Don’t accuse the Ranch of not living up to its name: housed on a 20,000-acre farm in Nunnelly (roughly an hour away from Nashville), this rustic, trauma-focused facility offers urban dwellers a chance to clean up among a wide variety of cows, horses, donkeys, and other four-legged friends. Despite its no-frills approach, the rehab tends to focus on the warm and fuzzy side of things, with an emphasis on holistic, spiritual, and Native American philosophies. (Clients are given a copy of the Oprah-approved bestseller The Four Agreements as well as the traditional Big Book of AA).
Men and women are strictly segregated in ranch-style houses for between eight and 12 residents that are roughly five miles apart. And there’s not a maid in sight; clients are required to cook all their own meals, order all the ingredients and do all the cleaning up afterwards.
Days begin at 7am sharp with breakfast and chores, followed by 8 a.m. group meetings where clients are encouraged to air their grievances, needs and air their “beefs.” Evenings consist of groups, in-house AA meetings and one outside meeting a week (the closest one is 40 minutes away).
TV is restricted to Saturday and Sunday nights only, but supervisors are surprisingly permissive about Netflix requests (The Big Lebowski and Blow have both passed muster). While the facility is ringed by a screened-in porch, clients are forced to trek to a backyard ditch commonly referred to as the “trenches” to smoke—rain or shine. Electronic devices of all kinds are verboten and clients are allowed only 20 minutes of phone time a day. For the most part, reports one recent alumni, “There really is nothing to do here except examine your own crap—if you’re here, you’re here for therapy.”
Luckily, treatment at the facility is considered top-notch. One of the Ranch’s oddly unique approaches is establishing “contracts” with clients depending on their particular issues (attention-seekers are allowed to utter ten sentences a day, codependents are only permitted to use “I” statements, clients who are deemed "too self-sufficient” are required to keep their hands in their pockets and ask for help).
And then there’s “Gump Day,” a monthly exercise inspired by a scene in Forest Gump, where clients toss rocks at pictures they’ve drawn of past traumatic events. On “Adventure Wednesdays,” clients sweat it out in a sweat lodge, canoe down the Piney River, jump out of high barns, find their way through mazes blindfolded, climb indoor rock walls and go on overnight “vision quests” (“stargazing” according to one alum).
For an extra charge, the Ranch offers an additional array of services including hypnosis, acupuncture and sessions with grief or trauma therapists. But the extras may not be required. The vibe here may be a bit weird for some, but according to one grad, the therapeutic value of the Ranch’s basic process groups was “way beyond” the quality of treatment she received at tonier treatment centers.
There’s no doubt that this isn’t a place for everyone. In general, The Ranch is more interested in making clients uncomfortable than comfortable, so luxury-minded urbanites should probably look elsewhere. But the rehab's advocates insist that its tough-love approach is far more effective in the long run—even if a chef and a shiatsu massage sure sound a lot more appealing than slaving over a stove and throwing rocks at pictures of your ex.