Programs for Struggling Teens: Day Treatment Programs This Emotional Life - PBS

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Adolescence / Blog

 Frederic Reamer Ph.D.

Frederic Reamer Ph.D.'s Bio

Dr. Reamer is a professor in the Graduate Social Work Program at Rhode Island College.

Programs for Struggling Teens: Day Treatment Programs


Day treatment programs provide teens with nonresidential services to help them address their mental health and substance abuse issues.  The goal is to provide teens with structured and comprehensive services without hospitalization or residential care.  Typical programs require youths to participate in individual, group, and, when feasible, family counseling.  Educational services may be included to help teens stay on track academically.  Some day treatment programs are affiliated with hospitals and some are independent.  The program’s schedule may provide significant opportunity for teens to attend a local school and spend time with family. 

An Example of a Day Treatment Program

The “Day Treatment Program” (DTP) is affiliated with a major teaching hospital.  The DTP offers half-day structured treatment for adolescents.  This program provides intensive treatment while allowing continued involvement in everyday activities with family and school.  The day treatment program addresses issues such as severe mood swings; school problems; defiance issues; frequent rage, outbursts, or threats; isolation or withdrawal; alcohol and drug problems; ADHD; depression; and anxiety.  Adolescents meet individually with staff members to develop an individualized treatment plan.  Treatment may consist of several types of therapy, such as individual counseling; group therapy; family therapy; experiential and expressive therapies, such as recreation, art, music, and drama therapy; cognitive-behavioral therapy; and medication management.  Half-day sessions are held Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. or 12:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.  When necessary, teens may be offered full-day programs.  The treatment team includes practitioners from the fields of psychiatry, social work, psychology, family therapy, nursing, and education. 

The DTP is designed to stabilize teens who are in crisis or who struggle with chronic challenges.  Teens who participate in the DTP have several options at the conclusion of the program.  Some are able to resume full-time attendance at their local school, often with supplemental counseling and supportive services.  Some teens – and their families – conclude that enrollment in an alternative school that offers specialized services (such as counseling and special education services) may be preferable to continuing at the local school.  In some instances, teens transfer to a therapeutic boarding school or residential treatment center.