Therapeutic boarding schools are 6-18 month residential programs where teenagers can go to live in a dorm-like environment — and sometimes a home-like environment — much like residential academic boarding schools. These programs offer a highly-structured environment where students can devote their time and energy to catching up on school, recovering necessary credits, and even possibly graduating high school or achieving a GED certificate. This aspect is no different from a regular boarding school. However, therapeutic boarding schools have a different approach and focus with regard to the daily activities in which students participate.
Families often don’t understand what exactly Therapeutic Boarding Schools do to help struggling teenagers, or why such programs exist, or how these programs operate differently from a normal residential academically-focused boarding school. In our phone conversations with families, parents regularly ask us, "Does my teen even need a program like this?"
Keep in mind that Therapeutic Boarding Schools are not for everyone. They play a specific part in the mental and behavioral health world, but for some teenagers, they play a vital role in the disruption of unhealthy and self-destructive behaviors. Therapeutic boarding schools are generally run by experts who have been working with teenagers for years, and they exist to help teenagers and their families live healthier lives physically, mentally, and spiritually.
The Difference Between Therapeutic Boarding Schools and Academic Boarding Schools
The difference lies in the overall focus of the program. Residential boarding schools are focused on academics and a structured environment built for success, while therapeutic boarding schools tend to take a more holistic approach to the overall mental and behavioral health of teens and their families. These kinds of schools add a layer of therapy for teens who are struggling with mental and behavioral issues such as anger, addictions, low self-esteem, attachment disorders, cutting, and depression. The fact that the program is away from home may help to disrupt the negative patterns your teenager may have fallen into.
The therapeutic program usually includes a full mental and behavioral treatment plan devised by a team of Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC, LCPC), Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW), and Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT). Students in a therapeutic boarding school participate in regular one-on-one therapy sessions, group sessions, sometimes equine therapy, and they follow along a normalized plan for success that demonstrates a marked change in behavior, thoughts, and maturity from the time the student enters the program.
However, we should note that this may not always be the case. Some programs use the term "therapeutic" loosely in their marketing materials (sometimes a little too loosely). They consider the structure and daily activities in which the students participate as therapeutic in nature, which is not untrue. Since not all states have a specific designation for "Therapeutic Boarding Schools", some schools are not required to have a licensed therapist as part of their program. In any case, make sure do your homework and ask hard questions. We’re aware of some great "therapeutic" emotional growth programs without licensed clinical professionals. Not having clinical staff often makes the overall cost of these schools significantly lower, but we suggest that you make sure that the program has a strong reputation and also some sort of oversight body in place before you place your teenager. You also will need to take into account the level of care your teenager actually needs.
A Holistic Approach to Activities
Therapeutic boarding schools are also differentiated by the types of activities in which students regularly participate. Every planned activity is specifically devoted to the health and well-being of your teenager. Whether it be team sports, hiking, camping, rock-climbing and rappelling, horseback riding, or even just simple group games where kids can have fun, these activities help kids practice a positive, healthy, alternative way of life to teens who have become wrapped up in their self-destructive thoughts and behaviors.
Expert Assistance to Families Who Are Watching Their Teen Spiral Out of Control
Therapeutic boarding schools also provide assistance to families who are struggling with their teenager by offering regular parenting and family seminars, where parents can get a chance to gain some insight into the reasons behind their teenager’s behavior. We’ll tell you now, the reasons are probably not what you expect. Thankfully, therapeutic boarding schools typically employ experts who have been working with families and their teenagers for years, if not decades. These seminars offer a chance for families to come together, reconcile with each other and regain respect for one another, and then develop a plan for action when their teen returns home.
Why Choose a Therapeutic Boarding School for Your Teen?
If your teenager seems to be struggling with self-destructive or out of control behavior such as drug or alcohol addiction, promiscuity, anger, rage, running away, compulsive lying and deception, compulsive eating issues, hoarding, cutting, anxiety, or depression, without hope of recovery, then a therapeutic boarding school may be the best chance for healing in your teenager’s life. Some programs can also address diagnosed mental health conditions such as PTSD, OCD, ODD, ADD, ADHD, and attachment disorders.
Let Us Help You Find a Therapeutic Boarding School
Not all therapeutic boarding schools are created equal! If you are searching for a high quality, safe, potentially appropriate therapeutic boarding school for your struggling teenage girl or boy that you can afford, we can help you. With over 10 years of experience in the therapeutic boarding school industry, we have helped hundreds of parents connect with programs, and we work every day to bring help and hope to families who are watching their teenager spiral out of control. Our services are provided at no cost to you and absolutely zero obligation. Do not hesitate to contact us today!
Photo Courtesy of Reflections Academy, a therapeutic boarding school for girls in Thompson Falls, MT