La Europa Academy (2005-present) Murray, UT
Residential Treatment Center
History and Background Information
La Europa Academy is a CERTS behavior-modification program that was founded in 2005. It is marketed as a Residential Treatment Center for teenaged girls between the ages of 14 and 17. It claims to be able to treat girls with a history of depression, bi-polar, anxiety, trauma, sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, emerging personality disorder and other relational and emotional problems. It has a maximum enrollment of 36 girls, and the average length of stay is reported to be between 9 and 12 months. The program’s tuition is reported to be upwards of $10,000 per month.
The program is located at 1121 Vine St, Murray, UT 84121.
La Europa has been a member of NATSAP since 2005. It was accredited by the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools (NAAS), but it is important to note that neither the United States Department of Education nor the Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognizes the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools as an accrediting agency for institutions of higher education. In fact, NAAS is most well-known for in the public for the State of New York not accepting the diplomas given by the Academy at Ivy Ridge, which was a confirmedly abusive WWASP program which was also accredited by NAAS. NAAS has “accredited” many notoriously abusive behavior-modification programs, including many WWASP programs.
La Europa Academy is affiliated with the other CERTS programs, including Kolob Canyon RTC and Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy. There is also a Transition Program called “Mosaic House” located about a half mile East of La Europa, which is for girls who have graduated the program but are not allowed to go home yet.
Founders and Notable Staff
Kent Tasso is the Owner of La Europa Academy. He is the Founder/CEO of CERTS, and previously founded both Kolob Canyon RTC and Moonridge Academy.
Robbi O’Kelley is the current Executive Director of La Europa Academy. She behan working in the TTI at Northstar Center, a reportedly abusive Aspen Education Group program. She then worked at New Leaf Academy of Oregon, another Aspen Education Group program.
Dave Nichols is the current Clinical Director of La Europa Academy.
Craig Rodabaugh previously worked as the Clinical Director of La Europa Academy. He is also the Chief Clinical Officer of CERTS. He currently works as the Clinical Director of Kolob Canyon RTC, another CERTS program. He previously worked as the Clinical/Admitting Director of Logan River Academy, a reportedly very abusive program.
Nora Urbanelli previously worked as the Clinical Director of La Europa Academy. She previously worked as a Therapist at New Haven RTC. She now works as a Therapist/Social Worker in private practice.
David Mayeski previously worked as the Admissions Director of La Europa Academy. Before this, he worked as a Therapist at New Haven RTC. He currently works as the Family Services Director at Aspiro Wilderness.
Aaron Aldridge is reported to have previously worked at La Europa as the Clinical Director. Prior to this, he worked at the reportedly abusive Vista Treatment Centers from 2005 until 2015. He currently works as the Director of Spruce Mountain Inn, a residential and transitional program for young adults.
Jason Scott Calder worked as a Therapist at La Europa Academy until August 2007. From August 2007 until July 2014, Calder worked at Summit Preparatory School as the Assistant Clinical Director. He then went on to work at Outback Therapeutic Expeditions. He then worked at New Haven RTC until June 2017. In September 2017, he was arrested on charges of rape, forcible sodomy and forcible sexual abuse. This arrest came in conection to reports that he has sexually abused a resident at New Haven. He pled guilty to these charges and, in 2018, he was sentenced to seven years to life in prison.
Melissa Stephens (her married name is now Melissa Child) worked as a Therapist at La Europa. She also has worked as a Therapist at the confirmedly abusive Island View RTC. She later went on to work as a Therapist at Solstice RTC. Her current employment is unknown.
Like other behavior-modification programs, La Europa uses a level-system consisting of seven levels. These levels are reported to be:
- Safety level: Upon entering La Europa, all girls begin at the Safety level. This level normally lasts about 2 weeks, but can last longer depending on how she adjusts to what can sometimes be a radical shift from living with her family. Individual staff are assigned to the girl during each shift and will remain within 2 feet of her gradually lessening the distance until the girl is moved to the first level. You get no contact with anyone outside of the program while on safety. At any time during her stay, should the teenager show signs of self-injurious behavior or threaten self-harm or her intention to run, she can be demoted to this level by the staff. Staff determinations are always reported to and reviewed by the girl’s therapist.
