Would Your Child Benefit From Residential Care? How Patients (and Their Families) Are Thriving In a Long-Term Environment

Would Your Child Benefit From Residential Care? How Patients (and Their Families) Are Thriving In a Long-Term Environment
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Would Your Child Benefit From Residential Care? How Patients (and Their Families) Are Thriving In a Long-Term Environment : Youth are dealing with a world that’s far different than the one that existed even ten years ago. It can be jarring for people even ten or fifteen years older than a teenager today to talk to them, as the world has changed so rapidly over that time.

The pace of technological growth is advancing exponentially, not linearly. And for youngsters who are already dealing with change in themselves, it can be too much. Trying to deal with a world that’s constantly awash in the background noise of social media likes and shares, Twitch streams, text messages, photos and videos is hard enough for adults. And troubled young people are particularly vulnerable.

There’s more opportunity now than ever before. There’s also more danger—not just from other people, but from themselves. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens and young adults. Around one in five teens has a treatable, diagnosable mental health disorder.

If you’re dealing with a troubled teen, chances are the environment isn’t making it any better.

So why not remove it?

To find out how this works I interviewed Elise Thrift, LPC, the clinical director at Shepherd’s Hill Academy, and asked her about what Shepherd’s Hill does for its residents.

The Basics of Long-Term Residential Care

“Shepherd’s Hill offers troubled youth the chance to live in a controlled environment within nature for a year under the care of certified mental health professionals, counselors and staff,” says Thrift.

“We place them in a new setting where they learn new skills. All of the teens benefit from leaning in-depth, interpersonal skills, conflict resolution and personal values. We are able to do this in a faith-based environment, which promotes positive personal growth and spiritual introspection. It’s more intensive than shorter-term care and provides an opportunity for lasting change.”

Shepherd’s Hill is only one of many programs like this. These sorts of long-term care programs have been around since the 1970s, but many of them were unregulated and not up to the standard that they needed to reach. When a couple of deaths occurred on poorly-equipped wilderness programs in the early ’90s, the industry banded together and began to enforce standards.

Newer residential care programs have qualified staff and more oversight than older programs, and they provide a unique benefit: the longer stay means that it’s easier for therapists to break down defensive barriers that have built up. Being out in nature means it’s impossible to hide out in one’s room and play video games, and with the benefits of individualized therapy it can lead to much more radical results than shorter-term programs.

“With a long-term program like ours, it gives you the time to really create substantive change,” Thrift notes. “We’ve seen some youth fake it for a long time, but you can’t do it forever. Eventually your real self comes out, and then that change really has a chance to be internalized as opposed to being just something you do for authority figures. Having a consistent staff that you see every day also allows trust and bonds to grow.”

Long-term residential care also throws youth into an environment where they’re around each other in a radically different setting, and the bonds that are built through that experience are often stronger than they might be otherwise. “The other youth are just as much a part of our therapy and healing as the staff are,” says Thrift. “It’s a self-reinforcing, positive peer pressure.”

Many of these programs include task-based challenges like wilderness orienteering, building or other activities meant to build self-esteem, self-sufficiency and self-regulation. Shepherd’s Hill in particular focuses on building as a means to learn these values. They also have individual and group therapy sessions that build different neural pathways and promote healing.

“We’ve seen huge changes in many of the youth that have come through our doors,” says Thrift. “The combination of being in a natural environment so far removed from their regular one, a positive peer group, trained staff and productive pursuits really makes a difference. Short-term therapy has its place, but when you’re trying to change a life pattern, you have to live it. When you weed, you don’t just pull the tops. You dig out the root.”

The Long-Term Care Difference

There are substantive studies that have been done on this sort of long-term care as well as individual experiences and stories. At the end of the day what it boils down to is this: it works.

And the whole focus of programs like Shepherd’s Hill and others like them is to help a youth find their healthier, happier self. That in turn allows them to build relationships back with family and friends that may have been lost.

“We do sessions with family, as well,” says Thrift. “The family system is extremely important for the youth that we are treating. Over time, relationships may have become distant, unhealthy or strained. By addressing these issues, we are helping to heal the system and that means a greater chance of long-term success for the teen.”

Long-term residential care isn’t for everyone. But in the case of severely troubled youths it offers something that smaller, shorter programs can’t: a chance at real, long-lasting, substantive change.

A chance to build healthier thought patterns and a new way of life. And even if that’s all it does, it’s worth it. But there are even more benefits than just this: better family bonds, new skills, relationships that last a lifetime. And though they cost more than shorter-term care, it’s worth it.



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