Aspen Marketing -- Misuse of Outcome Studies
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Aspen, to its great credit, commissioned an extensive outcome study blanketing its schools, excluding its wilderness programs. A problem arises when the study is used to convince others of the effectiveness of one school or treatment center, ignoring the fact that the results of many schools have been lumped together.
Ellen Behrens, Ph.D. conducted the study. Dr. Behrens is well known to us at FamilyLight sm. We have utmost confidence in her competence and integrity. To all appearances the study was intended to address and counteract the impact of prior research that indicated that residential treatment is no more effective than outpatient treatment. Apparently a parallel design was used so the comparison to the earlier research would be "apples to apples" and “oranges to oranges” and not “apples to oranges.”
If the purpose had been to best document long term
effectiveness of the schools and treatment centers at issue, we can
think of various designs that would have yielded higher powered results.
But that is not a criticism.
The purpose appeared to be to provide a strong basis for comparison to
the earlier research, a purpose well served with the design followed
and, we believe, the study itself served that purpose extremely well.
So far, kudos to
Our problem is not with the study itself or with the
result for the purpose intended. So
far we agree. Our
problem is with the uses to which Aspen’s marketing effort has applied
the results of the study. In
That is a general problem. We are specifically disturbed by the use of the study on the website of Turn-About Ranch (as of March, 2010). This is typically a 100 day program compared to all of the others which were intended to serve clients primarily (and in most cases only) in much longer term stays. To suggest that this study addresses success specifically at Turn-About Ranch in any meaningful way is simply misleading. That is the worst example. But when we have heard the study described at conferences, the point was made with some emphasis that it does not document success in ANY specific treatment program.
Remember: The point of the study was to demonstrate that for certain populations in residential treatment in general – not enrollment in any particular school – had an impact greater than home based family treatment. This was an “apples to apples” and "oranges to oranges" comparison to an earlier study suggesting that home based family treatment yielded superior outcomes to residential treatment.
On that point, the results are legitimate and convincing. There are very legitimate questions about whether the reporting methods of either the Aspen study or the study (ies) it was meant to refute produced reliable outcome data for any program or group of programs. What it did reliably and factually was to negate the conclusion of the prior studies claiming that outpatient work produces better results than residential.Clever wording has, in general, avoided making objectively false claims in writing or on the web, while leading unsophisticated readers to conclusions not supported by the study. However, we had occasion to bring to Aspen executives an incident in which the then admission director (now former admission director) represented the study as an outcome study specifically about Turn-About Ranch, claiming the percentages of young people functioning better a year later were specifically results of Turn-About Ranch. That was outright falsehood. We do not claim that even
Navigating the Aspen Marketing article
Too often we hear of clinicians advising parents that sending their child to a therapeutic program away from home is only a good idea if it is an Aspen program. Clinicians and other referring professionals who give that advice are likely falling victim to . . . (more)
2. Web Advertising.
further example of where we would like to see improvement at Aspen/
CRC Health Group involves their
web advertising. We saw temporary
improvement about the time we previously called public attention to
this, but it appears the problem is back, or maybe it never left and we
just missed it. (more)
3. Quid pro quo marketing. Quid pro quo marketing is providing some incentive, often an item of value in exchange for business. It is not like the “cents off” coupon from your neighborhood grocery store; it is more like paying someone who appears to be a neutral source to tell you that is the best grocery store in town. We are not accusing Aspen or CRC Health Group of actual payoffs or referral fees to educational consultants. We will let you decide whether or not what we describe crosses any troubling lines. (more)
Aspen, to its great credit, commissioned an extensive outcome study blanketing its schools, excluding its wilderness programs. The problem arises when the study is used to convince others of the effectiveness of one school or treatment center, ignoring the fact that the results of many schools have been lumped together. (more)
a person is referred to an Aspen school or program, upon completion of
Feedback is invited. We will publish selected feedback. Email FamilyLightResponse@yahoo.com
Disclaimer: No program review, no matter how positive, is a blanket endorsement. No criticism is a blanket condemnation. When we express our level of confidence in a school or program, that is our subjective opinion with which others might reasonably disagree. When we assert something as fact, we have done our best to be accurate, but we cannot guarantee that all of our information is accurate and up to date. When we address compliance with our guidelines, you need to remember that these are only OUR guidelines -- not guidelines from an official source. We have also set the bar very high, and do not expect any school or program to be in total compliance. It is not appropriate to draw a conclusion of impropriety (or even failure to live up to conventional wisdom) from our lack of confidence in a school or program or from less than perfect conformity to our guidelines. Some will say we expect too much. Readers are responsible for verifying accuracy of information supplied here prior to acting upon it. We are not responsible for inaccuracies.
Last revised April 14, 2010; minor corrections 5-27-2010
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