Are Therapeutic Boarding Schools Effective?

Why do people go to therapeutic boarding schools (TBS)? Are these residential treatment programs effective? Schools for troubled teens are designed to help students that are struggling through their adolescent years.

Many are afflicted with emotional, social and/or behavioral issues which can also cause poor academic performance.  Are therapeutic boarding schools effective?

 

Are you facing:

-Cell-phone addiction, video gaming obsession
-Failing in school, capable of passing
-Skipping classes, school refusal
-Teen defiance, rage, rebellious
Teen depression, anxiety, stress
-Teen OCD, RAD, ADHD
-Drifted from your family values
-Teenage substance use, drinking, vaping
-Withdrawn, isolation – not participating in family functions
-Changing peer groups
-Self-harm, suicide ideation
Stealing, lying, manipulating
-Property destruction, explosive behavior

 

Your teen has refused to see a therapist, outpatient treatment failed, the school setting is not working and maybe you even tried having them live with a relative. A short-term hospital stay was unsuccessful.

 

Have you reached a point where you are considering a boarding school for your teenager, however completely confused if it will be the right decision? Choosing the right therapeutic boarding school for your teen’s needs can be tedious work, however you are your child’s best advocate. 

 

If you are like most parents, you jumped online to be bombarded with many websites that only made this task more confusing — there are literally hundreds of places to send troubled teens — according to the internet, but how do you know what is right for your teen and family? Most importantly, how do you know if these schools are successful or effective?

 

Read: Where Can I Send My Troubled Teenager.

 

How Effective is a Therapeutic Boarding School?

 

Reality is, we have yet to see any third party research that isn’t funded by a school, program or organization that isn’t part of this industry. Another words, a study that wouldn’t have reason to be bias.

 

For example, although the wilderness therapy industry (OBH – Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare) has tried for several decades to fill research gaps to bolster its case of effectiveness and reduce the need for legislative intervention, science still does not support wilderness therapy. Therapeutic wilderness programs have no outcome data to support the effectiveness of these programs, and particularly the long-term effects of these interventions.

 

In 2019 OBH did it’s own research to say that wilderness therapy was effective and less expensive than traditional treatment such as short-term hospital stay or out-patient services. Although in this research the results claim it to be effective — it doesn’t mean it’s the solution, and as the research revealed, the average cost of the wilderness treatment is $27,426 (which is likely higher now) — not including the cost of equipment.

 

Interestingly this study was partially funded by National Association for Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP), which collects fees for membership from wilderness programs, as well as other teen help schools that want their logo on their websites and also partially funded by Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council (OBHC).

 

3 Ways to an Effective Therapeutic Boarding School

 

There can be success in therapeutic boarding schools and there absolutely has been happy endings. (Another words, they can be effective). This starts with a parent being diligent in doing their research and understanding they do have choices. Keep in mind, what may have failed for one family, could have been successful for another family.

The one absolute fact is that home life is not working, you have exhausted your local resources and typically when a parent decides it’s time for residential treatment, it’s when they realize they are out of options – as well as their teen is literally crying for help by their negative behavior and it’s important to keep them safe. In many cases, it’s not only the safety of the teen that is in crisis, but also the safety of the family.

 

1. Longevity. Although you might be starting this journey, therapeutic boarding schools have been around for a long time. Not only do you want a school that has a good reputation, when you find one that has had years (decades) of experience — and bonus points for low staff turn-over, this could be a good contender.

Have you selected a program that’s been around awhile, however started reading all these frightening websites or reviews?  It’s time to learn about deciphering the misinformation online.

 

2. Parents. You are not alone! If there is a therapeutic boarding school, residential treatment center or any type of program you are considering for your child and they won’t give you parent references — this is a red flag. 

Parents and parent references are the heart and soul of programs. You (mom and dad) need just as much support as your teen does. This experience is overwhelming. Only those that have walked in your shoes can actually understand and support you.

Prior selecting or enrolling in a program, ask the admissions director for parents to speak with — here are some questions to ask to help give you an idea of what a therapeutic school entails:

-Why did they have to send their teen to a program?
-Are they happy with the program?
-What was their trigger moment that made their decision?
-How long did their child attend the program?
-Why did they choose that particular program?
-What was their deciding factor on this program?
-Did they visit the program before placing their teen?
-How is their teen doing today? Do they consider it successful?
-How was the communication with the program?
-Did they provide transitional support after their teen graduated?
-Would they recommend the program to a friend or family?

A key question parents should ask is, if they could change one thing about the program to improve it, what would that be? It gives you room to find out a bit of negative. Usually not enough to change your mind, but helps you to go in — eyes wide open.

 

3. People. Who is the owner, director, staff — people working with your teen? It’s the people that make the therapeutic boarding school a success. It’s typically why when parents ask about programs that are owned by corporations — we pause, or shy away. When you are considering a program that is corporately owned, it can be more of a struggle to have things changed to meet your child’s needs. Whereas when working with privately owned programs — it only has to be approved through the owner/director. You’re usually a text message or email away.

All quality programs (privately owned or corporately owned) should be licensed and accredited – so you aren’t sacrificing by choosing a privately owned program.

It’s important to review their credentials, accreditations –– and ask about background checks of their staff. Again, about staff turn-over.

Effectiveness of a Therapeutic Boarding School

Finally, determining the effectiveness of a therapeutic boarding school has so many factors, but most importantly is THE FAMILY.  If you’re not planning to jump on board and be part of the program, then don’t waste your time or money.

Therapeutic boarding schools and programs are not only about the teenager – it’s about bringing the entire family back on a healthy path again. The family is broken right now. We’re not here to point fingers, we’re here to heal — get on a road to recovery.

There will be books to read, family therapy (virtual) and workshops to attend. Never doubt, this can be effective – it’s not easy, but it’s worth it!

 

Read: What is the Goal of Residential Treatment.

Read: 5 Benefits of a Boarding for Troubled Teens.

 

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If you’re considering a therapeutic boarding school for your difficult teenager, contact us for a free consultation.