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The Benefits of Residential Treatment Programs for Teens

Over the past few years, the media has barraged the public with negative images of residential treatment and “wilderness therapy” programs. Although some programs may deserve this negative publicity, it is important not to overlook all the benefits of a well-chosen residential treatment program.

Teens who have severe emotional or behavioral problems are the best candidates for these programs. Residential treatment facilities can help teens who struggle with substance abuse, severe depression, or ADD/ADHD. Residential programs place the teen in a structured, loving environment that fosters positive growth and development. Because these treatment programs place teens in a new environment, they give teens the support and guidance to form new, healthy behavior patterns.

A residential program provides enough time and distance to promote effective behavior change. The teen is removed from the regular environment for an extended period, and placed in a therapeutic environment. Therefore, the teen is more likely to break maladaptive or destructive habits, and to replace them with new, healthy ones.

Residential treatment programs offer comprehensive treatment in one location. A teen with serious emotional or behavioral issues often needs attention from many different professionals, like child development specialists and psychiatrists. Residential therapy centers house all these professionals in one location. Caseloads are also smaller, so there is more time to devote to each child.

Because the staff is centrally located, they can work more closely to provide individualized treatment for each child. Working as a team, the staff at a residential facility cooperates to treat each child. They share a vision and philosophy. Because they interact so closely and share a treatment paradigm, the teens in their care receive consistent reinforcement and care.

A holistic approach to treatment is an integral part of residential therapy. This means that all aspects of the environment are engineered to support and foster recovery. This strategy of carefully controlling the teen’s experiences and surroundings ensures that each teen feels secure and safe.

Residential programs support the development of positive peer relationships. These programs not only place a high value on community and cooperation, but also utilize a group therapy component. Therefore, teens who successfully complete this kind of treatment leave with stronger interpersonal skills.

The family can remain involved in a child’s residential treatment, even while the child is living on site. Participation from the family is a critical aspect of a child’s successful recovery, and a residential program should both enlist the family’s help in the child’s recovery, and provide support for family members.

Although choosing a residential treatment program for a teen can be a difficult decision, the benefits of these programs are worthwhile. The unified, cooperative environment they offer means that teens and their families get comprehensive assistance as they heal together.


The information is provided for general reference purposes. It does not constitute medical or other professional advice and should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your child and adolescent psychiatrist or other physician.