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Different therapeutic and rehabilitative methods require that patients are interned in a healing environment that allows them to be immersed in the appropriate treatment culture they need to get better. This includes residential rehab for people recovering from addiction, or facilities to treat severe cases of psychosis and other mental health issues. 

But for teens diagnosed with these issues, treatment often needs to be balanced with the ongoing academic requirement of middle school and high school life. Sometimes, teens may need more than one or two therapy sessions a week, or an online support group. 

Treatment facilities that offer both treatments and a strong, accredited curriculum for teens are considered therapeutic schools. They come in many different forms and offer a variety of modalities and treatment approaches. 

Some specialize in non-residential treatment programs, where teens receive treatment like an outpatient clinic, while others provide an inpatient experience – from small residential programs to therapeutic boarding schools, which involve a campus rather than a second home environment.  

What is a Therapeutic School?

A therapeutic school is any facility that provides both an accredited integrated curriculum (or day school program), as well as a few modalities aimed at treating mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders, personality disorders, and more. 

Therapeutic schools help teens who struggle to balance treatment and school by integrating both into their lives via an outpatient or inpatient approach. This means that teens can continue to keep up with their peers and work their way towards college while focusing on their treatment and continued mental wellbeing. 

Therapeutic schools are generally categorized as either inpatient or outpatient. The difference between the two is that inpatient programs effectively describe residential facilities with daily classes or specialized alternative boarding schools, whereas outpatient programs serve more to better balance mental health treatment and a teen’s academic responsibilities. 

One question parents may ask themselves when reviewing these schools is whether they’re schools first and treatment clinics second, or vice versa. 

It’s important to remember that if your teen needs a therapeutic school to learn how to cope with their diagnosis and develop a resistance to the ongoing and upcoming stressors of life, then they are much better served to sacrifice a little bit of an investment in their academic track record now, for a much better shot at good grades and a future in higher education later down the road. 

As they get older and progress through school, the mounting pressure to succeed will only compound with the symptoms they’re struggling with now. 

In other words, therapeutic schools help teens with mental health issues develop the toolset they need to cope with their condition in everyday life and live a life they can enjoy to the fullest in spite of their diagnosis and past, rather than becoming overwhelmed by the responsibilities of regular day-to-day school, and the absence of the kind of treatment framework they might need to thrive. 

Factors to Consider

Whether or not a therapeutic school is right for your teen depends on many different factors. Overall, it’s a matter of how they’re doing right now, given the circumstances. Ask yourself: 

  • Is your teen coping with the workload and requirements of their current school? 
  • Are they managing well, or struggling behind the scenes? 
  • Do you think they could burn themselves out juggling their own academic future and their needs as a teen in treatment? 
  • Have they been neglecting their self-care and mental health needs to meet deadlines, finish projects, and study? 
  • Are their grades going down despite a steady increase in the amount of time and effort put into their studies?
  • Is your teen becoming more irritable, less confident, and far more neurotic over the last school year? 

Aside from these factors, there are also the matters of availability, affordability, and matching your teen’s needs to the offers around you.

Is a boarding school really the best choice? 

Or are they better off in a residential treatment facility? 

Or an outdoor camp experience with professional counselors and therapists, physicians, and teachers? 

Or, perhaps, an outpatient treatment program that offers educational programs for teens and helps them gain academic credit while focusing on their treatment? 

The Admissions Process

Regardless of the type of school that might best serve your teen, admissions are a little different for therapeutic schools than they are for regular schools, boarding or otherwise. Aside from academic performance, these schools primarily focus on a teen’s current mental health, as well as their mental and physical health histories, and family histories. 

Teens are diagnosed professionally by a resident physician, and their admission may be based on currently available modalities and therapists, ongoing treatments, other teens at the facility, and related factors. Unlike other schools, therapeutic schools generally don’t have specific admission periods and will accept students year-round. 

How Does a Therapeutic School Work?

Therapeutic schools generally develop curriculums based on each student or group’s individual needs, helping teens continue to keep up with the topics and level of education of their peers while shifting focus onto treatments for a variety of mental health issues that teens in a therapeutic school may be facing. 

Modalities can range from skills training and outdoor activities to cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectic behavior therapy, group therapy sessions, family therapy, experiential therapy (through music, art, and more), and individualized treatment modalities depending on a teen’s diagnosis. 

Picking the Right Therapeutic School for Your Teen

Therapeutic schools are not all the same, and their programs and structure vary wildly based on what kind of environment a family is looking for their teen. And of course, reputation, cost, and treatment availability all play important roles.

Whether you are looking for an outpatient clinic, a transitional residential program, a day school, a boarding school, an outdoor program, or a residential treatment center, there are a number of different therapeutic schools and programs across the country accommodating teens from all backgrounds and circumstances.