Therapeutic Boarding Schools Not the Best Option for a Troubled Teen
Table of Contents
When behavior problems or mental health issues interfere with a teen’s academic progress, he or she may benefit from a residential program that will help them get back on track. Here we compare two treatment options: residential treatment centers and therapeutic boarding schools.
Residential treatment centers offer specialized programs that help adolescents better manage their emotional challenges while moving forward scholastically. To achieve this, the teen receives intensive psychological support as well as academic support.
A therapeutic boarding school is also a type of residential support for teens. These programs primarily focus on academic support and behavior, providing minimal attention to mental health. Read on to learn more about these two treatment options for troubled teens.
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, it can negatively impact their behaviors and even lead to substance use or the possibility of quitting school.
Depending on the teen’s unique needs, there are two treatment options for parents to consider:
Residential Treatment Centers. A residential mental health program provides a blend of psychotherapy, school support, and family involvement to help a troubled teen get back on track. A residential mental health treatment program is 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 the 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. By the time a parent considers a boarding school they have usually exhausted all other schools, outpatient, and community support options.
The therapeutic boarding school environment offers a structured and supportive setting for a teen to get more individualized instruction while residing at the school. There are, however, shortcomings to consider. These include:
- Insurance doesn’t cover the costs of the boarding school.
- Given their secluded location, the available staff is often inexperienced.
- Less frequent therapy and psychiatry sessions.
- A larger population of children can lead to difficulty in proper supervision.
- They can utilize harsh disciplinary approaches with little oversight.
- The long absence from home makes it more difficult for teens to readjust to family life.
Residential Mental Health Treatment vs. Therapeutic Boarding Schools
Let’s consider some key differences that help to distinguish these two treatment options for teens. Among the differences are:
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 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 by 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.
Generally, a therapeutic boarding school provides a more intensive focus on academics than a residential treatment program. The residential treatment program provides academic support and tutoring during their stay at the center, whereas a boarding school offers a more traditional academic setting lasting the duration of a school year or longer.
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.
A residential treatment center for teens will provide more comprehensive mental health interventions, compared with a therapeutic boarding school. The residential treatment center offers:
- Ongoing mental health assessments and diagnostics.
- Multiple hours of therapy per day, and individual therapy sessions per week.
- Psychiatrists and licensed clinicians on site.
- Holistic and experiential activities are included in the weekly schedule.
Another advantage of the residential treatment center versus a therapeutic boarding school is that the teens are not away from their home and families for such a long time. Sending an adolescent to boarding school for an entire year can be destabilizing for them, making it much more difficult to transition back to living in the home environment.
The most common mental health disorders afflicting teens today include:
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.
- 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.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 32% of teens aged 13-18 had experienced some form of 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.
- Muscle tension.
- Gastrointestinal distress.
- Racing heart, palpitations.
- Avoidant behaviors.
- Intense fear of rejection or public humiliation.
- Trouble concentrating.
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.
- Problems with social relationships.
- Works below potential.
- Difficulty concentrating on tasks, and reading materials.
- Tends to give up, to quit before finishing things.
- Difficulty remembering assignments or responsibilities.
- Rushes through schoolwork.
- 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.
Low Self Esteem
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 herself. Some signs a teen has low self-esteem 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, and excessive video gaming.
- Avoids competition, and doesn’t go out for extracurricular activities.
For teens with a mental health challenge, and possibly a co-occurring substance use disorder, the residential treatment center is the appropriate treatment setting.
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.