Are Therapeutic Boarding Schools the Best Option for Troubled Teens?

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therapeutic boarding schools

When behavior problems or mental health issues interfere with a teen’s academic progress they may benefit from a residential treatment program. Teen residential mental health programs provide both academic support and mental health treatment.

Residential mental health programs are specialized programs that help adolescents better manage their emotional challenges while moving forward scholastically. To achieve this, the teen receives a combination of psychological support as well as academic support.

A therapeutic boarding school is also a type of residential support for teens. These programs for troubled teens primarily focus on academic support and behavior, with less attention given to mental health challenges. Both types of programs have merits, so let’s take a look at both.

Treatment Options for Troubled Teens

For various reasons, a teen may struggle to find his or her footing in the traditional school environment. When they fall through the cracks academically, it can impact their behaviors and even lead to substance use or the possibility of dropping out of school.

Further, if a teen is experiencing a mental health challenge, such as depression or anxiety, or struggles with ADHD, they may benefit from a treatment setting that includes both psychiatric support and academic support.

Depending on the teen’s needs, there are two possible treatment options for a parent to consider: 

Residential Treatment

A residential mental health program provides the perfect blend of psychotherapy, school support, and family involvement to help a troubled teen get back on track. A residential mental health treatment program is understandably a big leap for parents to take, but may be the best therapeutic solution for their teen if all other attempts to help them have fallen short.

Residential treatment programs include the following elements:

  • Individual psychotherapy sessions. Often, behind troubled teen behavior lies an unresolved psychological issue or mental health disorder. The one-on-one counseling sessions help guide the teen toward examining emotional pain, possibly related to past trauma or abuse, loss of a loved one, divorce, or other negative life events. Utilizing evidence-based therapies, the therapist guides the teen in processing the emotions connected to the core issue, as well as shaping new positive thought-behavior patterns.
  • Group sessions. Teens are generally social beings, so allowing peers to gather in small groups and share their stories and challenges can help them bond while in treatment.
  • Family sessions. Family-focused therapy helps family members restore harmony in the family system. Parents are provided with information and tools to help them understand their role in the therapeutic process. Families are encouraged to cultivate more connected relationships through effective communication methods.
  • Experiential activities. Many teens are more open to the therapeutic process while engaged in movement, such as physical outdoor activities. Teens are receptive to participating in immersive group activities with peers, and that offers an opportunity to teach interpersonal and social skills.
  • Psychosocial skills. Teens are taught effective communication skills, as well as emotion regulation, anger management, and conflict resolution.
  • Medication management. For some teens, medication may be appropriate for managing a mental health disorder.
  • Substance use treatment. Teens who have developed a substance use problem can obtain a medical detox and addiction treatment counseling at some residential therapeutic boarding schools.

Therapeutic Boarding School

Therapeutic boarding schools offer a solution for parents whose adolescent seems to have lost their way, but may not have any diagnosed mental health issue. By the time a parent considers a boarding school they have usually exhausted all other schools, outpatient, and community support options.

The therapeutic boarding schoosl environment offers a structured and supportive setting for a teen to get more individualized instruction while being housed at the school. Without the daily distractions or aggravations that may cause a teenager to act out, they are able to focus attention on their schoolwork. This intensive setting can better address the adolescent’s unique needs, rather than attending a local private school while living at home.

Residential Mental Health Treatment vs. Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Key differences help distinguish these two treatment options for teens. Among the differences are:

Academic Support

Assisting teens with their academic needs is an intrinsic component of an adolescent residential program, whether it is a residential mental health program or a therapeutic boarding school. Students work with teachers or tutors to meet educational coursework goals and to hopefully rekindle an interest in learning. The teens are expected to establish goals and meet benchmarks while enrolled in the program.

Staff members are tasked with interfacing on a regular basis with the teen’s school through an academic liaison that is appointed through the school administration personnel. This partnership helps ensure that the student is maintaining their coursework while in treatment so they can continue to make academic progress.

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Generally, a therapeutic boarding school provides a more intensive focus on academics than does a residential treatment program. The residential treatment program provides academic support and tutoring, where a boarding school offers a more traditional academic setting.

