Greenbrier Academy for Girls (2007-present) Pence Springs, WV
Therapeutic Boarding School
History and Background Information
Greenbrier Academy for Girls is a behavior-modification program that opened in 2007. It is marketed as a Therapeutic Boarding School for teenage girls (14-18) who struggle with depression, anxiety, relationship issues, drug abuse, adoption issues, ADHD/ADD, ODD, etc. The program has a maximum enrollment of 54 girls, and the average length of stay is reported to be between 12 and 18 months. The tuition is reported to be around $42,000 per year. Greenbrier Academy for Girls has been a NATSAP member since 2016.
The program is located on a rural 140-acre campus at 158 Academy Lane, Rt. 3, Pence Springs, WV 24962. The program’s main building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Greenbrier Academy for Girls was opened by Lionel J. Mitchell in 2007 shortly before the closure of Alldredge Academy, which was a program that Lionel Mitchell had opened in 1999. Alldredge Academy was a similar behavior-modification program that closed in 2008 following the death of a student in 2001 and a subsequent lawsuit against the school which the parents won. Greenbrier Academy for Girls is believed to be the re-brand of Alldredge Academy, however, it caters only to female residents.
Founders and Notable Staff
Lionel (“L-Jay”) Mitchell is the Founder of the Greenbrier Academy for Girls. He began his career in the TTI by Co-Founding and Directing the SUWS of Idaho program from 1981 until 1994. He then left to create a new program, Alldredge Academy in 1999. He worked as the Director of this program until 2006. While at Alldredge Academy, he was indicted on charges of negligent child-abuse after a resident at the program committed suicide. He then founded Greenbrier Academy in 2007 and has worked as the Director/Owner ever since.
Dennis Thompson previously worked at SUWS of Idaho with L-Jay back in the 90s. He and his wife, Laura, ran the African Drumming Program, including the performance group. He and his wife Laura retired around 2015/2016.
Paul Fowler ran the “Village” retreat at Greenbrier. He previously worked at Alldredge Academy, like L-Jay.
Mark Dennison worked as the Headmaster of Greenbrier until 2014. He left to open his own program for boys, but this project never came to fruition. His wife, Mary Dennison, also worked at the program as the study hall teacher and a homeroom teacher.
Susie Blankenship has worked as an Administrator at Greenbrier since 2011. Prior to this, she worked as an Administrator at Camelot Therapeutic Day Schools.
Dinah Palmer worked as an Nurse at Greenbrier. According to the West Virginia Board of Registered Nurses, Palmer is not a licensed RN in West Virginia.
Mike Beswick worked as a Therapist at Greenbrier until 2020. He currently works in private practice. His prior employment is unknown.
Ginger Cooney (Cooley?) worked as a Therapist at Greenbrier.
Eva “Shellie” Beeker worked as a Therapist at Greenbrier from 2012 until 2018. She began her career as a Field Instructor at an unnamed wilderness program. She then went on to work as a Student Life Supervisor at an unnamed therapeutic boarding school, before coming to Greenbrier. She currently works as a Counselor at the University of North Dakota in their Counseling Center.
RuthAnn Ott worked as a Therapist at Greenbrier.
Like other behavior-modification programs, Greenbrier Academy for Girls uses a level-system consisting of 5 levels which are named after different virtues. The levels are reported to be:
- Gratitude & Respect: This is the first level at Greenbrier. On this level, the resident is closely monitored by staff and is allowed no communication with the outside world, other than in family-therapy calls. They can only go off-campus for community service. This level typically lasts about a month, but may be longer if the resident is deemed resistant to the program.
- Courtesy and Compassion: On this level, the resident is given one fifteen-minute phone call per week, but these calls are closely monitored by staff. They are also given computer privileges, but for schoolwork only. In addition, they are permitted to go off-campus for the (rare) movie night or for special occassions (such as a peer’s birthday). This level typically lasts about 4 months.
