son. Collectively, we owe it to our children and to ourselves to find a better way to help them.
The original testimony on Google