Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Therapeutic boarding schools combine the traditions and academics of regular boarding schools with intense therapeutic interventions to help troubled teenagers. The average stay is usually a full school year. Scientific outcome studies of these schools indicate that most students maintain or continue to improve on a long-term basis after they leave their programs.

Most therapeutic boarding schools are for high school students, but there are a few for middle school students and those ages 17½ to 24 years old. Many are co-ed, but single-sex institutions are becoming more popular.

Most therapeutic boarding schools are highly structured with set times for classes, meals, homework, therapy, exercise, outings and sleep. In the best programs, students are under constant supervision with staff members guiding them throughout the day. Therapeutic boarding schools are often in rural settings, allowing students to explore nature and enjoy outdoor sports such as hiking, swimming, skiing, camping and so forth.

Counselors work with students in individual and group sessions, but a good program offers "experiential therapy" as well. Experiential therapy involves learning through experience, and is particularly effective with young people. Working with animals such as horses, rabbits and dogs helps a troubled teen connect with nurturing and love. Participating in art, music, drama, dance or writing becomes an outlet for pent-up emotions. Some therapeutic schools teach students calming techniques such as deep breathing exercises, visualization, and yoga.

Students who enroll in therapeutic schools often have substance abuse issues. They benefit by getting out of their old environments and away from negative peer groups, and by living where alcohol or drugs are not available. While they are in therapeutic boarding schools, they may work a 12-Step program or its equivalent, learn about the addiction process, and master techniques that help them deal with triggers and relapses once they get home.

Other students have diagnoses such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Asperger's Syndrome, autism, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety and depression. Specialized therapists work intensively with such students in those areas where they need the most help. Depending on the individual, this might be mastering social skills, controlling mood swings, or finding new ways of coping with anxiety, anger, and other such feeling states.

Some students enroll in therapeutic boarding schools because they have behavioral issues such as anger management, or psychological problems around issues such as adoption, family conflict, divorce or negative peer pressure. Therapists help such students understand their conflicts, learn better ways to communicate and interact with others, and how to set positive goals for their lives.

Many students enter therapeutic boarding schools with records of academic failure. Often when they address their emotional problems, they perform better as students. Therapeutic boarding schools use specialized educational tools and techniques designed to help students with specific problems. For example, having shorter class sessions and teaching organization helps students with Attention Deficit Disorder. Some schools offer credit recovery programs where students can earn academic credits faster than in a traditional public school.

A good program should have a long intake process that involves psychological testing, interviews with both parents and teens, and reports from teachers and counselors in the home environment. Therapists should be working with family members on a regular basis when the child is away at school. There should be a strong after-care component to help the students keep improving once they leave the schools. Therapeutic boarding schools can be expensive, but they have worked miracles for many families.

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