How to Choose the Best Therapeutic Boarding School for your Child

Often parents contact me wanting to know how they can locate the best therapeutic boarding school for their child. . What’s interesting is that more often than not- my response is that a therapeutic boarding school is not the best fit.  There is a methodology to determining the best fit which was born out of my doctoral level clinical training and 28 years’ experience working with adolescent in residential treatment.

At a high level, the first step is to determine if a therapeutic boarding school is appropriate is to determine the student’s commitment to treatment.  For example, if the student’s issues involve marijuana use, I ask the parents, “What does he/she say about continued marijuana use?”

I one case, the student’s response may be, “I now realize that smoking pot is bad for me.  It has resulted in lower grades, decreased motivation, and it’s keeping me from learning skills to make me feel better.  I want to be done with it, but it’s hard to stay away because my entire peer group smokes pot.”  For this individual, I would agree with the parent that a therapeutic boarding school may indeed be the best option.  I would then work with the parent to locate the best program based on a range of factors including treatment focus, demographics (gender, ages accepted, proximity), and matching student interests with activities offered.

In another case, the student’s response may be, “Mom and dad, you guys just aren’t up with the times.  Weed is an herb, and it’s all natural.  How can anything natural be bad for you?  Heck it’s legal in many states now.  I’ve done my research, and I’m not giving it up.”  For this student, a therapeutic boarding school may not be the best choice.  I would most likely recommend a wilderness based program or working ranch milieu.  This type of milieu is conducive to active participation, as an inter-dependent community is formed with common goals.

My fear of sending a student in the second example to a therapeutic boarding school is that the level of treatment offered is just not high enough.  This student needs a corrective experience to turn them around psychologically first- then and only then should the lower level intervention be attempted.

Some therapeutic boarding schools actually require wilderness therapy first.  A second option for this child would be a residential treatment center (RTC).  This treatment format may be appropriate, but I would look at several factors first.  I tend to recommend RTC’s where there is reason to believe there is a biological basis for the problematic behaviors.  This can include a primary diagnosis of bipolar disorder, major depression, a thought disorder, or another issues that need to be ruled out.  Parents of adopted children where little is known about the birth parents- or adopted children where the mother was involved with substances- often need an RTC level focus.

I titled this post, “How to Choose the Best Therapeutic Boarding School for your Child” because the term “Therapeutic Boarding School” is so frequently used it often describes something not applicable to the student in which services are being sought.  In fact, wilderness programs and RTC’s frequently set up landing pages for this term when in fact the types of clients appropriate for these programs can differ drastically.  This is done because of the vast numbers of potential clients that search online not knowing the best type of treatment for their child.

I attended an, “American Psychological Association Approved” program for my doctorate.  However, even though my school used a coursework recommended by our professional association, I never took a class on determining the right level of residential treatment for a teenager.  In fact, this concept was never mentioned in any of my 5 years of doctoral training or 2 years of post-doctoral neuropsychological training.  Even if it was, the treatment landscape has changed so dramatically in the past 15 years the information would no longer be relevant to today’s treatment options.

Simply put, the level of complexity needed to place your child in the best facility possible is not something a parent can reasonably do on their own.  If you need help determining the next steps, please call me directly at 813-454-1050.