Phases of Change, 3 of 6 – Duty Phase
By Maia Christopherson
This series has been exploring the Phase System used to track students’ progress at Discovery Ranch for Girls (DRG). The strength of DRG’s phase system lies in its ability to both describe each student’s actual, lived experience at Discovery Ranch, and also teach a valuable lesson about the ways we mature into healthy adulthood. With each of the phases, it’s useful to consider these two strengths separately.
Life at the Ranch
The Duty Phase describes your daughter’s actual experience at DRG. At this phase, she is the is learning the obligations and responsibilities of life at DRG. During this phase, she is deciding how she fits in with life at the ranch. She is also figuring out whether or not she will choose to participate in those duties. Because she is figuring out where she belongs, there are a number of benefits.
First, it works the orientation process at DRG right into the phase system. Getting settled in and learning the ropes at DRG is part of the therapeutic process.
Second, as with the Caution Phase, the student’s phase matches her experience. This relieves a lot of pressure. Therapy can be intimidating, especially in the beginning. A new student is often not ready or willing to take on the difficult emotional and relational work that treatment at DRG will eventually require.
There is something liberating about saying, “Let’s just learn the basics of how to live in this place, and meet the obligations of this community.” In fact, whether you’re trying to repair a damaged relationship, a damaged reputation, or a damaged mindset, there is something powerful about reacquainting yourself with your basic responsibilities as a starting place.
Finally, because the Duty Phase is based so heavily on practical responsibilities and outward expectations, it is a wonderful litmus test. The phases at DRG test different students in different ways, and students who have behavioral problems, or who bristle at authority and obligations, may find themselves struggling in the Duty Phase.
Conversely, students who are pleasers or fly-under-the-radar types may breeze through these early phases, only to struggle with the more relational work of the later phases. The phase system can highlight the particular needs of each student.
Life Beyond the Ranch
The Duty Phase moves from the dependent portion of the phase system to the independent portion. Having her first job, doing chores, coming to understand that we have duties and obligations in life–these are the first steps in moving from a dependent child to an independent adult.
The phase system asks, “When you do the right thing, why do you do it?”
“Because I feel like it’s my responsibility,” may not be the best answer to that question. However, in many ways, it’s the first answer we come to understand as we learn and grow.
A person motivated by duty is still relying, to a very large extent, on external forces for motivation. The phase requirements are written to reflect this. Notice words like, “try” and “make a good faith effort.” Even though DRG is a relationship-based program, this early phase is designed so as to only expect the most basic of societal expectations when it comes to relationships.
A student who is dutiful may still have all sorts of resentments and unhealthy attitudes. What is important is that she has made a decision to accept that she is a part of a larger community, that her membership in the community carries duties and obligations, and that she will fulfill them to the best of her ability.
In order to complete their Duty Phase, our girls have to meet residential, clinical, and academic goals, which are:
- Consistently complete personal and community duties
- Have orderly and conscientious handiwork and presentation
- Not seek opportunities to cut corners or cheat
- Not contribute to negativity
- Do not keep secrets
- Try to show patience and persistence in the face of frustration
- Make a good-faith effort to process, even when discouraged
- Meet basic expectations of honesty
- Meet basic expectations of respect for peers and community
- Use a day planner
- Complete a Family Autobiography
- Compete the Why Am I in Treatment journal entry
- Receive Impact Letter from parents and process it appropriately
- Read Man’s Search for Meaning and complete assignment
- Complete How Does Hope Impact Me and My Treatment? assignment
- Develop three to four specific Treatment Goals with a therapist
- Consistently complete Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Diary Card
- Begin to willingly explore and take responsibility for reasons for treatment
- Begin to give respectful feedback and accept it non-defensively
- Consistently meet academic expectations
- Be respectful to staff, students, and the academic environment
- Maintain a well-organized school binder
Earning Their First Rein
The Duty Phase is also where we begin the metaphor that will be woven through the majority of the phase system: comparing the phases to a set of horse reins.
Even though we have taken care to ensure that our phase system at DRG is based on real human development, and not on some arbitrary metaphor we developed ourselves, we still recognize the tremendous power of metaphor and symbolism. Symbolism and metaphor are especially useful for young people. Therefore, we wanted to ensure that our system had a metaphorical component, even if the phases themselves were literal.
The Metaphor of the Reins
The reins metaphor gives the phase system a sense of meaning and ceremony. The central idea is threefold:
A horse will always be bigger and stronger than your daughter. There is nothing she can do to physically overpower it, force it to be what she wants, or force it to go where she wants. Likewise, life will always be big and complicated, and we will never be able to force it to be what we want or go where want.
Through a properly applied set of reins, we can direct the horse where we want it to go. Likewise, as we master the attributes and skills of each phase, we can begin to direct our lives in the ways we desire.
Finally, true horsemanship lies in relying less on the reins and more on our relationship with the horse. Similarly, the most fulfilling moments in our lives will be those that are less about applying a specific set of skills and attributes and more about becoming a more loving, relational person.
When a girl completes her Duty Phase, she receives the first of two split reins. Her reins represent an extension of herself. She can decorate and inscribe on them things that reflect her personality and values. This first rein represents Duty.
We may never have complete control over our the circumstances of our lives. However, when we take hold of their duties, we begin to give our lives the kind of structure. This gives us independence that will guide us where we want to go.