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Bay Area Residential Treatment Centers for Teens: Homes Away from Home

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
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Residential Treatment Centers for Teens in Northern California Might Surprise You

When people think of residential treatment for mental health issues or drug and alcohol problems, two contrasting images typically spring to mind. Media, television, and film reinforce these images to the point that they’ve become well-established cultural tropes. Most of us don’t think twice about them, because we don’t need to.

But the reality is that where residential treatment centers are concerned, there’s great variety.

Before we talk about that variety, and focus on the types of centers that create a healing, home-like atmosphere that helps teens learn to manage mental, behavioral, or addiction issues, we’ll talk about the two dominant images that most people conjure in their minds when they read or hear the phrase residential treatment center.

Residential Treatment: What We Think

First, we most often paint a cold, clinical, impersonal, institutional image of residential treatment in our minds. Everything is sterile. There are only two colors: bleached white or metallic gray. Meals are cafeteria style, like in elementary school. Common areas are furnished with simple tables, folding chairs, and possibly a soft lounge chair or two. At the tables, checkers is the game of choice. The reading material: old copies of Reader’s Digest. There may be a television mounted high in one corner of the common room, with the remote controlled by treatment center staff.

These places don’t seem conducive to healing.

Next, there’s the opposite: luxury residential treatment centers, which most people think of as spa rehab, and not mental health or addiction treatment at all. Everything in these places is high-end and boutique. They look like all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. Face masks – not the COVID type – and cucumber slices for beautiful skin are the norm. Everyone walks around in plush bathrobes. Hot stone massages, personal training, and mani-pedis happen on-demand. Common rooms are straight out of interior design magazines. The view from every room is like a postcard.

While they look nice and may appear conducive to recovery, these places seem to place more emphasis on amenities than they do on treatment.

The operative word for both these images is seem.

They don’t seem conducive to healing. They seem more like retreats than rehab.

The fact is that residential treatment centers like both these do exist, and real healing and recovery can happen in either setting. However, most residential treatment centers are somewhere in between: they’re neither cold and clinical nor posh and pretty.

Then there’s something completely different: the unique phenomenon of adolescent residential treatment centers in the Bay Area that are designed to feel like homes.

Residential Treatment Centers: A New Paradigm

As we mention above, most residential treatment centers are somewhere between bare-bones clinical and high-end bespoke luxury.

The treatment centers we want to talk about in this article, though, are different than those typical in-between facilities. They’re designed for adolescents with mental health, behavioral, or addiction problems that are severe enough to merit time away from home in an environment designed specifically for treatment and recovery.

They offer the essential components of what adolescents need to heal, grow, and change. Among other things, adolescents need to be seen, heard, and treated with respect and kindness. They also need something else: they need to feel safe, protected, and – apologies if we’re getting all mushy, here – they need to feel loved.

In other words, they need to feel like they’re in a real home.

That’s why a new residential treatment paradigm – examples of which can be found in several adolescent treatment centers in the Bay Area – resonates with teens and their families. These treatment centers do things differently.

Here are three things that set these treatment centers apart. There are more, which we’ll talk about in a moment, but these three make a big difference:

1. They’re in renovated homes.

That means these aren’t repurposed hospital wards or office spaces redesigned for residential treatment. The structures themselves were originally built with families in mind, and they’ve been redesigned to keep that family feeling. During the redesign, builders and clinicians collaborate to add elements that help teens in treatment feel comfortable.

2. They’re in residential neighborhoods.

That means that not only does the immediate environment feel home-like, but the surrounding environment feels home-like, too. These treatment centers are in quiet neighborhoods surrounded by other homes, rather than in office parks adjacent to condo complexes and strip malls. When teens look out the window, they see trees, hills, and nature. And through the trees, they may catch a glimpse of a neighbor’s house – close enough to feel community, but far enough away to feel a real sense of privacy.

3. They keep the groups small.

That means they support a limited number of teens at a time – around six on average, for these types of treatment centers – and maintain a high clinical staff to teen client ratio.

Those are the three fundamental differences between these Bay Area treatment centers for teens and other residential treatment centers for teens. The facilities, their location, and their census – meaning how many teens receive treatment at a time – set them apart from your typical teen rehab.

And there’s more: the staff and the amenities. It’s easy to understand what we mean by staff, but the word amenities is not a synonym for luxuries. In this case, it means the extra components that, when considered altogether, change a good environment for healing into an ideal environment for healing.