- Empathy and Forgiveness: On this level, residents are permitted to walk on the track that surrounds the school. They also may be asked by their Therapist to join the Council. The Council is a group of students that the therapists select called who meet on lunch weekdays with a Therapist and discuss students who are struggling, breaking the rules, doing great, etc. This Council gets to decide who moves through the first three levels, and also gpunishments for residents who are deemed resistant. This level typically lasts around 6 months.
- Humility and Honor: Many residents do not reach this level, and if they do, they typically graduate on it. They are permitted to use the internet for recreational purposes during the weekend study-hall, but use is still closely monitored by staff. They are also permitted to go off-campus for recreational activities and outings with their peers. They are also allowed to use an iPod (with no internet access/camera) during free time. They also may become a “village elder” if they attended all directions and a “Solo”.
- Trust: This is the final level at Greenbrier. It is reportedly very rare that residents achieve this level. On Trust, residents can check-out their phone for 1.5 hours per day, and may use their iPod whenever they like.
The teens are seperated into groups based on their therapist. The girls do up to the village and do therapy in these groups. The program used to not separate the housing by Therapist until around 2015. The program is reportedly more team-oriented now.
The residents at Greenbrier Academy are required to adhere to a strict set of rules. If they do not, they receive what is called a “natural consequence”. For example, if they act out, have a messy room, don’t do their chores, don’t want to go to school or therapy, etc., they would lose privileges such as the ability to go off campus, have their weekly social phone-call, go on the computer, or watch the movie that were playing in the basement after dinner.
There is also a “retreat” that the girls are forced to attend once every three months called the “Village”. The Village has been reported by survivors to be a very cult-like experience. Reportedly, once every three months, about 10-15 girls hike about a mile and a half up the mountain in the middle of the night in complete silence. They then arrive at a small lodge called the “Village” where they get saged at the door and must sleep on the floor. They are forbidden from communicating with anybody on campus, but their therapists do come up to visit them once or twice. During the Village, they attend self-help lectures led by Paul Fowler from Tuesday through Friday, and in the evening, they have different ceremonies. In one, are encouraged to share their traumas and burn the paper in the fire. In another, they are buried alive. In yet another, they have to hike a mile while holding a large rock which supposedly represents their emotional burdens. There are reportedly four different “directions” for these retreats, each with different topics and ceremonies. However, each of the directions concludes with a Sweat Lodge on the final day.
Abuse Allegations and Lawsuits
Greenbrier Academy for Girls has been reported by many survivors to be an abusive program. Allegations of abuse and neglect include verbal/emotional abuse, gaslighting, unsanitary conditions, medical neglect, and punitive punishments.
Survivors have reported an instance of sexual abuse that occurred at Greenbrier around 2010. According to reports, a teacher at the program sexually abused a 16-year-old resident over the course of several months. The teacher was reportedly fired quickly after. These reports have not been confirmed.
