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Therapeutics 01

Our Therapeutic Approach

John Dewey Academy is often a family’s last resort after traditional therapy methods have been exhausted and have failed to provide the support needed. Our students come to us with stories of being ill-prepared, overwhelmed, misunderstood, and inappropriately indulged by their environments at home or school. Our students are working to overcome past personal problems. Developmentally, all adolescents are working to establish stable personal identities while learning how to relate to others in a positive way. Our school guides adolescents back to a healthy developmental trajectory without dependence on psychotropic medications or psychiatric diagnoses. We do this by combining a strong positive peer culture, high expectations, intensive therapeutic approaches, rigorous academics, and significant family involvement.

Therapeutics 02

The Caring Community

An oft-quoted motto at The John Dewey Academy is “You alone can do it, but you can’t do it alone.” In order to realize their potential and grow into mature adults, students need a caring community of peers and adults. We operate on the belief that the most effective agent of change for an adolescent comes from one’s peer group. Positive peer pressure is, therefore, a key element of the John Dewey experience. We encourage students to take ownership of their lives by making responsible choices. In large groups as well as intimate conversations, students support, encourage, and critique each other’s progress with honesty and caring concern. When students demonstrate to their peers and to the faculty that they have become responsible members of the community, they earn status and privileges.

Therapeutics 03

Moral Leadership Development

We give space for students to be the true leaders in the community, with community problem-solving and decision-making being placed largely in the hands of trusted students rather than those of staff. This comes from a place of great respect for those students who have earned that degree of trust; and we believe the community is healthier when students feel they have ownership of the process. It also requires a lot of students: “To whom much is given, much is required.” Outside of structured groups, peers are expected to model healthy behavior in classes, “on the floor” (in normal, casual interactions), during team projects, and recreational activities. Peers are the primary vehicle of rule enforcement, with community leaders bearing the largest responsibility for the smooth and effective running of the community.

Therapeutics 02

Individual and Group Therapy

Our primary goal is to nurture the psychological, moral, and spiritual growth of adolescents. Students support one another in this process, but they also receive support from their primary clinician. Our primary clinicians are psychologists and clinical social workers with specific training and experience in working with adolescents.

When a student arrives at John Dewey, they are matched with a primary clinician (often of their choosing) who works closely with the student, the family, educational consultant, teachers, and any other professionals involved in the student’s life. Each primary clinician carries a caseload of students (averaging 5-7), and provides weekly individual, group, and family therapy. The primary clinician interfaces with every staff member at JDA to gather day-to-day data to inform treatment approaches.

Therapeutics 04

Family Involvement

Each family brings its own unique history and dynamics to the John Dewey experience. Parents can disagree about the best approach to take with their teenager; as the trouble escalates, so can bitterness between the parents, no matter how strong their marriage might be. In addition, other children in the family absorb the negative atmosphere and often feel neglected as parental attention is focused on a desperate search for an effective intervention. Research shows that adolescents have better long-term outcomes when families engage in the therapeutic process in meaningful ways. We believe parents and other family members are a critical part of this process.

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THE JOHN DEWEY ACADEMY

389 Main Street
Great Barrington MA 01230

Admissions: (413) 528-0084
Phone: (413) 528-9800
Fax: (413) 528-5662

By actively engaging in the John Dewey community with responsible care for themselves and others, our students grow in maturity and self-respect. Students gain a sense of competence and autonomy as they set and reach realistic goals, both academically and personally. In group settings, they offer insight and suggestions to their peers and in return they receive feedback and advice. These peer-generated comments often catalyze powerful self-exploration and change. Work in the group setting helps our students accept responsibility for their past self-destructive behavior, which allows them to make true changes as they move toward health and wholeness.

As students at The John Dewey Academy accept responsibility for their attitudes and acts, they learn to take control of their lives by becoming reliable and independent people. In the community, they learn to trust and be trusted, respect and be respected, help and be helped, and love and be loved. They regain their self-respect as they learn to make reasonable, responsible, and realistic decisions. Our students develop a positive concept of self and a strong, coherent philosophy of life. As they learn how to care for themselves and others, they contribute ever more to the betterment of the community.

Each week, these leaders meet with the Dean of Students to share successes, express concerns about various team members, and creatively problem-solve to address these concerns. In addition, senior members of the community meet regularly with the Head of School to discuss concerns regarding the community and/or specific students. Finally, student leaders gather on their own–without staff–once a week to review growth, stagnation, and/or problematic behavior of each community member. The notes from these meetings are shared with individual students and clinical staff. Then, as appropriate, concerns are processed in group.

