Five Top Factors to Consider when Choosing A Program

Thank you for submitting the contact form!  As promised, below is the guide, “Five Top Factors to Consider when Choosing A Residential Program”

In this guide we will discuss the Five Top Factors to Consider when Choosing A Residential Program.  If you have any questions about this guide, please call us directly at (800) 867-2090.

The top five issues parents should consider in placing their child into a residential program are:

  1. Identify the major areas of concern.
  2. Identify how the child handles frustration and discord.
  3. Match the child’s interest to program offerings and approach.
  4. Consider family Involvement and aftercare.
  5. Compare cost.

Let’s look at each of these factors individually.  It might be that Summerland Camps are the right fit for your child.  It may also be another program type that is a better match.  Either way, this guide will help you decide about the next steps or direction for your child.

Generally, parents seek residential treatment when outpatient therapy has failed to produce the results they want, or if outpatient therapy is not working fast enough.  There are some obvious limitations to outpatient therapy.  A child has to want to change or else they won’t do any assignments outside of the therapy office nor will they be open and honest during the therapy process.  For these teens, a residential approach will be better served where they can work with a therapist in the moment.  The group influence is also a major contributing factor as to why residential is much more powerful and more effective than outpatient therapy.  Simply put, the best way to change is teen is with another group of teens who share similar goals and want to create a positive force for change in their lives.

Factor One: Identify the major areas of concern

Once you have decided that outpatient therapy is not producing the results you want, it’s time to start considering the Five Factors of residential treatment.  Factor One relates to identifying the major areas of concern.  Often, this is the event that was the “final straw” that caused parents to see treatment options.

It’s important to match a program to the focus area because treatment for one issue may be completely different that best practice intervention for another.  “Catch-all” programs such as many types of therapeutic boarding schools or residential treatment centers will throw all participants together in the same focus group.  You might have someone with a low IQ in a group with someone who is a drug seeker, along with a child that is anxious.  Each of these issues has a different treatment focus.

For example:

  • For the participant with Low IQ, the treatment process may be skill-building to access community resources and learn basic hygiene skills.
  • For the participant with drug-seeking behaviors, the best treatment may be a 12-step process with initial detox.
  • For the participant with depression or anxiety, the best treatment process may involve a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy technique called “systematic desensitization” where the participant learns to experience anxiety-provoking situations with a relaxed demeanor.

For Summerland camps, we help campers with the major areas of concern that involve video games, cell phones, internet, TV, or general digital media overuse.  Most of our campers will have co-occurring issues such as:

  • Low frustration tolerance / anger
  • Social isolation / poor social skills
  • Poor decision making
  • Blames others, never their fault
  • ADD / ADHD
  • Depression / anxiety
  • Declining academic performance
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Loss of interest in sports
  • Poor Self Management Skills

What is unique about Summerland Camps is that we DO NOT ACCEPT campers with high levels of pathology or other issues.  We do not accept campers that have been violent towards other children, sexually molested other children or are current drug seekers.  If you are worried about your child potentially being exposed to higher-level issues, Summerland Camps may be a good fit.

Factor Two: Identify how the child handles frustration and discord.

For this factor, we look at issues along a continuum.  Researchers have identified two ways an individual processes feelings of frustration and discord:

  • “internalizers” who force their feelings inward.  These individuals can fall into the diagnostic category of anxious, depressed, PTSD, and often have social issues.  This is where your gaming, cell phone, and internet addictions fall under typically, as internalizers prefer to be alone (or with internet “friends”) as opposed to socializing with others.  Obviously, most campers at Summerland Camps are going to fall under this diagnostic classification.  If you have a child that is an internalizer, it is CRITICAL you do not enroll them in an externalizer program.  We’ll get more into this later.
  • “externalizers” are defined as people who press their frustration and discord outward.  Oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, impulsivity, and other disruptive behaviors fall into this category.  Bullying is common here, while internalizers tend to get bullied.  You can find stealing, truancy, and various legal problems in this category which may involve violating the rights of others.

