Therapeutic Boarding Schools Defined

therapeutic boarding schools

Therapeutic boarding schools (TBS) are residential schools created to help  troubled teens who are struggling to get through their teen years. Many teens who attend a therapeutic boarding school are afflicted with emotional, social, and/or behavioral issues. Parents choose therapeutic boarding schools in order to help their troubled child develop into the people they’ve always wanted to become. Therapeutic boarding schools provide academic support, counseling and different forms of therapeutic intervention to restore teens to their greatest social and academic potential.

“A contented mind is the greatest blessing a man can enjoy in this world.”

Joseph Addison

Therapeutic Boarding School v Residential Treatment Center

Licensing for therapeutic boarding schools (TBS) and residential treatment centers (RTC) can be different:

Staff Per Student.  Typically the biggest difference is in the number of staff members required per student.  Licenses for Therapeutic boarding schools typically require fewer staff per student (often more like 8 staff to 1 student) whereas residential treatment centers will have a lower ratio (often 4 or 5 staff for every 1 student).

Student Profile. This difference in licensing staff requirements also often, but not always, reflects a difference in the student profile of residential treatment centers v therapeutic boarding schools, with a TBS often taking students who have fewer or not as complex emotional, behavioral, or psychological issues.

Clinical Sophistication.  Since the staffing and licensing for therapeutic boarding schools is not as stringent, a residential treatment center will often have more therapists per student and often have more diverse clinical offerings in order to meet the needs of their student population.

“Softer” Community. People within adolescent behavioral health would often assume that the environments of therapeutic boarding schools is “softer”– warmer, more homelike, more “boarding school” and less treatment-oriented.

Academic Intent.  Families with students in either RTC or TBS are interested in their child’s academic success, but sometimes the other needs in a residential treatment environment outweigh academic needs.  Therefore, it is possible that in some residential treatment centers academics are not as much of a focus as they might be in therapeutic boarding schools.

Accreditation and licensing.  Licensing for therapeutic programs is typically provided at the state level.  Within some states, there is no official designation nor requirements for therapeutic boarding schools, whereas most states have specific standards for residential treatment centers.  This could mean that a program that promotes themselves as a therapeutic boarding school might not have a state license because the state may not require them.  However, most, if not all therapeutic boarding schools, even if state licensure is not required, have national accreditation and memberships that designate their program’s value and standards.

Elevations RTC as a Therapeutic Boarding School

Elevations is similar to the top therapeutic boarding schools in the country in that they maintain a strong focus on academics and community, two typical characteristics of a TBS. Elevations’ therapeutic boarding school program has specific classrooms for education, strong academic support, and college

therapeutic boarding schools

Classroom environment at Elevations

preparatory curriculum.  As for the environment Elevations has created communities within a community– comprised of similarly aged students working on similar issues led by a combination of residential, clinical, and academic staff.  The goal of these communities is to emulate qualities of a family and help bring a higher degree of warmth and personalization.

Students at Elevations take a hands-on approach to learning throughout their time here. Along with excellent academics, Elevations creates a comfortable environment for socialization. Students learn confidence and teamwork by working with staff, and their peers in social activities. Community service is also emphasized in the therapeutic boarding school program. Students learn how to give back to their community while learning how to be responsible and respectful.

Studies about Therapeutic Boarding Schools

According to a study about therapeutic boarding schools, teens with serious behavioral or emotional problems who haven’t responded to other treatments, like medications, individual or group therapy, improve greatly at therapeutic boarding schools. The study consisted of 992 male and female adolescents, ages 13 to 18, who went to a therapeutic boarding school during a two-year period. The majority of the teens were treated for multiple problems (85.5 percent), including disruptive behavior disorders (44 percent), substance use disorders (36 percent), and mood disorder (31 percent). Results showed that teens attending therapeutic boarding schools experienced great improvements in all psychological and behavioral problems examined.

A study from 2011 studied the potential influence of a specific type of pyschotherapy implemented in a therapeutic boarding school environment.  It is common for families to see the underperformance of their child in school which is often an impetus for enrolling at a therapeutic boarding school.  This study showed the efficacy of using compassionate confrontation psychotherapy to help gifted children in therapeutic boarding schools meet their potential.

– Compassionate Confrontation Psychotherapy: Working with Gifted but Self-Destructive Adolescents in a Therapeutic Boarding School. Thomas Edward Bratter, Adolescent Psychiatry, Volume 1, Number 3, July 2011, pp. 227-234(8)

Contemporary Articles

Michael Jackson’s daughter, Paris, attended one of the many therapeutic boarding schools in order to deal with suicidal tendencies.

Meg Wolitzer’s young adult novel, Belzhar, tells the story of a troubled teen girl who is sent to a therapeutic boarding school. While there, she is put into a literature class where she becomes inspired by the writing of Sylvia Plath. Through this therapeutic boarding school, the girl becomes a better writer and overcomes her troubles.

The Chicago Tribune described the increasing demand for therapeutic boarding school services.  The rise in Autism Spectrum, depression, and emotional issues is indicated as reasons for the increased demand.  This article describes how public school districts sometimes may pay for students to attend these private facilities and how the need and demand can sometimes conflict with the relative high cost to send a public school student.  While services provided by therapeutic boarding schools are needed, sometimes there can legal and financial roadblocks to getting students the help they need in a timely manner.

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