Mental Health Treatment

Teens are increasingly struggling with unstable mental health. In particular, teen depression and anxiety are on the rise. Causes for the increase in mental health disorders among adolescents might include excessive exposure to social media or other tech addictions, anxiety related to academic pressure, instability in the family, being bullied, gender issues, or cultural stressors, to name a few. Some of the more common mental health challenges in teens include:

Teen Depression

A disturbing rise in teen suicides has drawn attention to teen depressive disorder. Among teen girls, about 20% have experienced a depressive episode. Debilitating depression can sideline a teen as they become more isolated. Symptoms of teen depression include:

  • Loss of interest in the activities usually enjoyed
  • Irritability, agitation, easily frustrated
  • More frequent mood swings
  • Angry outbursts
  • Fatigue, listlessness
  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Unreasonable feelings of guilt, shame, or worthlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • Sleep problems, change in sleep habits
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • The decline in academic performance
  • Loss of interest in appearance, neglecting hygiene
  • Skipping school
  • Change in eating habits, rapid weight gain or loss
  • Overly sensitive to criticism
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

Teen Anxiety

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 32% of teens aged 13-18 had experienced some form of an anxiety disorder. Further, the NIMH reports that female teens are more prone to anxiety than males (38% versus 26%), and that 8.3% of adolescents with an anxiety disorder suffer severe impairment in functioning. Symptoms of teen anxiety include:

  • Irrational feelings of worry, dread, and fear
  • Extreme irritability
  • Increase in mood swings
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle tension
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Trembling
  • Racing heart, palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Avoidant behaviors
  • Intense fear of rejection or public humiliation
  • Trouble concentrating

In general, a residential treatment program provides a much more intensive and tailored approach for teens with mental health disorders than therapeutic boarding schools. Residential mental health programs have psychiatrists and nurses on staff, whereas therapeutic boarding schools may only have a contractual relationship with these medical providers.

Treatment for Teens with Behavior Problems

Disruptive or defiant behaviors may pose a serious risk to teens going on to become involved in social deviance, substance abuse, or crime in the future. Some mental health disorders that feature behavior problems in adolescents include oppositional defiance disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Both treatment settings, the residential treatment center, and the therapeutic boarding schools provide excellent support for teens with behavior issues. A residential treatment center also has psychiatric support on-site.

About Oppositional Defiance Disorder

Oppositional defiance disorder (ODD) is often first identified in childhood. As the child gets older, the behaviors tend to become more disruptive. Symptoms of ODD persist for more that six months and include:

  • Hostility
  • Defiance
  • Rejection of authority
  • Stubbornness
  • Refusal to follow rules
  • Spitefulness
  • Verbal aggression
  • Negative attitude
  • Angry or aggressive outbursts
  • Argumentative, uncooperative

About ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobiological disorder that affects more than double the rate of boys versus girls. The disorder is usually detected in early childhood, and about 30% of those kids do outgrow it. The remainder will carry the disorder into the teen years, where the symptoms will be different from childhood ADHD. Symptoms of teen ADHD include:

  • Declining academic performance
  • Impulsivity
  • Boredom
  • Problems with social relationships
  • Restlessness
  • Works below potential
  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks, reading materials
  • Tends to give up, to quit before finishing things
  • Difficulty remembering assignments or responsibilities
  • Rushes through schoolwork
  • The trouble with the organization of tasks
  • Difficulty in test-taking
  • Easily distracted
  • Engages in risky behaviors
  • Engages in sexual activity at an early age
  • Substance abuse

How a Residential Treatment Helps Teens with Low Self-Esteem

One trait that runs through the most common teen mental health issues is low self-esteem. Some teens just feel they do not measure up or fit in with their peers. Some of the common factors that might contribute to low self-esteem include doing poorly in school, struggling socially, sensitivity about socioeconomic status, negative body image, persistent negative thought patterns, or a history of abuse or neglect. All of these factors influence the way a teen feels about him or her self.

Generally, when a teen suffers from low self-esteem they tend to avoid situations that may introduce the possibility of failure or be ridiculed. Identifying low self-esteem in an adolescent is fairly straightforward. Some of the signs a teen has low self-esteem might include:

  • Isolating behaviors
  • Uses body language like slouching that signals low self-esteem
  • Excessive bragging
  • Disordered eating habits
  • Negative tone and attitude when discussing others
  • Few friends has trouble maintaining friendships
  • Negative talk, a defeatist attitude
  • Irrational feelings of guilt or shame
  • Constantly apologizing
  • Prefers the fantasy world, excessive video gaming
  • Avoids competition, doesn’t go out for extracurricular activities

A residential treatment setting can help teens that seem to struggle with low self-esteem. Through participation in therapy, individualized tutoring, family participation, and team-building activities, teens find their strengths and learn to cultivate healthy relationships, which enhances self-image.

BNI Treatment Centers a Leading Residential Mental Health Program Los Angeles

BNI Treatment Centers is a psychiatrist-owned and operated residential treatment center in California. BNI Treatment provides academic support and comprehensive mental health treatment for struggling adolescents. BNI Treatment helps teens develop their emotional, intellectual, and social skills within a nurturing and supportive environment. Our program connects well with teens, offering activities that they can relate to and truly enjoy with others as they build new social skills and friendships. For more information about BNI Treatment Center, please call us today at (888) 522-1504.

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