Teen Mental Health Treatment: How to Choose the Best Treatment Program for Your Child


Finding a treatment program for your teenager or young adult is a difficult task and a decision that parents hope they will not have to make. However, for many parents making the right treatment choices for their child’s mental health, eating disorders or addiction treatment is the beginning of a new chapter for the whole family.

Choosing the right treatment program for your child should be similar to choosing a private or international school. Parents should feel comfortable and confident that the treatment program offers the level of support that they need for their teen and family system.

Parents may not have the luxury of having an extended amount of time to decide on treatment options. If a young person meets the criteria for a higher level of care, it is essential to move quickly. This may be evident for young people diagnosed with eating disorders, those who are suicidal, or young people with a history of self-harm, addiction or psychosis. 

When choosing an international boarding school or independent day/boarding school, parents look for an environment that feels safe, secure and nurturing for their child. Whether these are schools in London, New York, Dubai or Singapore, parents look for qualities that feel like they work with their child. 

Treatment programs should offer the same feeling of warmth and inspire confidence and personal growth in young people. Families should feel welcome and have a sense of belonging. The treatment team should work with the young person’s family and school to provide a level of care that supports all aspects of the young person’s development, where appropriate. Parents should feel proud of the treatment teams and the specialist teen mental health programs that they represent.

Finding Teen Treatment for Crisis Admissions 

Often young people enter treatment in a period of crisis or escalating mental health concerns. It may be a decision that parents need to make on the spot to prevent further harm to their child or family. It may be that their psychotherapist, psychiatrist or family doctor has requested an immediate admission into a hospital, inpatient or residential treatment setting. 

Your current mental health treatment provider, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, school or therapist may have provided you with a list of treatment programs that they have previously had an experience working alongside. It is a good idea to start with those programs that have been recommended. Professionals with experience working together can often be useful for seamless transitions into a high level of care. 

If you are a parent who is doing the research alone, finding the best treatment centre for your teenager or young adult can feel like a daunting task. Parents will often search for the best teen treatment programs that are close to home before widening the search. Unfortunately, dedicated treatment centres for teens and adolescents are very few and far between. There is often a shortage of places and waiting lists for assessments and admissions can be long. 

www.LuxuryRehabs.com provides up-to-date information on the Top 50 Teen Treatment Centres in the World. It is a good place to start a search before contacting the facility directly.

How Do I Know if My Teen Needs Residential Treatment?

Mental health professionals use a series of baseline assessments to inform them on the appropriate level of care for every child and young adult.

Your child’s psychiatrist, therapist or mental health team will advise you on the appropriate level of care required. Recommendations that suggest residential treatment are based on many factors, including the severity of the presentation of illness, lab/test results, the medical risks involved and the possibility of the situation becoming more difficult for the young person and family. 

Young people who have attended outpatient or therapy appointments or who have a previously unsuccessful treatment history are also known to be at higher risk. Eating disorders that have not responded to Family-Based Therapy (FBT) or community treatment or in areas where there is a lack of available eating disorder-specific treatment, should be referred to residential treatment as soon as is practical.

Treatment providers will also look at the availability of suitable local services close to home. Treatment for teens and young adults is a specialist service and the availability of programs is scarce. Parents may find themselves travelling to locations far away from home to secure the best option for their family.

The environment is known to be incredibly important in the treatment of teens and young adults, and residential treatment provides a safe place to address mental health concerns. If safety at home has become unpredictable for the young person or for other members of the family, treatment should be sought as soon as possible.

Theft from home or in the community should also be seen as a red flag that residential treatment is essential. 

Young people who have had previous treatment episodes for drug and alcohol use who have relapsed regularly may need a more robust and longer-term treatment episode. Parents should be prepared for long-term treatment that combines educational and life skills. Short-term treatment in such cases, rarely if ever proves successful. 

Residential treatment provides young people with care 24-hours a day. This means that there is always support on hand, medical teams and a friendly listening ear. Parents have usually tried every option before considering residential treatment.