3/7/2021: (SURVIVOR) Link to Corey’s Survivor Testimony “I WAS KIDNAPPED + BURIED ALIVE! (25 to Life: Ep 2 Breaking Code Silence), Troubled Teen Industry”
2/22/2021: (SURVIVOR) “I had a very privileged childhood growing up in NYC. I witnessed the events of 9/11 from less than a mile away at age 6. I developed anorexia at age 11, I was put in rehab at age 13, and I was in and out of there until I was 17. During those years I went through a sexual assault and had to repeat my Freshman year. When I was 16/17 I did all of the typical NYC teenager stuff: fake IDs, clubbing, drinking, smoking weed, late for curfew, etc. I was not a “bad” kid, I was a hurt kid, and my parents were scared. In the summer of 2012, I was depressed and angry, feuding with my parents, not sleeping, eating, or taking my meds. What people do not talk about are the “Education Consultants” who profit off of desperate parents willing to pay to find a place to send their kids. In August I woke up from a nightmare (I have PTSD) to find two huge people in my bedroom, a man and a woman. They told me to get dressed and I refused. I was screaming and crying for my parents. They had zip-ties and the man told me he was a former cop and asked if I wanted to do this the hard way or the easy way. Then the male grabbed my arms and the woman grabbed my legs, and they dragged me downstairs, where my parents were crying and refusing to look at me. They tied my wrists with zip-ties and put the child-lock on and explained rudely we could either take a plane or we can drive ten hours. They were so condescending calling me a spoiled brat and snickering. When I got to Wilderness, it was the usual: strip, squat, give up your belongings. When I first arrived I was not allowed to speak to anyone other than my “big buddy,” and I had to finish a packet, including writing your life story, before l could join the group. There I was forced to read it to complete strangers. I also had to read the impact statement from my parents about why they sent me there. We were put on “solos,” where they blindfolded and separated us from each other–we did not know how long it would last. Because I could not produce a fire, I had to eat raw sweet potato. Despite all that, I still think Wilderness was ultimately beneficial for me. What was not beneficial was not knowing how long I would be there, where I would be next, etc. I begged my parents to let me come home but the Education Consultant manipulated my parents by telling them I was manipulating them, and that I was not ready to come home. So I was sent to Greenbrier Academy, marketed as a fancy boarding school with an equine program, great academics, and wonderful therapists. That was anything but the case. A girl kissed me during truth or dare and ten girls told on me, so I was not allowed to go home for Christmas. I was only allowed a monitored 15-minute phone call, once a week, where I was allowed to speak to my parents. The only other time would be over Skype, with your parents and therapist. They did weird therapy rituals, including something called “brain spotting” where my therapist tried to intimidate me into hypnosis to relive my rape. In one specific family session, my therapist said, “Don’t you think it was really your fault for drinking, therefore you got raped because you put yourself in that situation? Do you really think people believe your story?” She manipulated me constantly. Community meetings were used to shame girls under the facade of concern. A group of girls on higher levels were selected to be on the Council, where they spy on girls and decide when they can move up or be moved down in the levels. “Academics” included maybe four teachers, and we were all lumped together, it was a joke. One time I took a pepper from the fridge in the kitchen and I was written-up by staff, so my therapist called my parents with me, who had already bought me plane tickets home for Spring Break, and told them that I clearly could not follow rules and thus could not go home. Every time I struggled, I would get privileges taken away. There was always the threat I would be taken back to the wilderness program, or worse if I did not behave. I was put on meds I had never heard of. The staff who were with us at night and on weekends were wonderful and caring. I could tell they felt bad for us. We started to hear rumors about the founder of the school, Lionel J. Mitchell, and his previous program, Aldredge Academy, which was shut down after a student killed himself. When he would visit he acted like a celebrity. He would put his arms on girls’ backs and shoulders, and even teased he wanted to take the “good girls” on a trip in his jet to his ranch in Washington. In researching now during the Breaking Code Silence movement, I found out even scarier things. Including lack of licenses and even more abuse and death. Mitchell has been getting away with this for decades. He was the founder of several places like this in Utah and was even the creator of something called “The Death March” in Idaho, with his SUWS program in the ’80s, that resulted in multiple deaths. We found out Greenbrier is not even listed in his name, due to the number of times he has been sued. It is under his son’s name. Everything there was bizarre, amongst teachers and therapists and heads of school all being married or related, all part of a specific Mormon sect, and all from Utah. My therapist would overshare with me about her husband, her children, her childhood. She even came up to the “Village,” where we slept in a yurt and used a sweat lodge, and told the group that we do not know what bad is because her dad hit her as a child. It was beyond inappropriate, invalidating, and