- Level 1 – Trust: According to the program’s homepage, this level deals in building trust. This phase is very similar to Safety. Residents can “skip” this level if they attended a previous program such as wilderness, and if they provide good reason through a presentation to your community about your time spent there and what you learned. Residents are also allowed to go on outings. They are also allowed to have have a weekly phone call with their parents, although these calls are closely monitored by staff. This phase typically lasts around 3 months.
- Level 2 – Realization: The teenagers are expected to list their issues as observed by the other students, and regard them as reason for their placement at the facility. They are not expected to try so solve them at this level. They are given additional time for their weekly phone call, although these calls are still closely monitored by staff. This phase is reported to also last around 3 months.
- Level 3 – Accountability: On this level, the teenager has to take responsibility for her issues and stop blaming others for her placement in treatment. It is reported that these residents are even forced to take “accountability” for things that have happened to them such as sexual assault and bullying. According to their homepage, some girls “tend to victimize themselves and they are expected to use this level to take their life into their own hands.” Residents can be by themselves for short periods of time, and use the phone for longer. They are also able to access social media with their therapist, and have private conversations with those at the same level or above. They are also allowed to have home visits (as approved by a therapist). They are also cleared to speak to touring parents in order to encourage them to send their children to the program. Residents usually achieve this level ~6 months into their stay.
- Level 4 – Self-Actualization: On this level, the teenager should be working on the “core” of their problems. The residents are given additional time for their phone call, are allowed more frequent home visits, and more alone time.
- Level 5 – Proactivity and Empowerment: On this level, work on the resident’s post-treatment plan begins. This is reportedly the first “upper level”.
- Level 6 – Wholeness and Balance: On this level, the residents focus on preparing themselves for graduation. It is unknown whether or not La Europa still uses this level, as more-recent survivors have reported that there are only 5 levels.
La Europa is reported to be a very strict program with many rules. Some rules which have been reported by survivors include no swearing, no caffeine, and no secret-keeping (punishment will extend to all parties who knew unless they are the ones who tell). Punishments at La Europa Academy include:
- Communication Block: Also called “Comm Block”, with this punishment residents are not allowed to talk with anyone but program staff, or they are not allowed to communicate with a specific resident or residents.
- Level demotions: Most frequently, residents will be put back on “Safety”. They are given no privacy, no privileges to leave the house or speak with family members, 5ft from your staff member at all times, forced to eat everything they are given.
- Shutdown: In this punishment, residents are forced to do nothing all day until they comply with whatever they are “not complying” with (eg. eating, school, therapy, etc). They are not allowed to contact others or to attend school, groups, etc.
- Suicide Watch: Sleep on a cot in the hall with your hands visible loss of visits with their parents,
The residents at La Europa are often forced to take part in attack therapy sessions called “Accountability Groups”. These groups are reportedly sessions where other residents and staff with continually berate the condemned resident in the name of “taking accountability”. The resident who is subjected to the verbal abuse must submit and accept “accountability” in order to progress through the program. It is reported that if residents refuse to participate in the attack therapy sessions, it reflects poorly on them and they may be punished or restricted from moving up a level. These groups can apparently be called for even minor offenses.
La Europa Academy is reported by many survivors to be an abusive program. Allegations against the program made by survivors include emotional abuse, solitary confinement/isolation techniques, attack therapy methods, and forced manual labor. It is also reported that parents are manipulated by the program into dismissing any complaints of abuse/neglect that their daughter might report. The parents are told that such complaints are entirely untrue and just attempts to “manipulate” them into taking them home. This type of environment is extremely dangerous as it makes it impossible for children to report abuse.
