Boot Camps vs. Military Schools vs. Therapeutic Boarding Schools vs. Residential Treatment Centers

Boot Camps vs. Military Schools vs. Therapeutic Boarding Schools vs. Residential Treatment Centers

It’s heartbreaking when parents have reached the point with their troubled teenager that they have to choose a resident care center. Plagued by emotional and behavioral difficulties, teenagers often find themselves struggling with school, home and community life. Many parents who have tried their best come to the realization that a resident teen help program may be their last, best hope for their child.

From boot camps and military schools to therapeutic boarding schools and residential treatment centers, the different treatment options for teens can seem very overwhelming. When parents aren’t very familiar with the different teen resident help programs, they can end up making poor decisions about the type and quality of care their teen receives.

Parent Research is the First Step

Most teen help programs can be divided into four different categories: boot camps, military schools, therapeutic boarding schools and residential treatment centers. Parents must learn the differences between the programs so they can find the one that is the best fit for their teen’s emotional, mental health and behavioral needs.

The best teen help programs should meet the following criteria:

  • Licensed by the state where they are located
  • Accredited by a qualified mental health agency
  • Overseen by a clinical director with appropriate credentials
  • Employ properly licensed and certified therapists, counselors, teachers and medical personnel
  • Accredited academic curriculum taught by experienced teachers
  • Well-trained direct care staff with background checks
  • Proper safety and discipline procedures established and enforced
  • Demonstrated success rate with measurable progress for all students

Because of the wide range of programs and treatment options, parents of troubled teens need to take the time to educate themselves on finding a school or program that is best suited to their needs.

All About Boot Camps

While behavior boot camps were extremely popular in recent decades, due to a range of operational problems, abuses and outright danger to teen participants, there are not many of them around anymore. However, some of the old programs are being reinvented as “wilderness camps” and “outdoor therapeutic programs” that claim to deliver astonishing results in a short time. The services they advertise range from treating drug or alcohol addiction, anxiety, depression, abuse trauma, abandonment issues, oppositional defiant disorder, and much more.

While there are legitimate outdoor behavioral health programs operating today, parents of struggling boys and girls must be vigilant in doing their research to ensure the program is not only above board, but successful. However, some of the issues that plagued the boot camps of the past may surface in similar short-term teen help programs.

The reason that boot camps aren’t as common anymore is because they were found to be ineffective at best and recklessly dangerous in extreme cases. After a 2007 study conducted by the Government Accountability Office found that the majority of programs they investigated were not helping troubled youth recover, boot camps declined rapidly. Common problems with modern boot camps and similar programs include untrained staff, little to no regulation or accountability, reckless operating procedures and no real results. In extreme cases, emotional and physical abuse and even death resulted from these unregulated programs.

Some modern teen help programs, like boot camps and outdoor therapeutic programs, seek to attract the parents of troubled boys and girls that have a range of mental health issues and emotional problems who don’t know much about the industry and want fast results for a low cost. Parents of troubled teenagers who need resident treatment must take the time to determine that the boot camp or outdoor therapeutic program they are interested in meets strict operational criteria and is the right place for their child.

All About Military Schools

Parents of troubled teens are sometimes convinced that a structured program of “tough love” managed by no-nonsense staff is all it takes to help rehabilitate their child. That’s when they start to look for military schools in the area, believing that a strict, 24-hour monitoring program will scare their teen toward a more compliant and well-behaved life. However, military schools are not the appropriate place for teens with mental illness, emotional trauma or behavioral challenges.

There are two types of military schools that parents usually discover when first embarking upon their research. The first type of military school is a type of military academy that is an academic institution which also provides military training. These military schools will not admit teens with emotional issues, addictions and mental health problems. The other type of military school is a teen therapeutic program that operates on militaristic principles and uses lots of physical activity, shock incarceration, strict punishments and little to no academic or therapeutic support.

While military schools may initially seem attractive to frustrated parents that don’t know what else to do for their troubled teen, recent research reported in Scientific American shows that a tough approach to mental health issues actually worsens behavior and prolongs recovery and rehabilitation. It’s been proven that reward-based therapy and treatment has a much more successful long-term effect than punishment-based treatments.

Military schools only teach teens how to conform their behavior instead of getting to the root causes that are triggering the troubles in the first place. In order to see long-term rehabilitation, troubled teens need to be immersed in programs that emphasize therapy and healing.Military_School_For_Troubled_Teens

All About Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Therapeutic boarding schools are designed to provide a complete away-from-home experience for troubled teens. Programs like this generally range from one to two years. The wholesome community, structured schedule and individualized treatment plan make therapeutic boarding schools both popular and effective. With an equal focus on academic achievement and therapeutic healing, these kinds of programs are generally best for students with addiction issues, learning disabilities, and emotional or behavioral disorders.

The schools integrate therapy, education and recreation to deliver a long-term solution to the emotional and behavioral problems that teens face. Therapeutic boarding schools are set up so that teens can earn academic credits and even earn a high school diploma. Extracurricular activities are similar to a traditional high school, with drama, art, music, sports, and more. Teens live in a dorm or family-style home setting and are expected to contribute to the community regularly, such as doing chores and caring for the grounds.

The emotional growth that troubled teens experience in a therapeutic boarding school is generally positive, and teens receive regular therapy via individual and group sessions. Most schools have a transition program set up for teens as they near the end of their stay to help them reintegrate with family and regular society once again.

The good news is that recent research by the Standing Research Committee of The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs shows that therapeutic boarding schools really work for troubled teens. The study reveals that by the end of a qualified residential treatment program and one year after treatment, the majority of the teens who attended “demonstrated clinically significant improvement.”

All About Residential Treatment Centers

Residential treatment centers are designed to provide support and security for teens with serious behavioral and psychological issues. Residential treatment centers may or may not have an academic component, depending on the program’s focus. Some residential treatment centers focus on a specific set of mental illness conditions, while others have a more general approach. A proper facility focuses on providing medical attention, appropriate discipline techniques, constant monitoring and intensive therapy.

Generally, residential treatment centers are focused on behavior management and treatment in a more intensive manner than that of a therapeutic boarding school. They are a safe and structured place for struggling teenagers who are challenged with conditions such as oppositional defiant disorder, bipolar, ADD/ADHD, personality disorders, severe anxiety or depression, substance abuse, reactive attachment disorder and so forth.

Research shows that participating teenagers will significantly improve during the course of the treatment program, and will even continue to improve after moving to a different teen help program or after returning home. The best residential treatment centers show that the long-term effectiveness of this type of intensive treatment for serious disorders is high, making it a good idea for teens that have found little success elsewhere.


Find Quality Programs Today

Parents of troubled teens should know that there are a range of different teen help programs, and there are some that are better and more effective than others. It’s important for parents to do their research before committing to enroll their child into a program. While some facilities feature highly successful treatment plans, just as many have substandard mental health services and poor or no academic support.

Troubled teens need to receive consistent and quality therapy from certified experts, and live and study in a supportive and compassionate environment. In the right teen help facility, they are more likely to gain the tools they needed to navigate the challenges of adolescence and transition into adulthood. Every parent wants to see their teen son or daughter happy and healthy, so getting them the help they need is the first step on the path to wellness.

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