Debunking the Myths About Therapeutic Boarding Schools for Troubled Teens

What are therapeutic boarding schools?

Therapeutic boarding schools are often confused with other forms of treatment such as a residential treatment center (RTC) but there are important differences. Unlike facilities primarily focused on treating issues such as substance abuse to sometimes excluding related issues that contributed to the problems with struggling teens, a therapeutic school provides treatment in a more nurturing, supportive atmosphere conducive to healing.

Therapeutic boarding schools are intended to serve multiple purposes and offer more achievable benefits, including most of the following:

  • They can help teens with failing grades and other academic challenges improve their scholastic standings to get back on track for graduation.
  • They can help troubled teens with behavior modification approaches to managing stress and anger.
  • They can offer spiritually-based guidance and treatment modalities to improve healthy communication and other life skills.

Therapeutic boarding schools may include spiritually-connected schools such as Christian boarding schools or reflecting other faiths.

Therapeutic boarding schools may be academically accredited by the National Independent Private Schools Association as well as the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP), a non-profit organization of nationally-accredited or state-licensed therapeutic programs.

Accreditation is seldom awarded to groups claiming to be “wilderness” or “boot camps’ or following other more draconian approaches. Therefore, parents need to be cautious and educate themselves about the differences in what they and their teen can expect in the kinds and success of programs when considering the options for their teen.

What therapeutic boarding schools are not:

A therapeutic boarding school has nothing in common with the following types of programs which have come under criticism for being harsh, or even punitive, as well as largely ineffective in achieving long-term improvement results.

  • Residential treatment center (RTC) – while these may have a valid place in a troubled teen’s treatment, they may not provide the same levels of personalized and caring services as therapeutic facilities.
  • “Wilderness camps”
  • “Boot camps”

A reputable therapeutic boarding school has nothing in common with boot camps or other extreme programs, but instead offers pro-active and supportive programs designed to encourage teens to heal and take charge of their lives.

Other myths about therapeutic boarding schools

Outdated prejudices and misconceptions can hinder parents’ decisions to seek the best help for their children. Here are some of the more common fallacies:

My teen will feel as if he or she has been abandoned

While some parents feel guilty about even thinking about a boarding school or that they’ve somehow failed as parents, the truth is that while teens may not welcome the more controlled environment and may be angry at first, you – and they – know that you are getting him or her the best possible help to ensure future success in life.

A boarding school will be so strict that my child won’t be allowed to have fun

While a good school will have rules, curfews and other high academic and related standards, “experiential therapy” is an important component of a good school and which may involved activities such as skiing, hiking, weightlifting or kayaking. Not only are these enjoyable and physically healthy but they help teens burn off excess energy while building self-esteem and positively impacting a teen’s recovery.

Therapeutic boarding schools change behavior through punishment and other harsh methods

Thanks to great strides made in adolescent psychotherapy and other behavioral, rehabilitation and medical areas, troubled teens today are able to get the help they need without resorting to harsh methods or tearing apart families as has happened in some “boot camp” or similar “tough-love” organizations. Effective, innovative programs now exist to help out-of-control teens and their families overcome struggles with anger, substance abuse or other destructive behaviors. Teens who now enter therapeutic boarding schools can expect to be welcomed by faculty and staff as respected and valued individuals in search of improving their lives.

Parents who enroll their children in therapeutic boarding schools are bad parents

While acknowledging the strong influence that parents can have over their children, there are also many diverse factors that affect teens’ choices, many of which are beyond the parental control. Parents need to remember that they have done their best to cope with a teen’s behavior issues and will continue to do what’s in their child’s best interests. Getting the right help for your teen is one of the most wonderful acts of love you can do for him or her.

A boarding school won’t let me visit my teen

If parents are already psychologically isolated from their teen, the fear of further separation can seem overwhelming. It’s true that many schools limit phone calls or visits during the period immediately following initial entry to give your teen time to adjust to new surroundings, people and schedules. Later on, visits and phone calls from family are not only encouraged but in some cases, required for successful treatment. Correspondence by mail is almost always permitted, even in the very beginning.

Something to keep in mind

Remember that there are degrees of excellence in therapeutic boarding schools as with any other institution. Some may be a better fit for your teen’s unique needs than others, so research thoroughly before deciding.  If you would like to skip the research and instead get three recommendations that are suited for your child, choose the Teen Treatment Programs Recommendations option on the services page.  In future blogs we’ll discuss the benefits of a good therapeutic school as well as what to look for when making this important choice.

If you would like to know more about therapeutic boarding school and other residential programs for troubled teens, please contact a family counselor at Zion Educational Systems for guidance.  To get started click the button below!

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