When is it Time to Look Into Residential Treatment for Your Child?

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Bringing your child to a residential treatment center (RTC) is initially a heart-wrenching and painful experience.  For me, it was easily the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life.  We pulled out of the driveway and I put my head on the steering wheel and cried.  You are deeply engaged at that point with taking care of this troubled child you love so much, and here you are not only giving her or him to someone else, but parting at an unnatural time, the relationship momentarily ripped apart (compared to the more gradual process of high school graduation).

The easy answer in terms of when it is time to look into residential treatment is when an expert you trust (therapist, psychiatrist, education consultant) says you should.  The harder answer is how to recognize the terrific sacrifice your child needs from you when you bring them to an RTC if an industry expert isn’t making this kind of recommendation.  In other words, how to make the right decision sooner … before you and your family are in crisis.

If you are reading this, odds are your child is struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma — and the usual multi-faceted approach isn’t working.  For us, that meant working with a great local therapist and psychiatrist, titrating on and off different types and combinations of drugs, her attendance at therapeutic day programs nearby, and, finally, stuck in the psych ward of a major university health center.  Our daughter felt there was no hope and we wondered whether she was destined for an institutional life.

Yet without exception, like us, the families we became close to and especially their daughters all wished they’d started the residential treatment program sooner.  Within two months, that pale, flat look on our daughter’s face was gone and she told us she’d become hopeful (tentatively) due to what she saw taking place as her peers and other families there became more healthy.  We were thrilled and began to look forward to our visits, especially as close relationships with staff there and other families developed.

To write this article, I asked one of the other mothers we’ve stayed in touch with how she would answer this question.  In addition to some of the best content above, here are a few things she said to look for.

  • Are you sacrificing your family for this child? Many families have been so wrapped up with their troubled child, for years often, that they have either lost perspective about what is “acceptable” behavior or given up trying to change inappropriate behavior.
  • Are you intimidated by your child? Are you “tip-toeing” around or being less than direct and truthful with your child for fear of upsetting them?
  • Are there siblings who are being negatively impacted?
  • Have you explored other options? Perhaps most importantly, do other treatment options include working together as a family to resolve relationship issues? Whatever your child might be struggling with, there are always negative family dynamics that have developed. For the child and the family to become healthy, these patterns need to be addressed.  Changing them is critical and is a process that takes both time and much loving support; something that the right RTC will offer families.

While I wouldn’t wish our journey on anyone else, a true silver lining has been the tight friendships we’ve developed with other families who were at the same RTC.  Are you confronted with any of their issues — coping with the death of a child’s parent or sibling (due to suicide or an accident), or having a genetically pre-disposed child dealing with the same mental health issues their parents are facing?

While, there’s so much secrecy and stigma surrounding these issues at home, my wife and I would urge you as strongly as possible to share your story early on with someone who has either been at the RTC long enough that they are about to leave with a healthy family or someone who is already out (maybe ask RTC leadership for a recommendation).  An informal mentor helping you know what’s ahead of you, what to look for (good and bad) can make all the difference – it did for us.

When is it time to look into residential treatment for your child?  Right now.  The sooner you identify the right place and make that most difficult of trips bringing your child there, the sooner the healing process for you and your daughter or son can begin.  Know there is hope and these wonderful children can get better.

By,  An Anonymous Parent