TeenLife Blog

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Is a Residential Treatment Center Right For Your Teen?

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residential treatment centers

Just about every high school student goes through some hard times, grappling with insecurity, anxiety, and relationship issues. For some teens, however, there is nothing standard about their adolescent challenges. When your student is more than moody -- when they are self-harming, sunk in depression, or abusing drugs, for example -- it is time to seek outside help.

There are a range of options available, from outpatient therapy to in-patient treatments. For the most serious cases, a residential treatment center might be the most appropriate option.

What is a residential treatment center?

A residential treatment center, or RTC, is an in-patient treatment facility that offers the highest level of clinical care. Programs are highly structured, integrating therapy, academics, and recreation in a safe environment. Medication monitoring and management are generally available. Students’ care is carefully coordinated and monitored; often family and group therapy are part of the protocol as well.

The length a student stays at an RTC varies depending on their particular needs, but stays from six to ten months are common.

How will I know my teen needs this level of care?

There are RTCs equipped to handle just about any sort of troubles a student might be facing: addiction, eating disorders, trauma, severe anxiety or depression, self-harm, personality or mood disorders. It may be time to consider an RTC when less intensive interventions have failed to produce meaningful change in a teen, or when initial testing and diagnosis indicates a severe level of need.

Teens who end up in residential treatment are not bad kids, emphasizes Judi Robinovitz, a certified educational planner who often works with families on residential therapeutic placements. They are, she said, good kids who are fighting with extremely challenging mental, social, or emotional issues, and need help to find their way out.

Because these choices can be both overwhelming and highly emotional for parents, it is essential that the decision to try an RTC be made in collaboration with trained behavioral, medical, and educational professionals.

How do I choose a residential treatment center?

Not all residential treatment options are created equal. There are no universal definitions for different kinds of facilities and no federal oversight; each state has its own set of standards and licensing requirements. The sad fact is that some unscrupulous people have, in the past, used these circumstances to take advantage of struggling families.

That said, there are plenty of reputable, professional, responsible facilities. Always ask potential RTCs about their license and accreditation, the credentials of their staff, and their standard practices for creating a therapeutic plan, advises the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information office.

It is also a wise idea to work with a consultant who specializes in residential treatment when choosing a center for your child.

“We visit these programs and schools nationally, on a regular basis, assessing all facets of their programming,” said Marcy Dorfman, a licensed clinical social worker who works with Robinovitz. “The internet is a scary route to make such a critical decision for a child or young adult.”

For any parent, the challenges of a struggling child can be painful and formidable. However, if you arm yourself with information and guidance, help can be found.