Rivendell of Utah (1986-1997) West Jordan, UT
History and Background Information
Rivendell of Utah (also called Rivendell Psychiatric Hospital of Utah) was a behavior-modification program that opened sometime in 1986. It originally was opened as a psychiatric hospital that specialized in the treatment of “sexual impulse disorders”, namely, homosexuality. Rivendell was known to practice conversion therapy on LGBTQ+ residents, including horrific methods of shock therapy and aversion therapy. Rivendell had a maximum enrollment of 80 teenages, and the average length of stay is unclear. Many residents were only discharged once their insurance stopped paying.
Rivendell was located at 5899 Rivendell Dr, West Jordan, UT 84081, which is the current location of Copper Hills Youth Center. Copper Hills Youth Center is believed to be the rebrand of Riverdell of Utah. In addition to being in the same location as Riverdell, many former staff at Rivendell also went on to work at Copper Hills.
Rivendell of Utah was ordered to close in May of 1997.
Founders and Notable Staff
Jared Balmer is the co-Founder of Rivendell Psychiatric Hospital. He later went on to help Co-Found Island View RTC, a confirmedly abusive program owned by Aspen Education Group. He later helped open several other Aspen Education Group programs, including the Oakley School and the Aspen Institute For Behavioral Assessment, which was a branch of Island View. In 2006, he was the recipient of the NATSAP Leadership Award. He is currently the Executive Director of WayPoint Academy, which he helped found in 2013 with Mike Bulloch, who is involved with various Aspen Education Group programs including the Aspen Institute For Behavioral Assessment and the Oakley School.
Delbert T. Goates was the Chief of Psychiatry at Rivendell Psychiatric Hospital. He also worked in the same position at the Brightway Adolescent Hospital, a confirmedly abusive WWASP program in St. George, UT. He died on April 19, 2000 in Blackburn, England. His cause of death was a massive brain hemorrhage caused by a fall he experienced while serving an LDS mission with his wife, Julie Anderson Goates. Goates’ obituary.
David Ericksen worked at Rivendell in the late 80s, providing psychological assessment services. In 2008, he began working at the Aspen Institute For Behavioral Assessment, an Aspen Education Group program founded by Jared Balmer (source).
Manuel Tello Jr. worked as a Community Relations Presenter and Acute Unit Leader at Rivendell of Utah from 1987-1992. He then went on to work at Olympus View Hospital RTC from 1992 until 1999. He then returned to work at Copper Hilss Youth Center from 1999 until 2012 in various roles, including Transportation Officer and Residential Center Scheduler, Staff Trainer, and Mental Health Specialist. https://www.linkedin.com/in/manuel-tello-jr-09a84186/
Charles McCusker worked as a Clinical Staff at Rivendell from 1986-1988. Around 2008, he created a website promoting the use of Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES).
Lesa Nelson worked as a Registered Nurse at Rivendell from 1988 until 1990.
Lee Roy Bodily worked as a teacher/counselor on the Adolescent Unit at Rivendell, eventually becoming one of the head counselors over the Children’s unit.
Little is known about the specifics of the program at Rivendell. Conversion Therapy is known to have been a large component of their methods.
Rivendell is widely known to have practiced conversion therapy. Survivors of these practices describe being forcibly shown images of homosexual sex (as well as extremely graphic images of deviant sexual acts such as sexual abuse of children and animals) and then were either shocked on their private parts or given an aversive stimuli (such as ammonia) to smell.
The following are excerpts from published stories about Lyn Duff, a teenager who was sent to Rivendell at age 15 because she had told her mother she was gay: “In Duff’s case, her already rocky relationship with her mother was sent into orbit when Mrs. Duff read a poem that Lyn, age 15 at the time, had written in her diary; a love poem to another girl. After a series of visits to psychiatrists and attempted institutional placements, things seemed to settle down for a while, and the younger Duff moved back into her mom’s South Pasadena apartment. But the calm was an illusion. On Dec. 19, 1991, her mother and grandfather tricked her into getting into the family car and virtually kidnapped her, taking her to an institution known as Rivendell of Utah, located outside Salt Lake City. What followed was a [six-month] nightmare of ‘treatment’ that, as Duff describes it, sounds like something out of an old B movie: isolation rooms, heavy use of powerful psychoactive drugs, hypnosis, word associations in which ‘sex’ is equated with ‘the pits of hell,’ and punishments that included scrubbing floors with a toothbrush. ‘I felt like I was being raped,’ she says now of the ‘therapy’ to which she was subjected. ‘I felt like I was being violated.’ …You would sit in a room with a shrink. I was being shown pictures of people having sex-every kind of sex, sex with animals, everything. They test how turned on you get. With guys they put a rubber band around [their penises]. For girls it’s different; they put these suction cups all over your body, on your chest, on your back. I remember the first time looking at [these drawings] and I remember this electronic box with digital numbers, and they were going up quickly. After that this other kid told me, ‘Don’t look at the pictures, just look right above the pictures. They think you’re looking at the pictures, but you don’t get turned on and they think it’s working.’ So I did that after the second time, and my test scores dropped and they were so proud of me. I felt like such a shitty person. I mean, here I was convincing everyone that I was a heterosexual. But that was the only way to get out.” (source)
The following are excerpts from an interview with another former patient of Rivendell of Utah, a 16-year-old male (who reportedly committed suicide shortly after the interview):
- “How old were you when you first got locked up?
- Fourteen. I’m 16 now.
- What preceded you being sent to Rivendell?
- My mom walked in on me while I was having sex with a boy. We were in a bedroom and the door was closed.
- What happened then?
- Well, she was really upset. I went to see a therapist because all my family wanted me in therapy. The therapist was the one who told her about Rivendell.
