Why Choose a Therapeutic Boarding School?

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Adolescents experience unique challenges across many areas of life, from new social pressures to demanding academic expectations and unfamiliar emotions. While many teenagers struggle in these areas to some extent, some have a harder time than others. Whether due to mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression, a history of high stress and poor outcomes at school, or difficulty in forming relationships with others, some teenagers need extra support and structure to help them succeed.

Some parents have tried to help their children with their academics, social skills, or mental health to no avail, and wonder what they can do to help their child overcome these roadblocks to development and find a sense of confidence and hope in their lives. Parents may be considering options such as a residential treatment center, a wilderness program, or similar alternatives. A therapeutic boarding school can offer teens the structure and guidance of a school setting, along with much-needed support for their mental health and individual goals.

What is a Therapeutic Boarding School?

Therapeutic boarding schools combine the structure and college-prep academic focus of a boarding school with individualized therapy and academic coaching. These programs are designed with the awareness that the teenagers attending them have struggled with their academics, mental health, or relationships in the past. At a school with a well-designed program, with quality staff and faculty, students receive individualized care tailored to their unique challenges and goals. Academics offer challenge and preparation for college, but are based around a support system which gives students the attention and tools they need to understand and feel comfortable with the material.            

In and out of the classroom, students are afforded an opportunity to build healthy relationships with other students and with adult members of staff and faculty. Students learn vital life skills related to responsibility, organization, planning, and time management. They have a chance to be a part of a community, and to take leadership and character-building roles within that community via extracurricular activities. These activities help and encourage students to develop social skills and to push their comfort zones to achieve positive breakthroughs utilizing their unique abilities. With support from trained, caring professionals, as well as fellow students, the right program can provide tremendous opportunities for personal growth while allowing teens to overcome past hurdles with new, healthy strategies.

Who Should Attend Therapeutic Boarding School?

Students who have responded negatively to a traditional academic environment, or who experience challenges in socializing and developing relationships may benefit greatly from a therapeutic boarding school setting. A good therapeutic boarding school program identifies strengths which can be brought out in students, even if they currently struggle in certain areas of their lives. Addressing these struggles, finding the source of the issue, and working collaboratively to resolve it is a major component of these programs. Some issues, such as aggressive behavior or severe presentations of mental health conditions, may be too serious or debilitating for a student to succeed in a school setting and may require a higher level of care.

Advantages of a Therapeutic Boarding School Versus Other Options 

Therapeutic boarding schools offer numerous advantages when compared to other alternatives which parents may be considering when their teenager needs help. A therapeutic boarding school is structured with the same end goals as traditional schooling: preparing teens for college and life post-graduation by providing an education, as well as opportunities for personal growth and development. However, a therapeutic boarding school adds extra support and structure to help students achieve these ends.

A therapeutic boarding school based on college prep academics , like Shortridge is, assumes that its students will get back on a healthy educational and developmental track towards success post-graduation, and prepares them to do so. This is not always the case with other options, like wilderness programs or more intensive residential treatment programs. Such programs are more specialized, and may be the right fit for some. However, they do not all share the same focus on education or therapeutic needs, and may not allow students to transition out of the program with as solid a foundation for college or with the same level of general life skills development.

Depending on the location and the particular program, therapeutic boarding schools offer outings and activities that promote the same values and growth as a wilderness program, while also providing the invaluable components of academic and therapeutic support. A therapeutic boarding school is an ideal option for adolescents held back from their potential by problems that require professional intervention, but who remain fully capable of thriving when given the proper tools and care to address and overcome those obstacles.

Qualities of a Good Therapeutic Boarding School

Obviously, not all boarding schools are created equal. Therapeutic boarding school programs built around maximizing student strengths by giving them safe levels of autonomy, support, and the ability to get involved on campus are tied to a healthier social climate and positive outcomes for students.[i] Youth programs based on this philosophy of positive youth development have been shown to minimize risky behaviors and promote emotional and social health.[ii] Parents should also make certain that the boarding school they choose is state-accredited and employs licensed and experienced staff and faculty. Such a choice is bound to produce better experiences and results than a school with a one-size-fits-all approach administered by inexperienced staff, or worse, a repressive, antagonistic attitude toward students.

Therapeutic boarding school is not the right solution for everyone. The decision each parent makes is deeply personal, and requires research and reflection to find the best match for their child’s unique situation and challenges. The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP) recommends that parents consult with the professional working with their child to find the right program to suit their individual needs.[iii] For teens with recurrent academic, emotional, or social challenges, therapeutic boarding school offers numerous benefits and deserves serious consideration by parents looking to encourage growth and positive development for their child’s future.


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