My Child May Need Residential Treatment If They:

teenager depressed recovery
  • Have suicidal thoughts or feelings
  • Have recently or previously attempted to end their life 
  • Self harm or have recently self harmed
  • Have recently overdosed 
  • Have depression or anxiety 
  • Have feelings of sadness that last for more than a few days
  • Have described hearing voices or seeing things that others cannot see
  • Have stopped communicating or have isolated 
  • Are diagnosed with an eating disorder(s)
    • Anorexia Nervosa 
    • Bulimia Nervosa 
    • Binge Eating Disorder
    • ARFID or EDNOS
  • Have medical complications arising from an eating disorder
  • Have suffered:
    • Trauma or abuse
    • Bullying
    • Conflict at home 
    • Abuse in the home 
    • Domestic Violence 
    • Addiction in the family 
    • High Conflict Divorce
    • Parental Alienation 
  • Have been diagnosed with a Personality Disorder 
  • Have been in trouble with police/law agencies 
  • Have harmed themselves or someone else 
  • Have engaged in high-risk behaviours (sexual, financial, substances, food)
  • Have threatened to harm parents or family members or animals 
  • Have been destructive to property or the belongings of others 
  • Have had problems at school/university or work 
  • Have recently used substances including drugs/alcohol/prescription medication. 

Expect to Have Mixed Emotions

Closeup top view of white kid hand holding real old grenade. Horizontal black and white photography.

Making the decision for your child to join a residential treatment program is likely to be one of the best parenting decisions that you make. It is also likely to be one of the most difficult. Parents can feel a wide range of emotions and some of them can feel very overwhelming. 

Parents often wonder what they could have done differently and whether they are somehow to blame. This can be mixed with a huge feeling of relief that they have at last found a team of professionals to support their child or teenager. Many parents feel exhausted from the weeks, months and sometimes years that they have struggled alone. 

Whatever feelings you feel are OK and perfectly normal. A great treatment program for young people will include intensive family therapy sessions; starting with you – the parents. Your family therapy sessions with your treatment team (along with your own therapy, if appropriate) will help you to validate your experiences as a parent.

Parents and siblings should benefit from residential treatment too.  

What Should Parents Expect from Residential Treatment Programs?

recovery and growth

Residential treatment programs for teens and young adults are a specialist area of psychiatry and psychotherapy that provide around-the-clock care for young people. Residential treatment programs are designed to stabilise young people both medically and psychologically. An effective treatment program will reduce the duration, severity and frequency of mental health crisis, relapse and the medical complications that arise. 

Young people ‘live in’ a community that has been designed for children, teenagers and young adults with additional mental health needs. A typical age range is from 13–26 years, although the clinical team will be looking for those who developmentally is an appropriate ‘fit’ for the program type and duration.  

  • Expect to have a detailed admission process. Both you and your child should have several meetings with the clinical team and consultant psychiatrist prior to admission. It is imperative that you feel that the team is able to support you throughout the treatment process. Treatment teams will not accept every young person that they assess. 
  • Expect to meet your child’s therapist, psychiatrist, dietician and recovery specialists and to be involved in regular treatment planning conferences and updates. 
  • Expect that your child’s treatment team will be registered and licensed doctors and mental health professionals, professionals in formal training or lived-experience recovery specialists. UK-registered professionals or professionals who have trained in the UK will have enhanced disclosure documents to ensure their safety to work with children. 
  • Expect that your child (at any age) will be treated as an individual and that their treatment plan will reflect their individual needs. Check that your treatment team has specific experience, protocols and planning to manage your child’s diagnosis. For example, many treatment programs will ‘accept’ eating disorders but very few have the experience and expertise to successful treat adolescent eating disorders. 
  • Be prepared to listen, listen and listen some more. Your child’s treatment team will be working together to understand your child and your family.
  • Be prepared to get involved. That may be in your own therapy, take-home tasks or assignments delivered by the therapy team. You will be involved in supporting your child and giving feedback (yes, that includes the ‘not so great’ stuff too).
  • Expect to travel. The best teen and young adult programs are often far from home. Parents travel half way across the world to secure a space at one of the worlds top treatment programs. Travel may become necessary for family therapy in person, although Zoom therapy is increasing in popularity. 
  • Learn everything you can about your child’s diagnosis or challenges from reliable and reputable sources. Your treatment team may have a suggested reading list. It’s great to start with your treatment teams ‘knowledge bank’ as the language and voice will feel familiar to you. 
  • Regular communication and regular photographs whilst your child is away from home can help you feel connected and allow you to begin to enjoy the experiences that your child is enjoying. Good treatment is about growth, with all of life’s magical areas to explore.
  • Expect your child to make friends and to feel part of the community. Know that they are in a ‘working’ space where sharing together forms the basis and structure for healing. Groups that share together really do get well together. It can feel hard for some parents not to be their child’s confidante; they can feel a little left out or even rejected. Know that your child is building resilience and skills that will help them to navigate the future. 
  • Look for programs that are well established and designed for teens and adolescents. Many treatment centres will accept teens and young adults into adult programs. This is rarely successful, affords an unacceptable level of risk and often results in early discharge. Ask for the mid-age range of the current treatment group. Check if the program is tailored specifically for adolescents.
  • Look for programs that combine education and therapy. Whilst we agree that mental health comes first, we know that young people who are actively engaged in some form of education or group study have significantly better treatment outcomes. 
  • Expect that all members of the team are trained in The Safeguarding of Children and vulnerable populations. 
  • Expect that treatment will take a varying length of time. It is not possible to predict how long a young person needs. Brains work in different ways and in their own time. There is no rushing treatment. 
  • Expect that your young person will actually enjoy the whole experience and have friends for life. 