- What was Rivendell like?
- Hell, absolute and total hell. I thought J’d never get out.
- Did they treat you for being gay?
- Yeah. That’s what it was all about. My doctor used a plethysmograph. That’s a machine that tested how turned on you got. Electrodes were put on our private parts and then they’d show pictures.
- What kind of pictures?
- All sorts. Of men having sex with men. Of women having sex with women. Of rape. Of men and women. Threesomes. People having sex with dogs, little children. It was the most violent stuff I had ever seen. I mean, really, to show a 14-year-old that stuff. ‘Cuz that’s how old I was at the time. They call me crazy ‘cuz I’m queer.
- So, what would happen when they showed pictures?
- It would tell if you got turned on. When it registered that you were attracted to people of the same sex, it gave you shock.
- Where did it shock you?
- On your penis. Just stung a little.
- Why was the doctor so opposed to your sexuality?
- He was Mormon. They all were. Rivendell would have missionaries come talk to us. They’d say that homosexuality was wrong and could be changed through God.
- What other types of things did you see in Rivendell?
- A lot of mistreatment. People getting diagnosed based on what their insurance would pay for. People staying a long time, ’til their insurance ran out. People there for stupid reasons.
- Can you give me an example?
- Yeah, well, other than me. It was, like, for disagreeing with your parents. One boy was there because his parents were getting a divorce and he didn’t want to live with his mom because he didn’t like his stepdad. So they put him in Rivendell. Stupid reasons like that.
- Were there a lot of gay teenagers there?
- Well, it was all teenagers. All the gay ones were there because of their sexuality or because, like, they got accused of being too sissy or whatever if they were a boy. Or ‘cuz they were, like, too athletic or whatever if they were a girl. – Seems like they wanted everyone to fit stereotypes of how boys and girls are supposed to be.
- Yeah, but more than that. I mean, they’d make a girl wear a dress. But it was more than that. They’d say she was crazy if she didn’t. Like it was that she was bad. They’d screw with your mind so you didn’t know what to believe anymore.
- Like how?
- O.K., my doctor would be, like, you do this and we let you out. So I do it. And then he denies promising it.
- How did you finally get out?
- Duh, my insurance ran out. How else?” (source)
Abuse, Investigations, and Closure
Rivendell is widely known to have been an extremely abusive facility. Lyn Duff, who was mentioned above, reported that she was held in physical restraints, was sedated, and forced to undergo “hold therapy” in which she was restrained by staff members, screamed at and forced to admit that her lesbianism was hurting her family. Although Rivendell was not officially affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Duff later said that she was visited by Mormon missionaries during her six months at the Utah psychiatric facility and that the treatment she received was heavily influenced by religion. Duff says that Rivendell therapists told her that a gay and lesbian orientation was caused by negative experiences with people of the opposite gender and that having a lesbian sexual identity would lead to sexually abusing other people or engaging in bestiality. Duff was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (GID) and clinical depression. Duff was subjected to a regimen of conversion therapy. This involved aversion therapy, which consisted of being forced to watch same-sex pornography while smelling ammonia. She was also subjected to hypnosis, psychotropic drugs, solitary confinement, and therapeutic messages linking lesbian sex with “the pits of hell”. Behavior modification techniques were also used, including requiring girls to wear dresses, unreasonable forms of punishment for small infractions similar to hazing like having to cut the lawn with small scissors and scrubbing floors with a toothbrush, and “positive peer pressure” group sessions in which patients demeaned and belittled each other for both real and perceived inadequacies.
Rivendell was the subject of multiple investigations in 1995 and 1996. The first investigation came in July of 1995, when the hospital was cited not having a competent and well-trained administrator. Another citation was issued in February of 1996 for having an insufficient number of competent staff.
In March of 1996, the hospital came under scrutiny again when police were called to help staff at Rivendell quell a disturbance that involved four to five patients. It began shortly after 5 p.m. when several residents became upset about some of the restrictions placed on them, said Rivendell administrator Sandra Podley.The male residents broke furniture and, while they never threatened or hit anyone, they were armed with the wooden legs from some of the chairs. Podley said the residents gave her the pieces of wood willingly and police were called only as a precaution. The incident caught the attention of Deb Wynkoop-Green, director of the Bureau of Health Facilities Licensing, who instructed her staff to visit the program for a follow-up investigation. Wynkoop-Green said the private operation has an “above average” number of violations for a hospital.
Rivendell of Utah was ordered to close in May of 1997. Another program, called Copper Hills Youth Center, immediately opened in its place. Copper Hills is regarded by many to be the rebrand of Rivendell.
Lyn Duff is an American journalist who was sent to Rivendell in 1991 at age 15 because her mother found out she is a lesbian. On May 19, 1992, after 168 days of incarceration, Duff escaped from Rivendell and traveled to San Francisco, where she lived on the streets and in safe housesShe is a massive advocate for youth rights, and a staunch critic of the mental health treatment system.
No survivor testimonies have yet been found. If you attended Rivendell and would like to contribute a testimony of your experience, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
PANEL IS TOLD OF MINORS COMMITTED NEEDLESSLY (Deseret News, 7/21/1989)
How Voluntary Is the Voluntary Commitment of Minors? Disparities in the Treatment of Children and Adults Under New York’s Civil Commitment Law (by Samuel M. Leaf, 4/1/1996)
Mental Hell – How the American health-care system killed a 13-year-old girl (Salon, 10/3/1997)
Teen Behavior Programs in Spotlight (Associated Press, 1/19/1998)
INCIDENT PROMPTS PROBE OF PSYCHIATRIC FACILITY (Deseret News, 3/21/1996)