In addition, survivors have reported that LEA is ver understaffed and the few staff members they do have are underqualified and are typically not able to deal with the residents’ behaviors. One survivor reports, “Night times were not monitored in the way that days were, even as someone who is just admitted and on “safety” the entirety of the night (have a staffie outside the door) is all yours. Girls were purging for over a week without staff noticing also piercing themselves. There is an initial strip search and strip searches for returnees from home visits but there is no follow up on checking for self harm. A girl got wasted on pure vanilla extract and was yelling about wanting to die and killing herself within earshot of a staff member and it was left to the girls in the room to deal with with no intervention.”
For more information, the link provided details one former resident’s experience at La Europa: The HEAL Report: Episode 50: La Europa Academy Exposed!
1/4/20201: (SURVIVOR) “I was then sent to La Europa in Utah, and stayed there for 10 months until I was eventually expelled. My time at La Europa is super fuzzy, but while still highly problematic, I don’t consider it to be the worst of the situations I wound up in from what I remember. I spent most of my time at La Europa journaling, crafting, basically doing anything to kill time between the various group therapies they had us go through. La Europa had the most amount of privileges out of any of the TTI facilities I attended. We were allowed to read, spend time with other patients watching movies and stuff, but I wasn’t considered to be “progressing through the program”. The main reason for this is I had tried to backtrack from what I lied about while at SUWS, therefore my entire treatment was centered around how I was in denial about being a drug addict, and ironically a liar who was actually telling the truth about my past lies. Another major “problem”, according to La Europa, was that I did not consider myself heterosexual, and I was highly discouraged from talking about the death of my girlfriend, which is what I really needed to process. Most of the staff at La Europa were devout Mormons, and while they didn’t directly speak about religion, there was always a tone of judgment surrounding anything that didn’t line up with their strict religious values. Admittedly, I was not kind to them. I frequently fought back at them when they would try to push their views on me, on multiple occasions I got into screaming fights with various staff members and insulted them. In my opinion, it was warranted, but I was by no means perfect. I never witnessed any physical abuse at La Europa, but they did have a tendency to come off as “brainwashy” in their therapy tactics. A couple of times, girls tried to run away and were put into “standing holds” and escorted back into the building, but that was as far as I saw staff physically handle patients. The breaking point for me at La Europa came after 10 months when a new patient arrived who I’ll call “Bonnie” (obviously not her real name). Bonnie was what I would describe as your stereotypical “mean girl” from high school. Like, the Regina George of La Europa had arrived. She bullied the absolute hell out of me, formed a clique with some of the other girls, and picked on the girls who she thought were “weird”. She was there for partying too much at home in LA and sneaking into nightclubs, she often bragged about getting wasted with celebrities much older than her and had a boyfriend who was in his 40s. One night, Bonnie, refused to use the shower after I used it because I was “disgusting”. It caused a huge argument between the two of us and I eventually looked at her and said “why don’t you just go and suck another 40 year old’s dick?” – she told her mom, her mom called La Europa and complained repeatedly, so I was then expelled for being “abusive and malicious” to my peers.” – u/ZestyBiscotti (Reddit)
October 2020: (SURVIVOR) “PLEASE READ!!! I am a former student of La Europa and I personally can’t recommend this place. I believe in my heart that the people running this treatment center have noting but good intentions but their execution is extremely poor. They have a very weak understanding of working with adolescents and their methods have potentially harmful outcomes. To any parents reading this, unless you are in immediate danger of losing your child, I think it is best that you find a qualified compassionate family therapist in your area and start working on your issues at home. I am a huge believer in the power of a good, kind, and compassionate therapist. Most teens act out because they don’t feel loved, cared for and safe. Learning to create that environment for your teen is so important!! And no offense but in many cases I see sending your child off to treatment as lazying parenting. Typically our issues and ways of coping stem form our parents, so working as a family is key. All this being said, if your teen is suicidal or involved in using dangerous narcotics and their is a immediate possibility of losing your child, then by all mean send them into treatment. I do not believe that residential treatment