therapeutic schoolsParents who are at their wits end with their troubled or troublesome child often look into what options are available that allows the student to get the professional help they need while continuing their education. That’s what therapeutic boarding schools are about.

Therapeutic boarding schools are specialized residential institutions designed to provide therapy and education to adolescents with emotional, behavioral, or academic challenges. These schools combine structured academic programs with therapeutic interventions, aiming to foster personal growth, emotional healing, and academic success.

A therapeutic boarding school’s staff is generally trained and experienced in helping teenagers that exhibit bad behaviors and/or emotional problems, even substance abuse. Typically staffed by licensed therapists, counselors, and educators, these schools offer a range of therapies such as individual counseling, group therapy, and family therapy sessions, often incorporating experiential therapies like art, equine therapy, or adventure-based counseling. When selecting a therapeutic boarding school, parents should look for accreditation status, the qualifications of staff, a low student-to-therapist ratio, and a comprehensive safety plan. It’s also crucial to assess the school’s approach to therapy and academics to ensure it aligns with the specific needs of their child.

Transparency in reporting progress, a robust aftercare program, and positive testimonials from former students and their families are also key indicators of a school’s effectiveness. Finally, visiting the campus can provide insights into the daily life and culture of the institution, helping to determine if it’s the right environment for the child’s growth and rehabilitation.

But not all therapeutic schools are created equal and research is important. Don’t take picking the right school for your child lightly.

If you are unable to deal with your teen’s behavioral or emotional issues, and their safety or their future is threatened, a therapeutic boarding school should be considered.  Here is what you should ask about a program:

1. Learn about the program before you visit.

Read materials from the program and check out their website. If you visit more than once on a particular day, refresh your memory about that school just before you arrive. Be sure to spend at least a half-day at each program. You should have a chance to meet with the executive director and members of the admission, clinical, education, and residential life teams. Ask what accreditations and licenses the program and staff have.

2. What is the typical student profile?

Ask what other programs clients often visit when considering this program. Find out how many students this program serves.

3. Evaluate the environment of the campus.

Is the campus located in a rural or metropolitan area? Decide if the environment feels safe and secure and if it is clean and organized. Look at bedrooms, bathrooms, and the kitchen area. Sit in on classes and check out the library or other on-campus resources. Notice the rapport between students and faculty in the program. Learn about the policy on technology use. If your student is over the age of 18, what are local educational or employment opportunities and policies?

4. Assess the academic program

Ask questions that help you clarify the academic program and the type of student who is most comfortable and successful there. Find out if learning support or accommodations are available. Ask if there is homework. See if they have a list of boarding schools and college acceptances.

5. Look into life beyond academics.

Check out the athletic facilities, theater,  and student center. Read the notices posted in the dorms or on bulletin boards. Request to speak to students (if appropriate). Take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions about campus life. Eat lunch in the student center and
watch student interactions.

6. Examine the clinical philosophy.

Find out how often the students receive therapy (individual, group, and family). Ask about the theoretical framework undergirding the program, the model of treatment, and how the staff is trained. Look into the crisis intervention model that is used. Ask if there is a clinical director on campus and how often the psychiatrist is on campus. Is there a nurse on staff?  Look into the policy on medication administration.

7. Check out the level of parental involvement.

Ask if they offer parent workshops, how often the parents must attend, and the visitation policy.

8. Ask if the program collects data on their alumni success.

If so, find out if it is available for review and if the program participates in research or data collection.

9. Write down your impressions of each program you visit.

After a while, the visions of different programs start to blur if you don’t immediately stop to record your thoughts. Also, consider taking some photos to help you keep track of the campuses you visit (please avoid taking pictures of students).

10. What is the cost?

Ask if there are any additional financial obligations other than monthly tuition and if they offer financial aid.  Also, find out if they provide someone to help with insurance, what their recent experience is with insurance covering some of the cost, and if school systems ever cover part of the cost.

Research, Research, Research!