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California Offers the Best Residential Treatment Centers for Teens

Teen Treatment Centers in The Golden State

If your teen has a serious mental health condition, they may need residential treatment. Teens with emotional, behavioral, or alcohol/substance use disorders (AUD/SUD) typically begin treatment with less immersive levels of care, such as outpatient treatment, intensive outpatient programs (IOP), or partial hospitalization programs (PHP). However, if your teen participated in a program at one of these levels of care but didn’t make sufficient progress, they may have received a referral or recommendation for a more immersive level of care: a program at a residential treatment center (RTC).

If you’re looking for residential treatment for your teen, here’s something you should know: you can find some of the most well-regarded, innovative, and effective treatment programs in the country in the state of California – and they’re designed specifically for teens and their unique needs.

Before we go further, we should make sure we’re on the same page. We want to make sure the following assumptions are correct. At this point in your teen’s treatment journey, we assume they have:

  • Received a complete biopsychosocial assessment administered by a licensed mental health professional. This is always the best first step.
  • Received an accurate diagnosis. This is also critical. An inaccurate diagnosis can lead to months or years of disconnect between treatment and what’s really going on. An inaccurate diagnosis rarely leads to productive treatment.
  • Received a referral for a program in a residential treatment center (RTC).

Your teen may have engaged in treatment at a less immersive level of care. If they haven’t, and their therapist recommends residential treatment as a first option, then that most likely means your teen has severe symptoms – whatever their condition – and needs focused time in a setting that encourages healing and growth.

That’s exactly what you can find in a residential treatment center for teens in California.

Residential Treatment for Teens: Overview of Disorders and Conditions

When recommended by a licensed, qualified professional experienced in working with adolescents, a residential program is often the best option for families who want sustainable, lifelong healing for their child.

Residential programs support teens with a wide range of mental health and behavioral issues. RTCs develop individualized, integrated treatment programs for teens diagnosed with:

* Note: Do not ignore talk of suicide or talk of suicide attempts. If you think your teen is in immediate danger or poses an imminent threat to themselves or someone else, call 911 immediately or take them to an emergency room at a regular hospital or a psychiatric hospital.

What Makes Residential Treatment Centers Different?

The defining characteristics of residential treatment, when compared to the less immersive levels of care, can offer significant advantages for teens with severe symptoms related to their disorder.

A residential treatment program can:

  1. Remove distractions and pressure associated with family life, school life, peers/social life, and extracurricular activities.
  2. Give teens the time to focus on healing.
  3. Give teens time to understand their disorder. At an RTC, teens learn about mental health in general, learn the specifics of their condition, and – when they put in the time and effort – can develop the skills they need to manage their symptoms.
  4. Give teens the time to practice the skills they learn before returning home or stepping down to a less immersive level of care.
  5. Give teens the self-confidence they need to return to the daily responsibilities associated with family life, school life, social life, and extracurricular activities.

That’s the bird’s eye view on the advantages of residential treatment vs. outpatient, intensive outpatient, or partial hospitalization programs. We should mention that there is not one best level of care. Each level of care is appropriate for teens at different levels of need. The level of care should match the level of need, as defined by a mental health professional. For a teen whose day-to-day life is unmanageable due to their condition, residential treatment can be a life-changing – and sometimes lifesaving – alternative to the less immersive levels of care.

We’ll now discuss the various types of treatment and treatment approaches you can find at residential treatment centers for teens in California.

California: Cutting-Edge, Evidence-Based Residential Treatment for Teens

Experts agree that the integrated treatment model is the most effective approach to supporting teens with emotional, behavioral, and/or alcohol/substance use disorders (AUD/SUD). In highly regarded treatment centers, integrated treatment includes a combination of individual, group, and family therapy. In addition, the integrated model includes medication (when needed and indicated by a physician), lifestyle adjustments, and complementary approaches like mindfulness, expressive therapy, experiential learning, and community support.