centers are a good option necessarily, but of course it is better you have your child in treatment and alive then not in treatment and dead. Do be honest with yourself though, is your child really in danger or are you just a paranoid parent? My mom’s paranoia is what got me put into La Europa and I can promise you that discovering the tools, with a good therapist at home, to heal my family would have saved me from having to do years of therapy just to get over the stress of having been placed in residential treatment. Also note that this is NOT a therapeutic boarding school. Yes there is school, yes there is therapy, but this is a residential treatment center which is different. Some parents don’t seem to understand this. Out of all the people I know that went to La Europa I have one friend that is grateful for her experience here, but that one friend is someone who was in immediate danger and needed to be placed somewhere where she could have 24 hour supervision. I will give La Europa two stars instead of one for this reason. Edit: I just took a look at the La Europa website and I am feeling extremely disappointed in La Europa at the moment. Their website is extremely dishonest. It makes this place look like some kind of super fun art camp when in reality it is much more Girl Interrupted then fun art camp. Really really misleading.” – Eleanor (Google Reviews)
8/1/2020: (SURVIVOR) “Please dont send your kid here. It truly is awful here. Staff are rude and only care about rules and being in power while disregarding students struggles and needs. You’re not allowed to talk freely without asking a staff to listen to the conversation and if that staff deems the convo bad they can put u on communication block with the whole house. Also if ur kids main issue is an eating disorder being here wont help because they can still easily engage in their unhealthy behaviors” – Isabel (Yelp)
7/25/2020: (SURVIVOR) “I will never completely heal from my damaging time at la Europa. If you love your kids, if you truly care for their safety, emotional support, recovery, friendships, what life should be like – LOOK ELSEWHERE. Anywhere else This place is solely for the money. I remember (7 years ago) crying myself to sleep every night because I was hungry. All I wanted to do was get a hug but that isn’t allowed. Neither is having private conversations with the students you are suppose to make friends with. Awful experience and it has taught me what not to do with my own children.” – Maddie (Yelp)
7/4/2020: (SURVIVOR) “I am not (only) posting this to put this place down- I genuinely want to warn parents- this place will mess your kid up. My love language used to be physical touch, but after La Europa, I feel uncomfortable giving family members hugs because we were taught that all touch was sexual. I had maybe 2 staff that i thought cared, and none that I trusted. If I could give this place zero stars I would. You couldn’t tell any of this to your parents over the phone because they would shut you down, the floor staff were constantly rude and hard to talk to. It was supposed to be a place where i could feel safe, but I was constantly paranoid. I’ve been conditioned to keep my head down and not stand up for myself. i don’t ask questions in school and i’m behind because of it. i have re-occurring nightmares of being sent back. I used to have a lot of friends, and healthy relationships, now it’s hard for me to talk to anyone.” – Rory (Yelp)
6/28/2020: (SURVIVOR) “My family had to pull me from this program after 6 months due to mistreatment, malnourishment, and overall a corrupt system. This facility preys on concerned parents that would do anything to help their ‘troubled teen’- including paying a monthly fee greater than Harvard tuition. I was admitted at 13, and turned 14 while I was there- technically too young for their program and academic curriculum, but they stated their outrageous price and my family reluctantly paid. If that doesn’t scream ‘we’re a business’ to you- you need to wake up. They have mind bogglingly cruel practices like ‘lockdown’ for minuscule ‘misbehaviors’ that invoke shame and guilt on young girl’s easily manipulated minds. They will insist your child has more problems than you know, and feed them unnecessary medication against their will. The staff is often people who want to ‘better themselves’ by taking care of children in treatment to console their own problems – often dumping their issues onto the students. In addition, they are patronizing, condescending, and have an overall sense of entitlement- as if an ‘I’m better than you’ sticker were slapped across their forehead. When you are isolated and in treatment, family and friends are a huge motivating factor to heal and have a familiar voice to look forward to hearing. Unfortunately, family and friend support is their least concern- Phone calls with immediate family only are allowed once a week, on speaker phone, for 5 minutes. If anything negative is said- they will end your call and you will loose privileges. A similar system is in place for snail mail- you can’t send a letter without them reading and approving what you have said. If they don’t approve- your