10 Things to Look For in a Therapeutic Boarding School That You Probably Haven’t Thought About
As the parent of a troubled teen, you’ve been through a lot. You have probably been dealing with your teen’s therapist and teachers, school counselors and administrators, and maybe even lawyers and court officials. You’ve done everything you can to help your teen and to hold your family together. Now you’ve come to realize that sending your teen to a therapeutic boarding school is the best way to get him the help he needs.
Researching and deciding on a therapeutic boarding school is an overwhelming task. There are free services, such as HelpYourTeenNow, that can help you to navigate insurance and financing options, and guide you toward finding the best fit for your teen. But in the end, you need to make the final decision. How do you even know where to start as you research different programs? Here are a few things you’ll want to consider:
1. Therapy Program
First you’ll want to check out the school’s therapy program. A good therapeutic boarding school will offer individual therapy, as well as therapist-led group and family therapy. Ask how often students meet individually with therapists and in a group setting. Are there daily or regular evaluations of each teen’s behavior and progress? Find out how family therapy sessions are handled. Many schools use a secure online video chat service for parents who live at a distance. You’ll need to know how often you will be involved in family therapy sessions.
2. Treatment Specialties
Therapeutic boarding schools for troubled teens often specialize in treating certain issues. Discuss your teen’s diagnosis or behavioral issues with the school’s director to make sure they are experienced in treating teens with those specific problems. For example, some schools will treat students with drug addictions, and other schools will not enroll a student until he has completed an addiction program. Some schools will not take students who are unwilling to attend, or who exhibit violent behavior. Make sure you have the right fit for your teen’s issues.
Be sure to ask about the qualifications of the staff at the facility. Their therapists should be licensed and experienced in working with troubled teens. Ask if there is a medical doctor on staff to monitor any medical conditions and necessary medications. There should also be at least one registered nurse on duty at all times. The rest of the staff should be well-trained and experienced in working with troubled teens. Ask about the staff to student ratio. Teens with severe behavioral, mental, or emotional problems need to be closely supervised, and a smaller staff to student ratio is better.
4. Family Visits
You’ll also want to know if the school encourages family visits. Ask how often parents can visit. Do family visits begin with a therapy session? Find out if parents can participate with their teen in onsite activities. Where will you stay when you visit?
5. Follow-Up Care
It’s important to research and ask about what happens once your teen has completed the program. Both teens and parents need help as they transition back to living as a family again. Aftercare is critical. Is there an option to continue therapy with the therapist who treated your teen while at school? How often are therapy sessions offered and for how long? Is family therapy also part of the follow-up care? Some schools offer continued access to the teen’s therapist as well as the program director.
The best type of academic program for therapeutic schools is flexible and individualized to meet the needs of each student. Some teens are behind in credits and need to catch up to their grade. They may even need extra tutoring in certain subjects. Other students are academically gifted and can work ahead. Ask about classes at the school. Are they online courses with teacher assistance, or are there actual teacher-led classes, or both? Which would your teen prefer? Is extra tutoring available? Make sure the academic program is state accredited or that your teen’s home school will accept the credits earned and apply them toward graduation.
7. Program Structure
Search or ask for an example of the program’s daily schedules. Troubled teens generally respond better to routines. Find out about the daily and weekly schedule and consider how your teen will respond to the pace and structure of the program.
Make sure you understand the school’s discipline policies, and decide if you are comfortable with how the school disciplines students when they break the rules. Most schools emphasize the importance of accountability, and accepting the consequences of both good and bad choices. They offer rewards for good behavior and retract those rewards when students make poor behavioral choices.
Also ask about the program’s grounds for dismissal. In other words, where do they draw the line for unacceptable behavior? Find out how many teens leave school before completing the program and what percentage graduates from the program.
While most therapeutic boarding schools provide therapist-led group therapy, many offer other activities that help teens build a sense of community. Ask if teens are required to do chores. Are students involved in community projects? Are there social activities, team sports, or leadership training classes? Developing a sense of community helps teens to develop a sense of responsibility and learn about caring for and helping others.
Good health involves both the mind and the body, so a therapeutic boarding school should have physical activities as a part of its program. Some schools offer sports and fitness training. Others are situated in natural settings where students can enjoy activities such as hiking, swimming, kayaking, or skiing. Some schools offer enrichment activities such as art, music, or culinary arts. Although therapeutic boarding schools focus on helping teens improve their behavior, they don’t want their students to feel like they are being jailed or punished. Participating in extracurricular activities allows teens to relax, socialize, enjoy the outdoors, and just have some fun.
11. Mission Statement
Most therapeutic schools have a mission statement that describes their overall approach to helping teens in crisis. Therapy should focus on a comprehensive therapy program and compassionate care. The school’s objectives should match your own goals for your teen’s treatment. If the school has a spiritual element, you want to be sure that it aligns with your beliefs and will not make your teen uncomfortable with its teachings.
Once you have researched a school and talked with their staff, check out the school’s website. Read testimonials from parents and former students, and look at the photos of the facility. If possible, go to school and take a tour. Ask your teen’s therapist to look at what a school offers and give a recommendation. If your teen is open to the idea, discuss the program and take a tour together.
Making the Decision
You know the issues your teen has been dealing with, and you can tell the kind of program that feels right for your teen’s personality and problems. Once you have gathered all the information listed above, trust yourself to choose the therapeutic boarding school that offers the best care for your troubled teen.
If you still feel overwhelmed by all the options, contact HelpYourTeenNow, a free service that helps parents find the right therapy program for their troubled teens. Their staff of experienced advocates can help you sort through all the information from different schools and advise you on finding the right placement.