As a parent, you want your child to experience the best form of mental health treatment when they’re working through emotional issues and problematic behaviors. Sometimes, this can be provided through outpatient therapy, where therapists work with your teenager while they live at home.
Other times, teenagers need a higher level of care. In this case, they’ll benefit more from short-term adolescent residential treatment centers, where they work with clinicians in intensive, condensed therapy programs while living at a facility. These programs are designed to build positive mental health habits and get to the root of emotional, relational, and behavioral issues. This helps teenagers not only recognize destructive patterns of behavior but also develop the internal resources to manage them better, leading to greater mental health.
With all the different forms of therapy short-term residential treatment offers, you may have a lot of questions about these programs. Therefore, this article provides an overview of what you need to know, including tips on how to select the best program for your child.
What Is Short-Term Residential Treatment?
Short-term residential treatment programs offer intensive inpatient treatment in a structured environment. Teenagers who participate in these behavioral health programs typically stay anywhere between 30 to 90 days.
During this time, young people follow a schedule of activities that may include individual therapy and group therapy sessions. The exact type of therapy depends on the mental health issues a child is working through and their individualized treatment plan but can include:
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): DBT is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy that teaches strategies for coping with stress, regulating emotions, and improving relationships. A 2020 study published in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Psychiatry indicates adolescents with behavioral issues viewed their involvement in DBT positively, even recommending its use in the general population.
- Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT): TF-CBT is an evidence-based treatment designed for children and families affected by trauma. It uses a relational-focused approach to build safety and security and then adds traditional CBT techniques. Teens learn positive self-messaging and rational responses for when traumatic thoughts or memories surface. TF-CBT has been clinically studied for 25 years, and research has shown it can resolve a variety of behavioral and emotional issues related to traumatic experiences.
- Self-management and recovery training (SMART): SMART is a mental health treatment program that uses evidence-based treatment tools to treat addiction issues such as substance abuse. DBT is a component of this addiction treatment approach. SMART helps teens control addictive behaviors by addressing their underlying thoughts and feelings and providing skills to help them manage urges for long-term recovery.
- Experiential therapy: Experiential therapy sessions allow teens to interact with a therapist in individual and group outings, encouraging them to engage in a more relaxed setting than an office. This treatment approach is beneficial for learning how to manage feelings of anxiety, anger, depression, or hopelessness and taking personal responsibility for oneself.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a form of psychological treatment that often involves changing negative thinking patterns to promote confidence and greater self-awareness. According to a review of 31 randomized controlled trials involving adolescents published in 2018 in the official journal of the European Psychiatric Association, European Psychiatry, CBT can reduce depressive symptoms. However, the review found it’s more effective in certain circumstances. For example, involving caregivers in treatment can result in better long-term outcomes.
Living in a teen treatment center enables teens to follow a healthy sleep schedule, eat regular healthy meals, and focus on academics. Your child can also participate in activities that help promote mental and emotional healing. These can include:
- Animal interactions: Caring for and playing with animals like horses and dogs offers many therapeutic benefits, including increasing self-esteem.
- Art activities: From painting to writing poetry, participating in artistic activities can have a profound effect on promoting focus and emotional well-being.
- Physical activities: Rock climbing, hiking, bowling, and more promote good physical health and encourage development of social skills.
- Intellectual activities: Attending plays, touring museums, and participating in improv workshops broadens and stimulates the mind.
- Spiritual activities: Yoga, sound baths, and meditation not only soothe the body but also provide techniques to maintain calm and focus.
Time spent at a short-term adolescent residential treatment center can help meet your child’s specific needs, break any cycles of self-destructive behavior, and serve as an important first step in your child’s mental health journey.
Young people come away from short-term residential care programs with the strategies they need to practice healthy living. In addition, the program’s treatment team will develop an aftercare program so teens can practice the skills learned in residential care on a regular basis.
How To Choose an Effective Short-Term Residential Care Program for Your Child
Katie Holahan, clinical director and therapist at Embark at The Poconos, an Embark Behavioral Health short-term program for teen girls, said parents and teenagers should focus on how a facility and its staff make them feel when they first visit. For example, The Poconos offers a home-style environment that she compares to an Airbnb, allowing her staff to offer a sense of comfort and ease to families.
Holahan said most parents ask her about the individual, group, and family therapy used in the program. However, she added, residential life also plays a big part in the success of the treatment.
“Just because we’re having therapy in a room for an hour doesn’t mean the therapy should stop the minute you walk out of my door,” she said. “It’s constant. It’s throughout the day and night. The type of support the student is going to have 24/7 from our life coaches is all therapeutic. They reinforce everything we’ve worked on throughout the day.”
Teenagers should ask questions about residential treatment facilities, according to Holahan. She loves it when teens express a desire to get better and help guide their own treatment.
“I want teens to ask me as many questions as possible, from ‘What am I allowed to wear?’ to ‘Can I listen to music?’” she said, adding that “Is the food good?” and even “Am I allowed to bring my nail polish?” can come up in interviews.
There are some questions that can only be answered by people who’ve gone through a short-term residential treatment program, which is why parents and teens should contact program graduates to gain their perspective. Embark, for example, can provide incoming families with the contact information of graduates willing to share stories of their own experiences.
As part of your selection process, contact your health care insurance company and the teen treatment center you’re considering so you can best prepare for the cost of treatment, which can include insurance reimbursement and payment options.
Bringing It All Together
Short-term residential treatment offers many benefits for teenagers who require a higher level of care than outpatient programs provide. Aside from receiving multiple forms of intensive therapy, living in a group setting with a supportive treatment team enables teens to integrate the coping skills — and life skills — they learn into their daily lives.
To experience the most benefits from a short-term adolescent residential treatment center, you and your teen should spend adequate time interacting with the program’s staff and graduates before committing to a program. The more comfortable and at ease your teen becomes with a residential treatment center, the better they’ll respond to the help it offers so they can improve their mental health.