letter will be thrown out without you knowing. If you receive a letter, they will open and read it, if they dislike the content, you will never know a letter came for you. They have a ‘block’ system, where if any staff member- regardless of authority- can block you from doing anything they don’t like- from talking, to getting seconds on food, working on crafts, or even eating a specific item in your meal. At the time- I had been vegetarian for 3 years, and while they promised they had the ability to accommodate all special diets- no accommodations were made for me, and I was forced to consume meat my entire stay. All showers, restroom encounters, and changing are supervised. They read your personal, private journals during room searches, and patient confidentiality is non-existent with their therapists. Privacy is lacking in all aspects- including normal conversation. If you wish to speak to another student, you have to ask a staff member to supervise your conversation. After treatment, I have since seen another therapist, and they said LEA misdiagnosed and mis-prescribed me with 80% of my conditions and medications, and only fueled, aggravated, and enabled my proper diagnosis. 7 years later and I still battle with myself over my experience every day. The only positive thing I have to say about this school is the teachers (at least when I was there) truly seemed to enjoy their job, and cared for their students. Despite me technically still needing to finish middle school, I managed to achieve decent grades on a 9th grade level due to personalized attention in a small classroom setting. Weather or not the monthly wallet raping attributed to my success is unbeknownst to me, but I feel that some of my teachers truly cared. Overall, this place is a breathing cesspool of hatred, mistreatment, money driven Mormans, that push their religious, anti LGBTQ propaganda onto easily manipulated young minds, all for their selfish profit- gained through the guilt trip that is planted on vulnerable, worried families with potentially broken homes. Please do your research and find an adequate facility for your child- I promise it will be worth your time to search elsewhere!” – Kae (Yelp)
6/26/2020: (SURVIVOR) “Fucking AWFUL PLACE TO GO!!! Do NOT send your child here. I was way worse off then when I went in, they don’t treat eating disorders like they say they do, the staff are over controlling, rude and belittling, they have solitary confinement procedures where you can’t talk and are heavily shamed and much much more is wrong with the program. I felt like I went from an abusive and controlling relationship to an abusive and controlling environment. This was one of the worst experiences of my life. Please please send your child somewhere else.” – Ali (Yelp)
April 2020: (SURVIVOR) Link to ‘Michelle Troubled Teen Industry Survivor Episode # 19’
February 2020: (PARENT) “This place was horrible for my daughter. I pulled her after seven weeks, brought her home, and we started the healing process. Sexual aggression from other “inmates” went uncontrolled, sharps were available and easily hidden, the food was unhealthy and the exercise and academic programs inadequate at best. Staff were punitive and really into their version of mind control. They lied to me on several occasions about easily verified issues, and when I pulled her out, threatened to call the sheriff on me. The best thing I did was rescuing her from this place and getting her the support and giving her the love she needed to heal after a terrible traumatic event caused her to derail. Parents, sometimes it is better to keep your child close than cast them from your home. Definitely not easy or convenient especially for those with demanding careers and other children.” – Kim (Google Reviews)
2/16/2019: (SURVIVOR) “I urge you to send your child to a better program than this. I spent 8 months in the facility and while it may have done some good due to the fact that I was getting therapy multiple times a week, it didn’t matter because the residential staff (and a lot of the therapuetic staff) are horribly abusive. The therapists regularly don’t report abuses if its done by parents because they want to keep getting the parent’s money. If you try to talk to your parents on the phone about anything they’re doing to abuse you they just rip the phone out of your hand and if you try to talk about it in family therapy they shut the Skype session down and say “they all try to do this because they don’t want to do the work necessary to get better. They’re just lying and making things up so that you’ll take them home.” The residential staff spent most of their time verbally abusing us and sometimes physically abusing us. One of my friends was put in a dangerous hold even though she didn’t present a harm to herself at the time and staff WERE NOT supposed to EVER use holds, and as a result said she couldn’t breathe. I will never forget the sound of her wheezing and screaming down the hall that she couldn’t breathe. That’s how you kill people. They also have very little to no licensing especially when it comes to eating disorders. The girls with eating disorders were the most horribly