The Details Make the Difference

We’ll start with the details about the clinical and full-time staff in these treatment centers. Both clinical staff and support staff meet the following criteria. They are:

  • Fully licensed and accredited by the appropriate government and regulatory agencies in California.
  • Experienced working with the adolescent population.
  • Capable of supporting teens with a range of mental health, behavioral, or addiction issues.
  • Experts in specific areas relevant to teen mental health, such as addiction, mood disorders, and/or behavioral disorders.
  • Trained in evidence-based therapeutic methods proven effective for adolescents, such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), motivational interviewing (MI), seeking safety (SS), and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Conversant in cutting-edge mindfulness and experiential therapeutic supports.
  • Compassionate, open-minded, and heart-centered.
  • Committed to offering evidence-based care with kindness, empathy, and understanding.

That’s a good picture of the type of staff you’ll find at these Bay Area residential treatment centers. They’re consummate professionals dedicated to helping teens discover their true selves. They teach teens in treatment how to navigate the ups and downs of a mental health or addiction problem while maintaining and cultivating their personal sense of self and identity.

Now let’s talk about those amenities.

In the Bay Area, you’ll find residential treatment centers with all of the above, plus:

  • Comfortable bedrooms
  • Large, modern kitchens
  • Family-style dining rooms/eating areas
  • School areas with computers for school work, recovery research, and personal enrichment
  • Private spaces for group and individual therapy
  • Fully equipped gyms and workout spaces
  • Ample private greenspace
  • Outdoor seating/eating/community areas
  • Rooms for art, music, and other creative activities
  • Swimming pools
  • Tennis, basketball, and/or volleyball courts (in some, but not all, locations)
  • On-site gourmet chefs

You read that last bullet point correctly: on-site gourmet chefs. Nothing says comfort and care like three healthy meals a day. Good food on a consistent basis can be a game-changer.

Making a Treatment Home: How to Put It All Together

We discussed the details – and they’re important.

But everything we mention above is meaningless without a conscious effort to use those human resources and infrastructure components to the benefit of teens. A prime example of how to leverage these resources to the advantage of adolescents in treatment is the way these Bay Area residential treatment centers for teens approach holidays. From the Fourth of July to Thanksgiving to the December holidays – and even Indian Diwali – the staff at these treatment centers go out of their way to make teens feel the essence of a given holiday, despite the fact they’re in rehab, and not at home with their families.

They do that in four ways:

1. Special Meals.

During holiday times, the on-site chefs at these residential treatment centers go all out, while accommodating all food allergies and cultural guidelines. Fourth of July hot dogs, Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing, Christmas cookies, you name it: the teens in these places get great meals appropriate to the holiday.

2. Festive Atmosphere.

Treatment center staff decorate treatment homes with all the appropriate accouterments. Halloween gets spooky. December is festive. The Fourth is red, white, and blue. These efforts make feel teens feel taken care of, on an individual level, and help them feel connected to what’s going on out in the world, on a social level.

3. Holiday Activities.

Treatment centers continue to support and treat teens over the holidays, because recovery from a mental health or addiction issue doesn’t pause for a day on the calendar. Given that default fact – these are teens in treatment – treatment center staff do their best to adjust schedules to make time for holiday movies, holiday arts and crafts, and any activity that’s safe, fun, and in the spirit of the specific day.

4. Communicating With Family.

On holidays, teens get expanded communication privileges with their families. This may mean families come visit on-site. It may mean teens get to go spend the day with their families off-site. And it may mean extra time on the phone or on a video chat. In any case, treatment center staff make adjustments to allow teens to either talk to or see their families during holidays, because that connection is the bedrock of ongoing, sustained recovery.

That last point brings us to another element these Bay Area residential treatment centers for teens prioritize: family involvement in treatment. Evidence shows that when families participate in the treatment process, outcomes improve.

Home Away from Home: Families First

The reason the treatment centers we discuss in this article work to create a family atmosphere in their residential treatment centers is twofold. First, an environment of love, kindness, and respect creates a firm foundation upon which teens can meet and exceed the challenges of recovery. Next, many of these treatment centers hold weekly or monthly family workshops and therapy sessions both with and without their teens. Family therapy with teens helps repair, rebuild, or reaffirm the family dynamic – whichever is needed – and family workshops without the teens help parents, siblings, and caregivers understand what their loved one is going through during rehab, and what they need to do to support them while they’re in treatment and when they come home.

That’s huge.

When a teen and their family understand how to establish productive, healthy habits around communication and behavior, it helps. It means the environment a teen returns to – i.e. home and family – can support that teen on their ongoing recovery journey. This increases the likelihood of treatment success. It also puts everyone that matters on the same page, equipped with the skills they need to move forward toward a brighter future.

Finding Help: Resources

If you’re looking for a residential treatment program for a teen in the Bay Area of Northern California, please navigate to our page How to Find the Best Treatment Programs for Teens and download our helpful handbook, A Parent’s Guide to Mental Health Treatment for Teens.

In addition, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) is an excellent resource for locating licensed and qualified psychiatrists, therapists, and counselors in any area. Both the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness also provide and high-quality online resources, ready and waiting for you right now.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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