Origins & Motivations
Some people have asked me about the motivations behind establishing Mountain Valley. I do tell them about the data: from the almost 10 million children diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in the United States (NIMH, 2012); to the 700% increase over the last forty years (Gray, P., 2010); to the treatability statistics of CBT and anxiety disorders that would make even the biggest skeptic give you a high five. I do tell them about the benefits of exposure therapy, how the victim of the fight and flight response can heal more rapidly in an environment where there is no one to fight, and nowhere to flee. I do tell them about the concerning shortage of anxiety disorder treatment programs, and how anxiety is an epidemic, so I think we should be doing more.
I do not tell them about how my life as a teenager was circumscribed by anxiety, and the decisions it made for me. I do not tell them about the America I lost at 17 years of age because “tough it out” was not the panacea I needed. I do not tell them about the Mountain I climbed to overcome panic, and the Valley of recovery I was fortunate to find; a Valley where I became more the arbiter of real threat and less the victim of perceived danger. While my own experience inspired the design of Mountain Valley, my frustrations as a clinician treating anxiety provided equal motivation. I was frustrated that however “in the zone” I was, the benefits of the 50 minute hour wore off on my clients almost as fast as the euphoria I felt after hot yoga. I was frustrated by parents who saw medication as the first line of attack, and rarely as an adjunct to therapy, or the “if all else fails” scenario. I was frustrated by how my clients’ fear, and their fear of fear, made “no-shows” as frequent as I remember it raining in London. I was frustrated by my attempts of social anxiety skills groups and panic attack support groups, where six were scheduled to attend, and only one showed. There is nothing like five empty chairs, and decaffeinated herbal tea, to make a 17 year old feel like he is the only one. I know that you probably know that movement and change is tough without the normalization and empathy from a student’s peers; the power of, “I know exactly what you mean,” and, what I heard a student say on her graduation from Mountain Valley last week, “guys, if I did it, I promise, you can, too.”
Anxiety was once a mechanism to solely prepare and protect us from harm, but it seems to have evolved into something annoyingly unnecessary at best and pervasively destructive at worst. While the complex story of the origin of anxiety disorders needs to be told, it is important for our anxious teenagers to know that the experience of it is just an experience; a series of symptoms, and a symptom itself. Mountain Valley helps our residents to understand that they are not defined by their anxious temperament, or the anxiety they experience, but more by their response to it. Denial, apathy, and avoidance are responses and strategies that provide some immediate relief, but overtime, become equally as damaging as the anxiety itself. Severe anxiety is like a weed -it grows fast, damages the garden, and if not removed by the roots, has a tendency to return. Symptom reduction is merely the beginning of the Mountain Valley journey. It is the origin that provides the motivation for our teenagers to address anxiety at its root; from enmeshed relationships with a parent, to years of teasing and bullying, to sibling rivalry. I know you see this all the time. This is not to downplay the influence of “genetic vulnerability” and “biological predisposition” in the origins of anxiety; merely, let us focus more on what we can change, and less on what we can not. In our daily challenges working with students in need, I think they need to know that just as much as we do.
Daniel P.Villiers,Ph.D. Founder & Director of Admissions