Generally speaking, drug use is more prevalent in the externalizers group, but can be found among the internalizers.  For the externalizers, the appeal of drug use tends to be more about rule-breaking and the allure of “hustling” or making money- even if the child’s resources are already abundant- and the “rush” of the high.  For the internalizers, we can also see drug use, but the appeal is more about self-medicating or simply following the crowd.

Please see the graphic below for an illustration of these two common groupings:

Parents are strongly urged to avoid programs that treat both types of issues.  These are called, “catch-all” programs.  As with the previous section, we discussed how enrolling a child in a program with anxiety would be in-congruent with the treatment goals of someone with a drug addiction or an intellectual disability.

Similarly, If a program that treats both ends of the continuum is chosen, it’s critical to ensure the student is not housed with someone where victimization could occur.  For example, we would not want to have an oppositional defiant child with a history of bullying room with a socially awkward child with a PTSD diagnosis who has been the victim of bullying.

Additionally, when programs try to treat everything, they tend to become disjointed and treatment becomes diluted.  Programs that focus on one area tend to treat that one area very well.

Your best bet obviously is to simply choose a program that focuses on one side of the continuum.  At Summerland Camps we are focused on internalizers that have limited defiance, generally around the video games / digital media issues.

Factor Three: Match the child’s interest to program offerings and approach.

Once you have overlooked in your search so far is matching your child’s interests to the program.  Let’s face it- kids can be stubborn.  A lot of the change process hinges on building rapport.  The more interests we can match with your child the better.

Besides video games and the internet, what would your child be interested in doing this summer?  Before they became interested in digital media, what did they like?  Is it also possible they would like new activities they have never been introduced to?

At Summerland Camps, we try to match your child to the most engaging activities we can think of.  When we set out to build Summerland Camps we wanted to build the most fun, most engaging format possible.

Factor Four: Consider family Involvement and aftercare.

Research proves it: family involvement and aftercare mean positive outcomes.  If this is truly an investment, you want the best return on your money.  It is suggested you cross off your list any program that does not offer a family component or extended aftercare services.

Online Family Workshop: Any decent program should offer a family workshop, and Summerland offers a comprehensive online workshop for parents.  It’s simply unrealistic to expect the possibility of change without involving the entire family unit.  The family workshop should achieve these objectives:

  • Educate the parents on the science behind the treatment program
  • Provide a behavioral contract as a road map forward.
  • Discuss common situations in which the family is having difficulty as examples for overcoming conflict.
  • For technology addiction: provide parents with resources so they understand how to set limits on devices and how to see if these limits are broken.

At Summerland Camps, we offer parent education webinars because we want our parents on the same page as their children in terms of commitment to change.  It’s critical to have the child graduate from the program with a behavioral contract in place so that there is a plan going forward.  Programs that do not provide training for a family contract for the return home may encounter difficulties as the child slips back into old habits and there is no agreement in place to enforce the changes.

Family Communication: Ask programs you are researching how often calls are with your child and how often parents are communicated with.  Avoid programs that seek to completely separate communication between the parent and child.  While even at a typical summer camp a child cannot access a phone whenever they want, there is generally a policy where calls can be made at least weekly.

Aftercare: Aftercare can be the single most critical factor in finding the right fit.  Aftercare, particularly when it is done with someone the child has a relationship with at the program, extends the benefit of the program back to the home setting.  It is suggested you avoid any program that fails to offer aftercare services.

Factor Five: Compare cost.

Families that seek residential treatment are already under stress.  Taking from a child’s college savings or retirement savings is simply taking a stressful situation and moving it forward.  It’s not fair to the child’s siblings or other members of your family to create an undue financial burden for just one family member.  As parents, we want to do to all we can for our kids, but we have to have some limits especially when program costs would put undue stress on an already tense situation.

Finally, parents need to consider treatment a journey, not a destination. It may be that the best option is to start with a more intensive in-person treatment option then step down to a 1-week adventure trip, then finally online behavior coaching.

Please give us a call at (800) 867-2090 to discuss anything related to your child’s treatment success.