– THERAPUTIC BOARDING SCHOOLS –
Therapeutic Boarding Schools
Residential Treatment Centers
There are times when a young person’s emotional and/or behavioral problems do not respond to local, community-based treatment. When the student’s problems are very severe, such as when the child or teen is absolutely refusing to go to school or is engaging in dangerous behavior, parents will sometimes consider having their child attend a residential therapeutic school.
There are two main types of therapeutic residential schools: therapeutic boarding schools and residential treatment centers. Both typically combine an academic curriculum with various types of therapy, and the opportunity to have psychiatric medications assessed and monitored. A range of recreational activities is also typically offered.
It is important to keep in mind that most mental health professionals don’t have intimate knowledge of the range of therapeutic boarding schools, residential treatment centers and other types of specialized residential programs that are available to children and teens. And, while many of the programs might be very good options for young people, in general, what’s most important is to find the program that fits well with your child’s specific needs.
Here are some of the things to keep in mind when considering a boarding or residential program for your son or daughter:
- The school’s mission and target population: Schools have different missions. For example, some specialize in working with students who have struggled with chemical dependency; some specialize in working with students with a particular type of mental health diagnosis, such as obsessive compulsive disorder and related anxiety disorders; some specialize in working with students with severe psychiatric illness (such as psychosis); some specialize in working with students recovering from chemical dependency; and so forth. It is important to match a student’s needs with a school that addresses these needs.
- The student profile: Are the students your child’s age? Do they have similar problems, or are their problems different? What is the intellectual level of the students; is it comparable to that of your child?
- The level of containment: Does your child pose a risk of running away? If so, he or she may need a program small enough, contained enough and/or staffed enough to keep your child safe.
- The ability to manage a child’s risk of self-harm: Is the program sufficiently prepared to manage this? Do they have sufficient staffing? Sufficient experience and expertise?
- Schooling and academic programming: Do the classrooms resemble a traditional classroom? Are they taught by teachers, supplemented with textbooks; or are the students taught individually and via online programming? Does your child have learning differences in addition to emotional and/or behavioral problems? Does your child need academic personnel at the therapeutic school who are able to address these learning differences? Does the school offer Honors and AP classes?
- Family involvement: While the vast majority of therapeutic schools offer family therapy (in addition to individual therapy and group therapy), not all do, and it is important to consider this issue, including how much and what types of family therapy and parent support are offered. Does the program offer telephonic or videoconferencing for the family therapy? Does the program require that the parents attend on-campus family therapy sessions or family programming?
- Frequency and intensity of therapy: Therapeutic schools offer varying amounts of treatment. For example, some have once weekly group therapy, and some may have up to eight or more groups per week.
- Types of therapy: Sometimes a student’s problems would benefit more from one type of therapy than another, for example, some may have dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), some may have eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR), etc. It is worthwhile to understand the student’s issues and match these to a program that has the therapeutic expertise that is called for.
- Special interests: Some students have special interests, such as in a sport or in a certain type of art form (e.g., the visual arts, performing arts, musical instruments, etc.) Schools vary in their capacity to support these interests. For example, some schools have interscholastic sports teams, while others may only have intramural sports.
- Dietary restrictions: Do you need to consider dietary restrictions, such as vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, kosher, halal, diabetic, etc.?
- Psychiatric Expertise: Virtually all therapeutic schools will have a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner involved with the program. However, some schools have more intense involvement than others, and, therefore, it is worthwhile to take this into account when considering a program for your son or daughter.
- Cost: Schools vary in the terms of their price points, and this can often be a significant consideration for parents.
Short-term Inpatient Assessment Programs, Short-term Intensive Inpatient Treatment Programs, Wilderness Therapy Programs: As even a therapeutic school requires a certain degree of stability and focus in order for a student to be successful, some children and teens may benefit from a short-term intervention designed to stabilize them prior to going to a residential therapeutic school. Sometimes the child or teen can garner so much benefit from a short-term intervention that they are able to move forward in a healthy way, and perhaps return home and to their local school without needing to go to a therapeutic residential school. Other children and teens may continue to need the support and services of a longer term residential therapeutic school. These issues, and the several considerations outlined above, are some of the many concerns that Next Steps addresses when exploring the options for a child or teen.