The Advantages of Residential Treatment for Teens

Residential Treatment vs. Outpatient Treatment for teens.

By Joshua Smith

Through my years of working with teens, I have noted the advantages of residential treatment for teens versus the outpatient setting.  I currently work in a residential treatment center, but I have also had the opportunity to work in outpatient settings as well.  I just want to outline some of my opinions about the two settings.  I am going to discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of both.


In my work in with teens in an outpatient setting, I have personally witnessed some advantages and disadvantages of therapeutic interventions in this setting.


The Advantages of Residential Treatment for Teens

  1. The ability to assess and intervene while they are still in their home environment
  2. The convenience of having regular access to parents, friends and extended family in the lives of the student.
  3. The therapeutic assignments that are given to the teen are able to be practiced in the setting and environment where they struggle most.


The Dis-Advantages of Residential Outpatient for Teens

  1. The teen knows that in 1 hour or less they will leave.
  2. Teens struggle to trust and see the therapist as an extension of parental authority.
  3. There is no disruption of unhealthy patterns of behavior.
  4. Often teens enter therapy under duress from parents. They have no motivation for working through assignments or engaging in the treatment process.


Residential treatment carries some strong advantages when working with teens. Below are some of the advantages I have witnessed at Discovery Ranch for Girls.


  1. The child is removed from an often toxic environment. This disrupts unhealthy patterns and allows for a change in thinking. Back home, it is hard to change when a teen feels that they are struggling for emotional safety on a day to day basis.
  2. The student starts to contemplate the need for change and over time starts to engage the therapeutic process.
  3. The therapist is around the client in a number of different settings and this allows for some very good insight into the problems that the client faces.
  4. The student comes to rely on the therapist for a number of things that don’t exist in an outpatient setting. This allows a strong therapeutic relationship to develop at a faster pace.
  5. The level of therapy is more intensive and healthy therapeutic progress can be accomplished in a shorter amount of time.
  6. The client is able to be exposed to a number of different therapeutic interventions on a week to week basis. This fosters the ability to individualize and customize the therapeutic process.
  7. The client is able to be in a safe environment that protects them from unhealthy and destructive behaviors they were previously engaged in.


There are some obvious and normal concerns that every parent share’s as they contemplate placing their daughter in a residential setting.


  1. Separation from family is difficult.
  2. Residential is more costly than outpatient therapy.
  3. The residential therapeutic environment somewhat sheltered. There is very specific efforts that need to be made to prepare for a healthy transition back home.


I have found that the advantages of a residential therapeutic intervention outweigh the advantages of outpatient therapy.  I am clearly biased; however I find that for teens, residential treatment is the more powerful tool for healthy long term change.