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How to Find a Residential Treatment Center for Teenagers with Mental Health or Substance Abuse Issues

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Treatment Center for Teenagers

One of the most difficult decisions a parent can make is to place their child in a residential treatment center for mental health issues or chemical dependency. The decision usually comes when your child's life has become unmanageable, or when he or she is a threat to themselves or others.

The first step is to accept that your teen needs help. Then, make a plan for recovery by gathering information about treatment immediately. Also consider if the entire family could benefit from counseling. It's important to help your adolescent by involving all family members in the recovery process.

If you know of, or are working with a mental health professional, enlist them in assessing your teen and steering you toward the right program. If you're making the decision alone, some general tips and guidance can help you research and choose the right treatment center.

Consider the Need

Teenagers require inpatient residential mental health treatment for a variety of reasons, including bi-polar, psychotic, and obsessive-compulsive disorders, schizophrenia, depression, post-traumatic stress, and drug and alcohol dependency. Some facilities can handle all of these issues, others focus solely on addiction. If your child is severely chemically addicted, he or she may need to go to a residential teen treatment center and detoxification facility.

Begin by looking for facilities that specifically work with the emotional problems of adolescents. Ideally, all residential treatment centers offer 24-hour supervision, a safe and positive environment, and counseling and activity programs that focus on recovery and avoiding a relapse.

Do Your homework

Carefully research and review different treatment centers. The decision should not be rushed, unless the need is life-threatening. Visit and explore center websites, looking for information about intake, treatment methods, and aftercare. Examine the professional credentials of each facility. Find out if the staff is licensed, experienced, and ethical. Read online reviews on third-party websites, and investigate a center's reputation with consumer protection agencies.

When you've narrowed your choices of centers, arrange to talk with the staff about your teen's needs. Ask them about the supervision program and the types of therapy they recommend. Many programs are tailored to the patient, and staff may be able to answer many of your questions. Some needs, however, may not be identified and addressed until a full diagnostic assessment is performed after intake.

For example, center staff may decide to prescribe medication as part of your teen's treatment. Look for centers that have qualified in-house medical staff, such as psychiatrists and nurse-practitioners. If your teen is struggling with severe mental health problems, they may be assigned a psychiatrist who specializes in such issues. Similarly, adolescents who are aggressive or engaged in self-harming behaviors may receive certain types of intensive treatment.

It is your right to ask probing questions of the center staff. Find out about their credentials and how they determine their methods and programs. Find out if you can visit your teen during treatment. Get an estimate of the cost and the waiting period, if any, before your teen can be admitted. Inquire about the typical length of stay, which can be 14-90 days, depending on the situation.

Now, for a word of caution: Not are treatment centers are good, and some are outright scams. Be especially vigilant for the following warning signs:

  • A lack of clear protocols for patient safety.
  • Negative online reputation.
  • History of being under investigation by local or state agencies, or discipline for misconduct.
  • Expired licenses or certifications.

Also, avoid any center that is evasive in answering your questions, or refuses to let you see parts of the facility before you make a decision.

Most centers will let you take a basic tour, which can be a very important part of the decision-making process. If a tour isn't feasible, make specific inquiries about the general nature of patient rooms, the activity, fitness, and counseling spaces, and the grounds.

Consider the Types of Treatment Will Best Help Your Teen

The most common type of treatment at a residential center is individual therapy, where teens are guided through an exploration of their emotions by a trained mental health professional. Ask about the frequency of such sessions, and whether your teen will work with one therapist, or a team, for the duration of their stay.

Inquire if group therapy is appropriate for your teen. Often held several times a day, it can become a good place for them to bond and communicate with peers who are having similar problems. Both individual and group therapy sessions concentrate on helping the patient understand the impact of their decisions, identify root causes of their emotional problems, and learn new strategies for coping.

Treatment plans may include other components such as recreational, music, or sports therapy, support groups, academic coursework, and vocational skills assistance.

Again, center staff will be able to ascertain which variety of therapies and programs are best for your teen, but they should all strive to give the patient an opportunity to examine their emotions and motivations, and invite them to consider different choices and outcomes.

Consider also whether your child needs to be placed in a tightly controlled, or “locked” facility, where they are closely monitored and forbidden to leave; or a relatively open one, where they are allowed to leave with center staff under certain conditions. Realize that in some locked facilities, you may not be able to visit your teen during their stay.

Planning for Discharge and Aftercare

Many treatment programs prepare for the discharge process almost immediately after intake. Treatment plans are designed to ready teens for their successful reintegration into family and society. It could be a process where your child returns to daily life gradually, or with the help of an intensive outpatient plan. Center staff will also recommend specific aftercare treatment, such as continued individual or group therapy, or 12-step programs.

Planning for the Cost

The cost of inpatient treatment varies widely. Many centers base their price on a number of factors, including the type and length of treatment, and specific patient needs such as detoxification or type of counseling. Location also plays a big role; treatment centers in upscale places like Santa Fe and Sedona tend to cost more than those in, say, suburban Denver. In some cases, the cost can be substantial, especially if the center offers luxurious amenities. Others facilities are quite inexpensive, especially with good health insurance. Many centers also consider family financial circumstances and offer services on a sliding-fee scale.

Treatment plans don't come at a fixed price. They're set according to the individual patient's needs. For this reason, it can be hard to know what a typical treatment plan will cost until staff know more about your adolescent's situation.


Helping your child navigate this difficult time may be one of the most important things you ever do as a parent. Carefully choosing the right residential treatment center and recovery plan is tantamount. Be diligent with your research, and ask lots of questions. Above all, remember that the family unit is one of the most important of all support systems for your teen.

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