ABOUT DISCOVERY RANCH
Located on more than 20 acres in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains, Discovery Ranch provides residential treatment for boys aged 13 to 18 who are struggling with a range of emotional and behavioral disorders, including substance abuse and other addictions, eating disorders, learning disorders, anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and more. Boys may come directly to this facility or enroll after completing a wilderness course.
Discovery Ranch is one of many facilities for troubled teens in Utah, where the industry is a major business.
TREATMENT & ASSESSMENT
The ranch focuses on experiential therapy and experiential learning, while helping clients to develop valuable life skills. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a cornerstone of the program, as is a focus on residents’ strengths. According to the facility’s website, residents are engaged in therapeutic activities all day long, often without even knowing it: “Therapists and mentors will often stop an activity or conversation and ask a student, ‘What skills have you learned that you could use right now?’” the website notes. Life skills are taught through work around the ranch, academic application, and DBT, as well as a peer leadership program.
The center’s experiential therapies include equine therapy, a ropes course, cross-country skiing, canoeing, and cycling, among other sports, plus dedicated provisions for wheelchair sports.
Discovery Ranch also provides academic education. The average class size is 12 students, and according to the facility’s website, each student follows a customized academic plan that allows them to spend more time on subjects they struggle with, and move quickly through subjects at which they excel.
Families are invited to participate in a weekly family therapy session, conducted over the phone, as well as structured parent days conducted three times a year.
According to the facility’s website, all clinicians are educated to master’s or PhD level and have more than 20 years’ experience, and each therapist has a caseload of six or seven students. Residents also meet weekly with a psychiatrist, and there’s a nurse on-site Monday through Friday daytimes, and on call evenings and weekends. The program’s teachers as “licensed educators endorsed by the Utah State Office of Education.”
ACCOMMODATIONS & AMENITIES
The campus is home to two dogs, a cat, horses, cows, and some chickens, and the residents are responsible for caring for these animals, as well as completing other chores. Students also work together on quilts; each student leaves with a quilt completed by the team during their stay.
Families are invited to visit as often as they like, so long as it’s therapeutically helpful to the resident. Later in treatment, residents may go for off-campus visits, including overnight stays.
At events, residents are able to socialize with teenage girls living at a sister facility in Utah. All such events are supervised and open only to those residents who have demonstrated readiness.
WHAT ALUMNI SAY
All four of the reviews submitted to Best-rehabs.com to date were negative. The single reviewer polled on the facility’s offerings in a variety of treatment metrics gave it three stars for its treatment for co-occurring disorders, two stars for its family participation, and one star for its holistic offerings and its counseling options.
The reviewers repeatedly mentioned poor treatment from staff: “Some of the staff were great people, but some were extremely mean… I have nightmares about Discovery Ranch almost every night. I am currently going to therapy because of the damage they have done,” Mollie wrote, describing in particular homophobic attitudes and punishments for self-harm and academic problems; alum Jack also noted that the staff’s attitudes were very conservative. In addition, two reviewers noted that the center’s educational program was underwhelming.
Secondary sites yielded mixed feedback at the time of this writing: the center had average ratings of 3.1 stars based on 22 reviews on Google, and 2.83 stars based on 18 reviews on Yelp.  Several reviewers noted that they enjoyed their stay and found it beneficial: “I was a student here, and I like to say that I enjoyed being here. It helped me understand a lot more about myself,” J.J. wrote in a representative review on Google. However, several alumni echoed those polled by Best-rehabs.com by describing poor treatment at this facility: “Terrible place don’t send your child here… After discovery ranch I couldn’t even talk to my parents for months because of the trauma it caused me,” D.K. wrote in a representative review on Yelp.
Discovery Ranch’s website indicates that some families have been able to collect insurance reimbursement for treatment, though the center does not appear to accept insurance up-front. The facility also has a relationship with medical loans company Prosper Healthcare Lending.
In 2014, a 17-year-old boy escaped from Discovery Ranch and went missing for more than two weeks, as reported on NJ.com, from his home state of New Jersey. “He said he just didn’t like the regimented schedules, and having to be confined,” his father told NJ.com. In addition, CourthouseNews.com reported in 2015 that: “A boy was sexually assaulted repeatedly at a residential treatment program for troubled teens, until his attacker was found committing bestiality with a horse, the teen and his parents claim in court.” The article asserts that the boy was groomed by a fellow resident, and that the assaults “went undiscovered and unchecked” for several months.
At the time of this writing, Best-rehabs.com was unable to find facility responses to either of these cases.