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Top 10 Questions To Ask When Looking At A Treatment Program

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Top 10 Questions To Ask When Looking At A Treatment Program

No family wants to ever entertain the option of sending their child to a psychiatric program.  At the same time, running a 1 bed residential program out of your home is never what parents envisioned for their son or daughter.  Families can torture themselves with questions.  Have we tried everything?  What did we do wrong?  How are other families raising their kids?  Could we actually send our kid to a program?  There is typically a lot of sadness, shame, guilt and exhaustion even raising these questions, much less actually heading to an internet search to learn more, making the first call or having that first conversation with family members.

Educational consultants can often provide a wealth of information as to how to have that first conversation, what programs offer and what residential treatment program might provide the best match for a family.  However, most parents want to do some of their own research to ensure that they have all of the ‘mom and dad’ questions answered first hand.  Here is a list of questions that can be helpful resources for families looking to psychiatric programs…..

  • Will my child be assessed to ensure that the program understands their clinical needs?

Treatment planning is difficult if a program is unsure what they are treating or are only treating behaviors. Often those behaviors and symptoms are being driven by underlying reasons such as anxiety and depression. Children/adolescents, parents and treatment programs can benefit from accurate assessments.  See if the program provides diagnostic assessment and, if it does not, how they will assess what the treatment objectives will be.  Many programs require psychiatric and/or educational testing to ensure that the diagnostic picture is clear prior to beginning treatment.

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  • How effective is your program and what can we expect in terms of treatment goals?
Understandably, there are many treatment programs that specialize in the treatment of a number of different diagnoses. It is important to ensure that the program you are entrusting your child’s care to is expert in treating their needs. It can be helpful to have a discussion around realistic treatment goals for both the child/adolescent and the family so everyone starts treatment on the same page.  Ensuring that the program uses evidence-based practices and treatment modalities that address your child’s treatment needs can be a great first step as well.


  • How effective is your program and can you provide me with treatment outcomes for clients you have treated?
When you make an important or large purchase, you probably do quite a bit of research. Asking a group of treatment providers about their ‘product’ can be approached in a similar fashion.
Don’t be afraid to ask for treatment outcomes. Programs themselves should be interested in how effective their treatment is and will be enthusiastic about sharing the efficacy of their treatment or program.


  • Do you have a list of families that I can speak to about their treatment experience?
All programs have marketing materials that discuss how great their programs are. What are some ways that you can separate out marketing from substance? Ask for a list of families that
have received services at each program you are considering. Families typically have a realistic perspective about a program and can speak to what a program’s strengths and deficits are.


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  • How much individual and family therapy and support are provided?
Providing one hour of individual therapy and one hour of family therapy replicates the home environment and, if that were effective, a child or adolescent would look toward a traditional outpatient treatment model. If a family is seeking residential treatment, the amount of individual, group and family therapy should reflect a much more significant amount of weekly therapy.


  • Can I tour your program before my adolescent agrees to attend?
A picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes they do not tell an entire story. Seeing a program in person can give you a lot of information about the staff, facility and their ability to
ensure that adolescents have a clean and well cared for environment to do the hard work that needs to be completed. If it is difficult to see facilities in person, it may be wise to look toward an educational consultant to help guide the placement process.


  • How much professional training and supervision does the staff receive?
Supervision is one of the most important professional development and staff retention tools that a program has. Who is providing the supervision? How often? How frequently are staff
meetings and clinical rounds/team meetings held? A clinical and direct line staff that is supported through supervision and team meetings will be better able to handle emergencies, have better
communication and report higher satisfaction in their primary job, caring for your child.


  • My child is a gifted student, artist, athlete, etc. Will your program be able to help them maintain their academic, artistic, athletic strengths while in treatment?
Residential programs exist to treat an area where an adolescent has a deficit that cannot be addressed in the community. All adolescents also have personal strengths that can become marginalized in residential treatment. It is important to inquire if an adolescent’s strengths can continue to be accentuated and nurtured as strengths while receiving treatment.  The more a child/adolescent’s strengths can be accessed, the more satisfied and engaged they will be in their care.


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  • How will your program support my child’s transition from residential care back to the community?
Great treatment can be measured by how well an adolescent can transition from residential care to living at home with their family or in a less restrictive environment. Programs that excel in this transition provide aftercare services that are prominent prior to, during and after that transition. Ask a program about their communication with outpatient therapists, families and community supports prior to discharge and if aftercare services are available following discharge if difficulties arise.


  • What educational services are available to maintain my child’s academic progress?
The decision to leave home and your community, friends, family and school is very difficult.  Returning home with large gaps in academic transcripts can be detrimental to high school
students. It is important to ask how a program can supplement classroom work or provide tutoring to help students keep their academic paths intact.  Are teachers certified by their state in their subject area?  Is there a special education certified teacher to help implement IEPs or guide teachers and students around learning differences?  Can credits from a home school transition to the residential setting and, just as importantly, can credits transition back to a home school upon discharge?


Most importantly for families seeking an out-of-home placement for their child……seek support!  Worrying alone can create a lot of angst, particularly since most families arrive to the decision to seek residential care in moments of crisis, not clarity.  Asking questions, practicing self-care and seeking the help of someone with experience in assessing out-of-home clinical care can help inform decision making and relieve suffering.
Top 10 Questions To Ask When Looking At A Treatment Program

Jim Holsomback

Jim Holsomback (MA; ABT) is the director of clinical outreach for McLean Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts and program director for Triad Adolescent Services, located in Lexington, Massachusetts. He has more than 20 years of experience working with adolescents and families struggling with anxiety, depression, substance use disorders and self-injury. Jim has a vast amount of experience teaching and supporting families struggling to identify ways to establish effective family systems as well as presenting in regional and national trainings and conferences on topics such as contingency management, digital and substance dependence and supporting parents of preteens and adolescents struggling with self-harm & suicidality.

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APA Reference
, . (2018). Top 10 Questions To Ask When Looking At A Treatment Program. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 17, 2019, from


Last updated: 23 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Jul 2018
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