Teens Are Not ‘Little Adults’

Whilst teens and young adults in their 20s are much more sophisticated in their thinking and reasoning than they were in the first decade of life, they still have a way to go before their brain development stabilises. 

Teens simply do not have the capacity to engage as an adult and nor, should they. The teen years are a time of discovery and change. This comes with a need to protect the developing brain and nervous system from harm.

Teen treatment programs provide age-appropriate activities, therapies and experiences. Group content reflects their life experiences and peer support helps them to navigate experiences through shared moments. 

Research confidently concludes that young people need programs that are designed just for them. 

Financial Commitment

Mental health programs and eating disorder residential places for young people require a significant financial commitment by families. Programs vary from basic to super-luxury, with exceptional facilities and a wide variety of experiences. Parents are typically able to choose programs that are either self-pay or programs that accept insurance.

Cultural Competency 

Choosing a treatment program that is able to embrace your families cultural perspective is also essential. Programs that are non-denominational and allow young people to experience the colour and vibrancy of different cultures are not only more fun but they have greater success too.

You may find that your family benefits from speaking in your first language, finding treatment teams with bilingual or even trilingual clinicians can be a great benefit. Family therapy and developmental trauma work often benefit from using the language that is most often used at home, or a mixture. Maybe families use Arabic and English or some parts in French, it helps to be able to move with fluidity.

Cultural knowledge is essential in the treatment of young people. Many young people are educated in cultures vastly different from their own or are third culture kids experiencing a very different upbringing from their parents. Great treatment will bridge the differences and create a future of shared experiences.

Life at The Wave

We understand that choosing treatment for your child is a really big decision. Our team of family specialists are able to help parents and young people who are looking for exceptional adolescent treatment programs.

We have a good working knowledge of worldwide treatment options, in addition to The Wave Kuala Lumpur and Transitions House, and can assist parents or refer them to one of our International Team Members to assist them closer to home.

Fiona Yassin is International Family Director at The Wave Clinic in Kuala Lumpur. Fiona works closely with her colleagues in London and Dubai to advise parents and family offices on global treatment options. Fiona is a registered UK Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor (License Number #361609), EMDR Trained (EMDRIA registration number #100054651), a fellow of ACCPH and a Senior Accredited Addiction Professional.

Fiona is also a trauma-focused mental health professional, specialising in Eating Disorders and Borderline Personality Disorder. CBT-E (Oxford), FREED (King’s College), Clinical Supervisor (UNCG), Post Grad Neuroscience (Tennessee), a member of IAEDP and The Association of Child Protection Professionals, and has a baby Maine Coon called Dave.

Further reading on similar topics can be found via our blog: ADHD in Teenage Girls and Young Women.

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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