Out of the airplane window, I could see Montana’s blue and white mountains beginning to form below the wisps of crisp clouds. A sense of peace flooded my heart as I drew closer and closer to those mountains.
I had journeyed to Montana to visit a therapeutic boarding school for adolescent girls called Chrysalis School Montana. Having worked in wilderness therapy, I was familiar with how students are often sent to therapeutic boarding schools with the intention of expanding their therapeutic outcomes and support systems.
This was my first visit to Chrysalis School and, similar to how I felt on the airplane, the serenity and peace of the landscape washed over me. The Chrysalis School campus came quickly into view as I followed the bends of a beautiful country road. Log buildings rose up from the wooded greenery. Horses pranced along a fence. Girls walked together, smiling and chatting openly.
Over the next two days, I was immersed in the Chrysalis culture.
I sat in on staff trainings and meetings as they spoke passionately about the individualized clinical treatment each student received. Therapists, teachers, and house staff collaborated, using their knowledge and insight to create the most effective treatment regimen necessary for each girl’s therapeutic growth. Words like: ‘strength-based ‘, ‘positive psychology’ and ‘healthy relationships’ were applied to the conversation with hopeful investment.
I shared meals with the students. They didn’t hide their individuality or their genuine selves from me, even though I was a visitor for them to impress. They spoke openly of their struggles, their successes, and their hopes and goals for the future.
“You have to be motivated to come here. I mean not at first. I wasn’t motivated at all when I first got here, but I had the potential to be motivated.”
“The hardest part about being at Chrysalis School Montana” one student stated, “is living with so many girls!”
From an outsider’s perspective, observing the dynamics with an unbiased eye, I saw a sisterhood.
The girls teased each other about falling in the snow on their most recent ski and snowboarding adventures. They shrieked about others’ feet being in their space underneath the table in English class. They bonded passionately together as they proposed the addition of a competition cheer squad to the Executive Director. They confronted each other in group therapy and supported one another through personal struggles.
It was beautiful to watch.
As I walked toward my car to leave, keys in hand, I felt a pang of emotion in my heart. The emotion was complex in the way it feels to watch children lose their training wheels for the first time. A sense of nostalgic sadness mixed with hope for the future. The students I met while at Chrysalis School in Montana were changing and growing; taking on individualized versions of transformation. The school is appropriately named as a chrysalis is the hard, outer casing from which a caterpillar emerges as a transformed butterfly. These girls are shedding their shells which have been hardened by trauma, anxiety, depression and anger, and are emerging as strong, confident, authentic young women.
They are learning to stretch out their wings. They are learning to fly.
Change is a beautiful process. Just as Fireflies Aren’t Meant to Live in Jars,
Butterflies Aren’t Meant to Live in Shells.
For more information on Chrysalis School Montana, please visit their website at www.chrysalisschoolmontana.com.