When Austin Davis was working in residential addiction treatment and mental health hospitals, he regularly talked to adults in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who would tell him that their problems started during their teenage years. Seeing the pain that these individuals had been carrying around for decades and hearing about the ripple effect it had on others in their lives, Davis wondered why it wasn’t possible to intervene earlier for teens, setting them up for a lifetime of success.
“I got tired of hearing from adults about how they started using when they were 13, 14 or 15,” Davis said. “I wanted to be able to get to the root cause of the issue early on, and provide early intervention so that a 15-year-old doesn’t grow up to mask his trauma for the next 20 years.”
That mission—a calling, as Davis would describe it—led Davis to found , which provides ages 13 to 18. The program at Clearfork is Christ-centered, drawing on Davis’s background in the ministry, but utilizes clinically-proven approaches to treatment.
“We do recovery first,” Davis said. “People see we’re Christ-centered and they automatically think of church camp. We’re not that. We’re clinical based.”
Clearfork Academy is also not a hardline behavioral modification program. While some rehab programs for teenagers teach kids how to behave, Davis said that he is more concerned with helping boys heal from their trauma and understand the underlying issues that contribute to them acting out.
“Behavior modification is temporary,” Davis explained. “They want to tell the boys to sit down and shut up. We don’t do that. We want to get to their heart, not just make them behave.”
If a patient is having an outburst, that’s an opportunity to dig deeper into the root of the behavior, rather than just disciplining, Davis said.
“A lot of treatment is geared toward behavior modification with very little insight given to the why,” he said. “A kid is acting out for a reason. We want to know that reason and get to the core of the issue physically, spiritually, and psychologically.”
To do that, boys at Clearfork Academy participate in a variety of exercises, from weightlifting and basketball to meditation and recovery meetings. Some parents are hesitant to send their teens to residential treatment because it requires missing school. However, at Clearfork Academy, academics are a part of every day, and courses are tailored to each client so that he is able to keep up with classmates while in treatment.
While Davis does not shy away from the fact that Clearfork is a Christian-based program, he said that people of all backgrounds and religions have come through and had a positive experience.
“I treat it like a buffet,” he said. “We all bring an ingredient or our favorite dish to the table and we can sample from one another.”
Each day, boys in the program start and end their day with mindfulness exercises and meditation, as a way to center and anchor them. In addition, Clearfork Academy draws on a number of different recovery traditions, including SMART Recovery and the 12 steps.
“We use a myriad of best practice recovery materials,” Davis explained. “We’re not a strict AA program where you just work through the steps.”
The program also places a premium on family involvement. All families are required to be on-campus in person or by phone at least once a week, and family therapy is part of the program at Clearfork Academy.
“We want them to grow in parallel with their kiddo while he’s in treatment,” Davis said. Sometimes, that means educating parents about trauma and addiction. Other times, for families who have been through other treatment programs, it means keeping the hope for recovery alive.
Davis often hears from parents who aren’t sure whether their son needs residential treatment, or whether they’re just going through the tough times that parents expect during the teenager years. He urges parents to follow their gut, and look for changes in their sons’ behavior.
“Is the football player not playing football? Is the person who loves music not playing anymore? Has the circle of friends changed drastically?” he said. If a teen has stopped making forward process, he may need treatment, Davis said. Some boys can benefit from getting help early, before they hit the proverbial rock bottom.
“Rock bottom looks different,” he said. “You can’t wait untila 15-year-old hits rock bottom because they’ll be dead.”