Having personally witnessed the struggles of battling teen alcohol and drug addiction in my own extended family, I understand first-hand that successful substance abuse treatment involves many factors. Of course, it is imperative that each teen’s treatment plan is not only individualized to their specific needs, but also involves a great deal of individual and group therapy, support by the entire family, a long-term plan involving the community, and the right residential treatment center.
Russ Pryor, Associate Executive Director of Uinta Academy and LCSW, explains, “Most teens are struggling with identity and are trying to fit in. Teens who are typically experimenting with addictive substances are spending time with other peers participating in the same negative behaviors. One of the biggest factors in treating a teen’s substance abuse problem is by creating a ‘sober support team’ that includes parents, friends, and programs in the community along with residential treatment.”
What to Look for When Choosing a Residential Treatment Center
Choosing the right residential treatment program will likely be one of the most difficult decisions a family has to make on behalf of their child. It has significant implications not only in the immediate future, but also long into adulthood. Finding the right match can be daunting for parents, given the many options and subtle differences in facilities, mission, and areas of specialty.
It is important for parents to understand that the focus of residential treatment centers is to offer both clinical and behavioral support—that substance abuse is not usually the root problem. These facilities generally treat adolescents with serious psychological and behavioral problems in which they use illegal substances as a coping mechanism. Programs are typically highly structured, offering a variety of treatment options, but typically include recreational activities and sometimes academics. With less than 30 students, smaller residential programs are also an option for teens; they offer a close-knit, family-like setting and generally incorporate life skills training.
Because there are a plethora of residential treatment centers across the country, Kari Beserra, Vice President of Justice Resource Institute and LMHC, explains that when looking for a residential treatment center, it is important for parents to, “Tour the facility, interview the staff, find out each clinician’s role, and ask what support services are offered beyond their stay. It should also feel like they are providing teens with a homelike environment, not just a treatment center.”
Jeffrey Brain, MA, CTS, CEP of The Family Foundation School, who has visited more than 100 boarding and therapeutic programs, has developed a comprehensive list of things parents should consider when looking for the right residential treatment center.
Some of his recommendations include:
- Parents need to be open-minded. Finding the right fit may require parents to abandon their understanding of “what works” in order to find a place that will foster their teen’s success.
- Make sure you understand their treatment philosophy. What is their mission, focus, and approach?
- Review the credentials of the staff and faculty. How well versed and qualified are they? Has anyone on the staff personally experienced addiction and recovery for teens to relate?
- Insist on interviewing present and past teen residents—alone. Allowing parents to talk to other teen participants provides honest, peer-to-peer insight, and also shows there is nothing to hide. Also, secure parent references of both current and program alumni.
- Ask admissions staff what their strengths are, as well as, their weaknesses. All programs will promote their strengths, but good programs should also be willing to tell you what they are working on to make improvements. That shows honesty and builds trust.
- Spend time just observing. Take some time to just hang out—observe the campus. Watch students change classes and engage in recreational activities to get an overall feel for the treatment setting.
- Check to see if the program is appropriately accredited or licensed and if it belongs to any professional organizations that give them validity.
- Request “transparency” which allows for unscheduled visits and unannounced check-ins. Even if your child is not permitted to see family for a period of time, you should still be able to observe what’s going on.
- Consider innovative and progressive treatment programs such as outdoor therapeutic or wilderness therapy programs.
- Be sure to discuss how the program develops a teen’s aftercare plan once on-site treatment ends.
Aftercare is Extremely Important
Aftercare is extremely important. Beserra explains, “It is one thing that sets our program apart. We take pride in our program’s commitment to the greater wellness of our teen residents who spend anywhere from 9 to 12 months in-house. Beyond the clinical treatment they receive, rehabilitation continues with home visits and day-to-day intervention with family and community resources.”
Beserra continues, “At Justice Resource Institute, we are devoted to a teen’s long-term success; we want them to feel like they are in a safe, comfortable environment while here, but also when they return to their everyday life. We provide the skills necessary for our teens to manage their stress and triggers, as well as make healthy decisions, and look positively to their future.”
Although not primarily a substance abuse treatment center, Uinta Academy is a great example of an innovative treatment program. Uinta Academy uses equine assisted therapy to teach young girls struggling with anxiety and depression, many with chemical dependencies, how to build self-esteem and independence that fosters recovery.
It is profoundly fascinating how attachment therapy through horsemanship works. At Uinta, girls are given their own horse to take care of throughout their stay. They have to groom and feed it daily, but they are never permitted to ride their horse. Pryor explains, “It is about relationship building, not about a dominant relationship over the horse. Girls do, however, get to ride once a week with our riding horses in an arena and on mountain trails, which are not at the Uinta campus in the summer.“
Pryor adds, “Humans communicate through speech, horses through body language. By taking on the responsibility of caring for a horse, our girls learn a lot about communication, trust, reciprocity, tolerance, and showing concern.”
Again, aftercare at Uinta Academy is also important. Uinta takes distinctive steps to its therapeutic plan, with girls spending 12 to 14 months in treatment, and 4 months in a transitional residence where they go home 7 - 10 days a month and are gradually reintroduced to their everyday environment.
There are many outstanding residential treatment centers for teens. Knowing what to look for and discovering what sets them apart will lead you to the right facility where your teen will prevail.
This article was originally published in Life with Teens Magazine Summer 2014. Read the entire issue here!