weird. She would give my parents advice and shame them for giving me an allowance and paying for my phone bill because her children paid for themselves. This is a quote from an article I found that perfectly sums this up: “L.J. Mitchell believes that society doesn’t care what happens to them because they are troubled and throwaways and that their parents are wealthy and are willing to pay thousands of dollars to send them to him for help. Over the years he has tried many versions of his programs, from calling them survival schools to what is now his latest approach to troubled teens called “Therapeutic Boarding School for Girls” in WV” -An article in WV news from 2011. After all of these years, he is still profiting off of this abusive industry. He is still in charge of the school and featured on the website. Several other girls have similar stories to mine and luckily my parents finally got me out of there. So many other girls were not as lucky, some not as fortunate, some whose parents had to take out second mortgages on their homes to send them there. All with the promise they will make your child into a happy and healthy “normal” person. I think because we did not have it as bad as other places, and especially because I did not want my parents to feel bad, I made myself believe it was not so bad. That program is designed to tell you that if you do not “get better” there it is your fault alone. It was a struggle, and sometimes still is, to enter back into society and be independent after all of this, and I was so embarrassed by the whole ordeal. Restraining a minor with PTSD should be a crime.” – Augusta (Breaking Code Silence)
November 2020: (SURVIVOR) “as a student who was there for 2 years, get the hell out, get your child out, don’t sent them here. kids are abused, manipulated, and gaslighted, and taught everything wrong. this affects their future and relationships. they will always believe they are in the wrong. if you love your child, LOVE THEM. before theyre made to feel that they’re the reason nobody does. staff lie to us, yell at us, invalidate us. i saw a girl swallow a bunch of nails there, and was taken away. nobody gave us any closure on what happened to her, and i wish i did. i never will. and that breaks my heart. the owner has been the cause of many deaths. and says he wishes to take his favorite girls on a private jet to his ranch. gross! you wanna save you kid? this is not the way. you can’t trust people just because they have license (or fake license).” – Anonymous (Niche)
November 2020: (SURVIVOR) “Its true that they way they showcase themselves on tours is nothing like the reality of living there. When I attended Greenbrier my family paid tens of thousands of dollars for me to receive one hour of “therapy” a week from a subpar therapist who was very unhelpful towards our concerns. Greenbrier claims to offer a therapeutic environment, yet drama occurs on almost a daily basis and its a pretty negative atmosphere to be in. I was actually getting bullied at this school and when I returned home I had new issues that I didn’t have before attending GBA.” – Anonymous (Niche)
5/2/2020: (SURVIVOR) Link to Survivor Testimony (Reddit)
April 2020: (SURVIVOR) “I went to GBA for 2 years between the years of 2012-2014. I was in a unique situation because I entered the school in 8th grade, which should not have been allowed. There were some good people, I honestly loved the most RAs. Without them, the school would not be functioning. I, like many other GBA girls I went on to another boarding school after GBA; so in my personal opinion, if you’re thinking about sending your child to GBA, don’t. I would seriously consider sending them to another boarding school since most boarding schools are very structured and scheduled. I have been receiving therapy after GBA to treat the PTSD & Boarding School Syndrome I have from the school. I’m unsure if they’ve changed their policy but on weekends, girls were only allowed to talk to their families for five minutes and they had to be monitored the entire time, so if you expect to be in touch with your daughter, think again. The only feature worth that helped from this school is Village.” – Anonymous (Niche)
3/1/2020: (SURVIVOR) “the way greenbrier is advertised is nothing like the reality of living there. there was no therapeutic environment whatsoever rather constant drama and tension among both staff and students which created a huge distraction from treatment. the therapists were very judgmental and often emphasized girls problems or blamed it on their parents instead of trying to find actual solutions. the only positive aspect of this place was meeting girls in similar situations as you, but overall it’s a unhelpful environment to get therapy in and i felt like i was in juvie” – Quinton (Yelp)
2019: (SURVIVOR) “Everything they say on the website is a complete lie. My parents and I were completely dissatisfied. My therapist was rude and discouraging about my passions and dreams. I was not able to address any of my adoption related issues in the 8 months I was there. my parents and I went to the head of school and asked to switch therapist but I was never allowed. My parents were completely shocked and appalled at all the lies the school told them and have even said they wish I was never sent there. My mom worked hard to get me to graduate early due to the dishonesty, and incompetence of the school and they still have not given my family money back for a trip I was supposed to go on. Its an overall lousy school and I would recommend ANY thing other than this.” – Jane Doe (Google Reviews)
