Choosing a treatment program

Overview of the process

There are many ways to do this if you are considering sending your child to a residential program. This is just an overview of how the process can work…


  • Work with a therapist or educational consultant to find the best program for your child.


  • Decide whether you need to use an “escort-transport” service if you don’t think your child will go willingly.


  • Programs may start with a [option 1] 30 Day Residential Program or [option 2] a Wilderness Program


  • Sometimes short-term programs are enough and other times, a next step is recommended so that your teen can take those newly learned tools and change them into habits.
  • Some teens will go straight into a Therapeutic or Residential Boarding School without doing a short-term program prior.


  • When your teen is ready to come home, the program, your educational consultant and your local therapist can help you with the transition.
  • There are great books on this process along with worksheets parents can do to prepare.
  • Some families opt to do the transition on their own and line up support for their teen back home. Others have their teen transition to a regular boarding school. And others opt to use one of the Family Coaches who specialize in this process.

What are residential treatment programs?

Therapeutic boarding school…  is an out-of-home placement that combines therapy and education for students with emotional and behavioral disorders, substance use disorders, or learning disabilities.

Residential treatment program… A residential treatment center (RTC), is a live-in health care facility providing therapy for substance abuse, mental illness, or other behavioral problems. Many teen-based programs also provide an academic component with either classes or independent learning.

Both types of boarding usually include… family therapy, individual therapy, and group therapy.

What is wilderness therapy?

Wilderness therapy is a subset of adventure-based therapy. It is the use of wilderness expeditions for the purpose of therapeutic intervention. There are a range of different types of wilderness therapy programs, with a range of models and approaches.

Most programs employ no force, confrontation, point or level systems, or other overt behavioral modification techniques or models, but stress assertiveness, open communication between staff and students, and are very group-oriented. There is no one standardized model for the therapy, since many models of wilderness therapy are reflective of different programs, although most usually contain the following principles: a series of tasks that are increasingly difficult in order to challenge the patients; teamwork activities for working together; the presence of a psychiatrist or therapist as a group leader; and the use of a therapeutic process such as a reflection journal or self-evaluation.

NOTE: Choose carefully! There are many programs out there and not all of them are reputable. There are treatment programs where abusive situations have been reported. Talk to other families who have used the programs or hire a consultant.

For more information, view the NATSAP website.

Researching residential programs

Here are a few sites to help you continue your research as you explore treatment options. It is highly recommended that you hire an Educational Consultant to assist you in this process.

  • The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs
    • Start exploring the types of programs available, especially if looking for a particular school. Locate an educational consultant. Under the parent tab you can find a detailed list of questions to ask when visiting and researching schools and programs.
  • Independent Educational Consultants Association
    • Lists educational consultants by state and type of services they provide.
  • The Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council
    • Several wilderness treatment programs that have joined together to collaborate and share the best practices to promote program standards for wilderness treatment.
  • Best Therapeutic Boarding Schools for Troubled Teens
    • Free Help Finding the potential Right Therapeutic Boarding School for Your Teenager
  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
    •  This is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization.