There are a lot of preconceived beliefs about students in treatment: they’re all angry, they’re all depressed, they’re all sick, they’re all sad, they’re all mad at their parents, they’ll never be successful and independent after treatment. And on and on.
Like all stereotypes, there is probably some truth to these comments, somewhere, but chances are, these preconceptions also built up around some pretty outdated perceptions of what residential treatment can really mean for adolescents. If you’re thinking Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, then it’s time to take another look at the reality of options which actually exist.
It’s true, students go into residential treatment facilities for all kinds of reasons, and there are all kinds of facilities out there - and some of them are grey and drab, and some of them do have some angry or despondent residents. But those places are an ever-increasing minority. There are also many incredibly inviting facilities to choose from, and many of them are generally full of students who are actually pretty happy, consistently practicing being well-adjusted, and generally enjoying the process, in no small part because they are having their strengths celebrated and their challenges supported in caring, dynamic, and clinically-progressive environments which are custom-built to provide excellent care.
Over the past week, I had the opportunity to visit a handful of Residential Treatment facilities, and my biggest take-away was that by and large the students were happy, engaged, well-supported, and benefitting from amazing academic, social, recreational, and therapeutic opportunities. I saw dynamic teachers individualizing academics and applying progressive and cutting-edge problem/project-based learning. I saw recreational therapists integrating hands-on opportunities for students to both explore new activities and build new communication skills and I saw residences reminiscent of large houses, where students lived in a family-like setting and learned to take responsibility for both the physical and emotional space around them. These weren’t forgotten, angry, or despondent children - they were bright, engaged, capable, and smiling. And why wouldn’t they be? The food was delicious, the facilities were inviting, the activities were stimulating, their needs were being met academically and socially, and they were making notable social and emotional progress. There were lots of reasons to smile.
If you’ve still got images of Ken Kesey’s psychiatric hospital guiding your conceptualization of residential treatment, it’s time to throw those ideas out and take a trip to get your eyes on the range of options which are available today.
ABOUT THE AUTHORJake Weld holds a masters degree in education and has over twenty years of experience in traditional, LD, and therapeutic schools, adolescent and young adult programs, and conventional, wilderness, and residential settings. He has served as the Executive Director of a therapeutic boarding school, the Assistant Headmaster of a specialized LD boarding school, and as the Academic and Program Director of various schools and programs. He is currently the Director of Admissions and Business Development for Mansfield Hall, a specialized college support program in Burlington, VT, and Madison, WI.