treated in the whole house. They made one girl eat so much that she threw up and then made her eat her own vomit, made another girl eat an entire jar of Nutella instead of an actual meal, and then would starve the girls that were overweight on purpose because they “could stand to eat a little less anyways”. I could really honestly go on. They left my friend alone to hurt herself when they knew she was a self harm risk and then wouldn’t tell her anything at all while she was in the hospital. They regularly threatened higher levels of treatment (AKA sending you to a long term shut-down style psych ward) as a punishment for very banal things such as talking back to staff. The staff regularly sat around and participated in bullying with some of the girls and would actively say mean things about other students where everybody would hear. Its just an awful place. They even stole a bunch of my stuff and said they were sending it back to my mom because it was “contraband” but I never saw it again (the contraband was some cute underwear that they thought was inappropriate, band t-shirts for bands such as the Foo Fighters and My Chemical Romance, and a big tub of nail polish and bunch of my art supplies). They also make you walk outside in the snow with bare feet because shoes are a “run risk” and you have to walk from the residential part to the school building. but idk I kinda feel like snow on bare feet is more of a frostbite risk and something they should probably care more about. And to really top it all off and put a cherry on the cake, they bill themselves as an art school but you don’t do art EVER. Unless you HAVE to take an art class as an elective for high school, they actually never give you time to work on art or encourage art at all. In fact, I didn’t make a single piece of art the entire time I was there because I just didn’t have the time, ever, and they kept all of my art supplies locked up in a closet where they just got buried and lost. Just please take the time to work with your kid at home if you can. Don’t send them away to live with strangers that aren’t getting paid enough to care and will take it out on your kids. I feel that if I had just had more therapy and group therapy in an intensive outpatient environment at home then I would have had the exact same/ WAYYYYYYY BETTER of an experience than I did at La Europa. As I’m writing this I’m currently 6 years graduated from the program and still have nightmares about it every night. That statement is echoed but dozens and dozens of my peers. We still have to work and fight every day to try to cope with the trauma we endured at La Europa. I am making it my current mission to get places like this shut down or at least much much more regulated. My mom didn’t know about any of this till I got out and was appalled and very angry that she spent $100,000+ for me to be secretly abused all year. So just don’t put yourself or your kid in that situation.” – Madison (Yelp)
10/17/2018: (SURVIVOR) “Honestly the only good thing that came out of being at la Europa was the relationships I formed. When I left la Europa I ended up being in even worse shape than when I first arrived. What they dont tell you when you put your child there is that as a human being you have no rights when there. They take away your right to speak, it’s called comm block. Will put you on shutdown where they portray to the parents that it is just a higher level of care to help you. What really happens is that it’s a punishment. You have to sit in a chair for 24 hours at least. One girl was on it for two weeks. The staff dont talk to you, they just sit on their phones. You’re not allowed to have any communication with anyone, you get yelled at for talking, at night you get to sleep on a mattress on the floor. It was the most dehumanizing and unhelpful thing that anyone has done. Honestly if you are thinking about sending your daughter here please send her anywhere else.” – Meghan (Yelp)
1/8/2018: (SURVIVOR) “This place is horrible wouldn’t recommend sending your daughter there. The staff is rude and unprofessional once your child gets there. They lie and never return phone calls I started calling Dec 22nd and I just got a text back today January 8th at 6pm. They don’t tell you that you daughter has to come with clothes and personal items as my daughter was in a different place before and they allowed her to go with nothing so I assumed it was the same and since they told me nothing. They called children services because my daughter went with only what she had on instead of calling me to send stuff. Like I said I would never recommend to send your child there the worst person is Brook big lier and does nothing she says she’s going to do. I highly recommend sending you daughter to cinnamon hills in St George Utah instead best staff and clean place way better then la europa” – Danielle (Yelp)
2/26/2017: (SURVIVOR) Link to Lisa’s HEAL Interview about her time at LEA
La Europa Academy Website Homepage
HEAL Program Information – La Europa Academy
La Europa Academy Admission Application (courtesy of HEAL-online)
Utah therapist accused of sexually abusing underage girl during sessions (WTVR, 9/27/2017)