2019: (SURVIVOR) “Reposting since my reveiw was now deleted TWICE. May be wondering why GBA would be trying so hard to make sure nobody sees this… I have never seen a worse place in my entire life. Girls sit on the “sunporch” for hours everyday and about 8 on Sundays because there is nothing to do. The school claims that the four month program is transitional and opportunities like having a phone can be earned fast. This is the biggest lie. I was turning 18 and headed to college which is why my parents chose this place. I could not even walk around the entire campus alone for 2 weeks or even have an ipod for almost 7. The place did not give me much opportunity to work on college applications and did not give me the option to tour colleges. I had barely any communication with my parents to help me with the process. There was no privelage to have a computer for yourself so all the time I was wasting sitting doing nothing on the sunporch I could have been on a computer talking to my parents in order to work on college applications or be on kahn academy to study for the SAT. I have openly told staff and leaders of the school how much I hated it and how I was signing out when I turned 18 and in return I was threatened without my parents awareness. I was threatened to be sent to the homeless shelter with $5 if I were to sign out. I was also threatened extended custody until the age of 21 which my parents had no intent or thought of doing. I was also told that they could be “very convincing” when it comes to parents and when my parents decided to pull me that they would have a “talk” with them. All of this just a week before I was taken out, trying to scare me. The only good thing about the place is the RAs. These are the true therapists of the school and are the few people actually there to help your daughter. Although I was blessed with a good therapist not many girls are and when they ask to switch, the school will not allow it. This is messed up because your therapist decides your home visits and when you leave so if you have a bad therapist, be prepared to be extended. The school loves their threats and lies so I would consider this before sending your daughter here. I would also consider the fact that there have been multiple drug problems where girls have brought things in so if you want a safe environment, this is not the place. The school also tends to believe rumors and you will be treated poorly until you are able to prove you did not do anything. Until I had a clean drug test show up, I was treated as if I was snorting pills. I was also not able to talk to my parents about it and sense all calls are supervised and social calls will be ended if therapy related things are brought up there is no way to actually tell your parents what is going on in less you are willing to break the rules for it. These were the least beneficial months of my life. I left two months early, have a full time job doing what I want to do, am taking classes at my local college, and being able to function as a normal teen without being locked up in that school. Also do not send your daughter here if you want her to be in any way prepared for college. A little kid could get As in the classes. Your kid WILL fail college if this is the only education they know. They will also make it very hard to recieve any credits most likely because they want the money and want your kid there longer. Overall terrible experience, send your kid elsewhere or maybe consider the fact that the educational consultants tell every parent after wilderness to not have their kid go home, not considering some kids are actually ready to go home.” – Anonymous (Google Reviews)
3/7/2019: (SURVIVOR) Link to Survivor Testimony (Reddit)
2/18/2019: (SURVIVOR) “an absolutely terrible experience i would not recommend to anyone. Staff is not helpful but instead judgmental and i did not feel safe or cared about in this environment in the slightest, please look into better boarding schools that will benefit your daughter, thank you” – Anonymous (Niche)
2019: (SURVIVOR) “I was a past student at Greenbrier and coming out of the woods i did think the school was very good but after being there for 8 months and it being my 7th treatment center and it was the worst out of all, the teachers didnt seem to conect with many of the kids or they would push their problems to the side if it interferes with what their doing, the new staff they got in the last few months dont seem qualified to work with us they were very disrespectful at times and although there was some great staff theres only about 5 good ones left so its a very bad combo and the treatment center treats kids like were in a behavioral facility with the way they handle situations, the therapists dont work with the clients and will cancel meetings and avoid the kids if they dont want to do sessions. The students are out of control and instead of trying to work with the students to find out how to help them and make everyone come together they just put up cameras and make things strict and take everything away. I personally dont recomend wasting money on sending your child here because ive bearly seen people come out and be as you would call “normal” I stayed in my bed and didnt go anywhere for over a month till i convinced the staff to send me to another center” – Alena (Google Reviews)
1/21/2019: (SURVIVOR) “I was sent away when I was thirteen because I kept going in and out of psych wards. My home life was a mess at the time; my mom had cancer and my dad was never around. I was getting jumped at school and was self harming just about every day. I was extremely unhappy and was sending out cries for help. Unfortunately, these cries for help landed me in hell for four years.