Overall, our students are encouraged to develop into moral leaders, not just for the sake of doing so at the John Dewey Academy, but so that they can leave our school and enter the world–and college–as strong, young people with a moral compass. We remind students that graduating from John Dewey Academy is not simply about earning credits and good grades, but about serving others, helping peers grow, and being a responsible, caring human. Another of our long-standing sayings is: “You can’t keep it unless you give it away.” This is often the primary focus during the final phase of a Dewey student’s stay.

Primary clinicians keep in close touch with teachers to develop a comprehensive picture of each student’s progress. When indicated, a student’s individual therapy is supplemented by additional therapy sessions provided by another member of the clinical team, and at times, with outside professionals. Our clinical team is well versed in a variety of treatment orientations including cognitive behavioral approaches (e.g., CBT, DBT, ACT), family systems, psychodynamic, and relational/attachment-focused therapy.

Students meet 3-4 times a week in clinician-led process groups. Every evening, students participate in a student-only group which promotes a sense of ownership and responsibility for their community. In addition, seniors participate in a year-long group experience designed specifically to address the transition from high school to college.

  • Parent Coaching

Parents have several opportunities to learn new ways of interacting with their child. One is through our parent mentoring network, where more senior parents relate and offer support to newer parents. The JDA Parent Forum is a secure, online community that offers additional support. Parents also receive regular feedback and support from their child’s primary clinician. Finally, parents often get in-the-moment support and coaching during family weekends.

  • Family Therapy

Because this process of rebuilding healthy communication and repairing family relationships is challenging and often painful, family counseling is crucial to the John Dewey Academy experience. The clinical staff meets with families as issues arise. The family, with good reason, wants assurance that the student will reject dangerous and self-destructive behaviors. The student, in contrast, seeks to individuate and separate in an effort to acquire a positive sense of self. Our clinical staff, always alert to this dynamic tension, works to promote emotional health on both sides of the equation. By the time of graduation, our families uniformly report closer and happier relationships, no matter how alienated they were at the time of enrollment.

  • Family Contact

We encourage the development of healthy communication between students and their families. During the early days of a John Dewey stay, the telephone calls and letters of students are monitored by staff and more senior students in order to minimize attempted manipulations of the family. As students progress, they are able to speak freely with family members. Our ultimate goal is for students and their families to speak openly and directly about issues without the need for professional assistance.

Aside from regular phone calls, we ask that parents limit their school visits to scheduled family weekends, special events, academic breaks, and planned family therapy sessions.

  • Family Weekends

Every six to eight weeks, families meet at the school for a weekend of structured group sessions, family therapy sessions, quality time with their child, and community connection. The process groups are designed to foster honest communication and to promote the growth of healthy relationships. During groups, parents ask questions, voice their concerns, meet and bond with other parents, and express their feelings. These weekend experiences, which are required for all current families, constitute an important element of the program.

  • Siblings

Siblings are a very important part of the John Dewey experience.  Siblings of any age are welcome at, and often attend, family weekends. Because of the demands placed on the family by the struggling adolescent, siblings often harbor deep feelings of sadness, anger, and resentment. Their expression of these feelings, as well as the building of new and healthier relationships between the siblings, is a key element in improving family life. To that end, we encourage sibling visits. Furthermore, during Family Weekends we schedule regular sibling groups in which John Dewey students and their siblings meet with a clinician.

  • Family & Community Building

Although the primary focus is on healing the family, parents and siblings can also participate in other ways in the life of the community. Because the school is small, we can include families in creative, flexible ways. For example, The John Dewey Academy celebrates the new year with a special dinner, a bonfire, and an opportunity to publicly express one’s gratitude. The gathering is a meaningful one, attended by current families in the community as well as by alumni and their families. Families can also create their own John Dewey traditions: parents may teach guest classes, cook a holiday meal with the students, or take a group on an outing. Such special occasions help to promote the sense of community that is so central to the philosophy of The John Dewey Academy.

  • The Parent Organization

An active Parent Organization, headed by a current parent, provides support to current and alumni families. Parents maintain frequent contact via telephone, email, and a password-protected Internet forum for current parents, alumni, and alumni parents. As they share hard times and triumphs, parents support each other and help each other develop more effective parenting skills. These contacts between parents have proven so useful that the Parent Organization now runs monthly Moms and Dads Dinners, generally in or around New York City, to discuss issues and share experiences. To orient new parents to the John Dewey Academy community, alumni parents often attend these gatherings as well. Prospective parents wishing to speak with an alumni parent should contact the Admissions Coordinator here.

  • Home Visits

During academic breaks, students can request to go home for a visit. These requests are determined by the clinical team and depend on the therapeutic readiness of both student and family. Until a student reaches Older Membership, he or she is expected to take a supportive peer along on the home trip. This is to provide support, help with continuity of program guidelines, and facilitate bonding between students and amongst families. Once a student is an Older Member, they can request to go home alone if they choose.