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  • Writer's pictureVeronica Bratcher, CMHC

Terrified of Treatment: The Parents Worry Of Residential Treatment

As a part of working with families, one of the fears I hear most often is the worry of what could happen to our child in residential treatment, away from home and with other kids we don't know. To help other parents struggling with this question, I am sharing the exact response I share with parents in hopes it will help you with whatever decision you may be considering.

As a parent and therapist, I empathize with the fear that residential treatment programs bring up---we had very similar thoughts when we made the decision for our children separately in the past. Let me break down some of the things we have learned both as parents as well as treatment providers

Worry: How will this impact the relationship? What if I miss them? What if they miss me? What if we don't miss each other?

Reality: The real question isn't what will happen if our children go into treatment but what happens to the relationship if they don't.  Arguing hurts the relationship. Running away hurts the relationship. Self harm and suicidal ideation hurt the trust and safety in the relationship. Defiance hurts the relationship.

Our kids will have a rupture in the relationship when they go into treatment---it's normal and in many cases actually a good sign. It means they have a relationship with us and being separated from us is hard and uncomfortable.

However, it also means that they need more help than our relationship alone will fix. This is a more challenging issue in adolescence because our kids may be torn between wanting to be independent and experience what that is like and faced with the requirement of avoiding new dangers (that they do not really see as dangers).

Theoretically, the relationship would be strong enough for our children to believe us when we say certain choices or behaviors are dangerous. In a world of working parents, social media, and ease of access to technology we are not always the strongest messenger. When we add trauma and/or mental health issues, it is that much more difficult to compete as the voice of reason. 

People, especially young people, don't want to believe that anything bad would really happen to them or that they have already experienced trauma so what's the point of trying to avoid it (especially when there may be a potential for fun or social acceptance in the process). 

You will miss them at one point and they will miss you too, and that is where you get an opportunity to rebuild the relationship with healthy, safe have the relationship with your child that you really wanted to have all along (or may have even had in the past).

Worry: What will they learn from other kids in treatment? Aren't they all "bad" kids? What if my child learns more negative behaviors?

Reality: The kids in treatment are just like your child and the same kids they would see when they go to school. Unless you live on a deserted island without technology or wifi, our children are already exposed to most anything they would see in treatment.

Yes, in treatment, they may meet a kid that has slightly different issues that they do or is coping differently, but they are all children with something they haven't figured out how to handle in a healthy way yet. The behaviors seen in treatment are the same behaviors seen in every high school and junior high.

The difference with residential treatment is not the kids, but the staff and environment. There is at least 1 staff to every 4 kids (in our program), often more (versus a class of 30 students and then hundreds of students walking through the halls unsupervised between classes and lunch). This is why where you choose to seek treatment makes such an impact.

The environment has more training and restrictions than your average school as well. At Wildflower Mountain Ranch, we are constantly working on the balance between restriction for safety and supervision for learning, growth, and play.

Taking the teen curiosity out of the teenager hasn't been invented yet, so we work to help the teens find safe ways to be uniquely herself without ruining her healthy relationships.  Teenagers are dedicated to finding new ways to stretch the rules, and we cannot promise they won't find something we haven't considered yet.

However, we can promise that we are dedicated to an evolving system to catch and stop as many behaviors as possible as well as relationship building with youth to help them gain insight to the real cost of their decisions. 

While those are just two of the most common worries we have had and heard about, I hope that gives you more understanding of what treatment can bring to your family if and when the questions arise.

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