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What Is a Therapeutic Boarding School?

Lainie Petersen
Updated May 17, 2024
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A therapeutic boarding school provides residential care, treatment, and therapy to students who have learning, behavioral, or emotional difficulties. Programming at these schools varies, but typically includes academic studies as well as one-on-one and group therapy in addition to treatment or assistance in managing learning difficulties. The decision to enroll a child in a therapeutic boarding school is usually made by parents or guardians when it is believed that removing a child from his or her home and community is in the best interest of both the child and the child's family. There is significant controversy over the effectiveness and appropriateness of residential treatment centers for young people, and many mental health professionals and child welfare advocates encourage parents to thoroughly investigate a therapeutic boarding school before enrolling their child in its program.

Some parents may find that their child has special needs that they cannot meet on their own. In many cases, it is possible to receive assistance with behavioral, emotional, and learning problems through the local school system or community-based mental health services. In some situations, however, a child may have needs that are so significant that more intensive treatment is necessary. This is particularly true if the child is engaging in criminal behavior or substance abuse or is associating with peers who reinforce negative behavior. In such cases, removing a child from his or her home and community may be the best way to protect the child and his or her family while providing the him or her with appropriate interventions in a highly structured environment.

The facilities available at these schools vary significantly. In some cases, a therapeutic boarding school may take a wilderness-camp approach that requires students to navigate living in the wild while adhering to a strict structure of chores, academics, and various types of therapy. Other schools provide canine or equine therapy along with the more traditional boarding school experience. Staff members at these schools vary in training and credentialing, although the best schools will have licensed mental health professionals on staff as well as teachers who are certified and experienced in providing special education services.

In some countries, such as the United States, these schools may not be subject to rigorous monitoring and evaluation. As such, there have been reports of abuses at these schools, such as physical and sexual assaults on students as well as inadequate educational and mental health services. Many mental health professionals recommend that parents place their child in a therapeutic boarding school only when community-based options prove inadequate and only after ensuring that the school holds professional licensure as both a residential treatment facility as well as an educational institution.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Lainie Petersen
By Lainie Petersen , Former Writer
Lainie Petersen, a talented writer, copywriter, and content creator, brings her diverse skill set to her role as an editor. With a unique educational background, she crafts engaging content and hosts podcasts and radio shows, showcasing her versatility as a media and communication professional. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a valuable asset to any media organization.

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Lainie Petersen

Lainie Petersen

Former Writer

Lainie Petersen, a talented writer, copywriter, and content creator, brings her diverse skill set to her role as an...
Learn more
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