First, I was sent to Greenbrier Academy in WV, run by LJay Mitchell who has had multiple law suits for being responsible for kids’ deaths at his wilderness program. The program was in a former WW2 women’s prison and was super fucking creepy. The staff were all untrained and unlicensed, and mostly Mormon. I wasn’t allowed contact with anyone except for monitored calls to my parents. We barely got enough food and the food we did eat was pretty nasty. The program was pretty much based around drum circles…which were divided into groups depending on how well you drummed. We chanted and drummed a lot. We also had groups where we’d have to do wall sits until we fell down. LJay created his own therapy program called “The Ways”. Anyways, there were many abuses that took place and it was awful. My parents finally listened to me through my subtle cries for help, but put me in a different program called Auldern Academy in NC.” – u/kimj0ng-illin (Reddit)
2/5/2018: (SURVIVOR) “i am a student at the school currently and i feel like after being here for 2 years it is done helping me. what i am experiancing is what i would call abuse along with a dirty living environment and unfit therapists along with staff. i am picked on and bullied by students and staff constantly and i cannot wait to leave” – Anonymous (Niche)
12/29/2017: (SURVIVOR) “Did not prepare me for the real world. Greenbrier Academy was similar to a reality tv show. There is barely any connection to the “real world” so the girls are forced to focus on the drama occurring in the program. Rather than learning skills to be successful when returning home, or wherever they go after Greenbrier Academy, they are taught how to survive at school.” – Anonymous (Niche)
11/18/2016: (PARENT) “You child would be better off in a prison. The show they put on for our tour is NOTHING like the horrific life my daughter suffered there. As a parent I made a mistake of taking advice from an education consultent and a 8 week program helping my daughter deal with anxiety and depression . She was NOT at risk for alcohol or drug abuse . She did not lie or steal and she did not harm herself or anyone else. I have heard from others that these “Wilderness ” programs have ties to theraputic schools. I am starting to believe this more than ever because her so called “caring ” therapist recomended this knowing she was not at high risk. According to my daughters current therapist she is suffering PTSD because of the trauma she was exposed to at Greenbrier . PLEASE DO NOT LISTEN TO EDUCATIONAL CONSULTENT or “WILDERNESS PROGRAM ” unless you want your daughter to suffer . I suggest you try everything to find a good theraputic school if you must after trying everything else. I can tell you Greenbrier is NOT a good one at all. I had a gut instinct to get my daughter out of there before the year . The food was horrible , verbal and physical assaults by other students was a reoccuring theme , there is no real education ( be prepared for your daughter to lose a year of proper education ) , theft is as normal as going to the bathroom there ! i forgot to mention for $90,000 a year my daughters therapist was NOT licensed . This place is a scam and so was the program that ecommended it. They take advantage of parents that would do anything for their children. It makes me sick that this DISGUSTING place still operates!!!” – Hil (Yelp)
Greenbrier Academy for Girls Website Homepage
HEAL Program Information – Greenbrier Academy for Girls
Secret Prisons for Teens – Greenbrier Academy for Girls
Greenbrier Academy for Girls – Wikipedia
Teens 1985 Statements Will Be Haunting Voice For Founder Of WV Girls Academy (West Virginia News, 5/20/2011)
Founder Of Greenbrier School For Girls Admits He Is Responsible For Teens Death (Huntington News, 1/21/2011) courtesy of HEAL-Online.org
I WAS KIDNAPPED + BURIED ALIVE! (25 to Life: Ep 2 Breaking Code Silence), Troubled Teen Industry (YouTube, 3/7/2021)