At an integrated residential program for teens in California, you’re likely to find the following treatment components:

  • Individual therapy:
  • Family therapy:
    • Multi-family
    • Single family
    • Parenting support
  • Mindfulness:
    • Meditation
    • Yoga
    • Mindful walking
  • Experiential activities:
    • General exercise
    • Surfing
    • Equine therapy (horses)
    • Hiking
    • Boxing
  • Expressive therapies:
  • Community support:
    • Group meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
    • Group meetings for family members of people with AUD/SUD
    • Support for family members of people with mental health issues

There’s another thing about California to remember.

The state is well-known for its cultural and demographic diversity. This translates to mental health treatment in two important ways. First, most teen residential treatment centers in California are culturally competent. That means that staff have experience working not only with adolescents, but people from a wide variety of cultural, spiritual, and ethnic backgrounds. Second, most teen residential treatment centers in California welcome LGBTQIA+ teens with open arms. Staff accept teens where they are for who they are, period. While this is not true for every teen RTC in California, openness and acceptance is the rule, rather than the exception.

Special Note on Comprehensive DBT Programs for Teens

One of the only residential treatment centers in the country that offers a comprehensive DBT program for teens is located in Southern California, on Vanalden Avenue in Tarzana. To learn more about comprehensive DBT – and the program in Tarzana specifically – please navigate to these pages:

Comprehensive DBT and DBT-Informed Programs for Teens

Evolve Vanalden

We’ll now talk about another thing that makes California a good choice for residential treatment for teens: the stunning natural beauty of the California Coast and Coastal Mountain ranges.

Location, Location, Location: California is Beautiful

Before we discuss location, location, location with regards to natural beauty, we’ll briefly address what location, location, location means in terms of infrastructure.

California Has Resources

It’s well-known that California has the highest population in the United States, with just under forty million residents. That’s twice as many people as New York and over twice the population of the ten least populous states in the nation combined.

In terms of infrastructure, this means that California has all the resources of an independent nation. In fact, if it were an independent country, California would have the fourth largest economy in the world, coming in after Germany and before India.

This is relevant because, to support its large, diverse, and growing population, California has to have everything. By everything, we mean everything. California has major airports in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, which offer direct access to all areas of the state from anywhere in the country and the world.

There are well over a hundred hospitals in the Los Angeles area alone. Public and private universities in California are home to advanced medical research facilities that stand up against anything, anywhere. For example, you may have heard the acronym PCR mentioned over the past year – it’s the method they use to test for COVID. PCR was developed by a researcher at the Scripps Center in San Diego.

Which gives us the perfect segue to our discussion of California’s natural beauty – because we don’t need to remind you about things like entertainment (Hollywood), technology (Silicon Valley), or unique cities (from San Francisco to Ukiah, California has it all) – do we?

About that segue: the person who invented PCR got the idea while taking a walk on one of Southern California’s picturesque beaches.

Beaches and Mountains

Since we’re talking about treatment centers, which, for the most part, are located in coastal areas near California’s largest cities, we’ll skip talking about legendary national parks like Yosemite, King’s Canyon, or Joshua Tree, and focus on what teens in residential treatment homes in California are likely to have access to: the beaches and the coastal mountain ranges.

The California coastline is breathtaking. In some places, the mountains extend right to the Pacific, creating stunning cliffs, coves, and hidden beaches. In other areas, the mountains sit sixty miles back from the coast. This creates many of the famous beaches Southern California is famous for. In still other areas, you can find lush hills somewhere in between: from just a few hundred yards to a couple of miles. What this means for teens in residential treatment in California is that the power of nature is always close – in most cases, beaches or trailheads are a short drive away.

It also means that teens can see the sun set over the ocean and rise over the hills almost every day. All this combines to give teens in treatment in California the opportunity to experience the peaceful, restorative and regenerative power of nature – just like the inventor of PCR experience when he went on a walk and came back to the lab with a concept that affects all our lives to this day.

Treatment Homes in Residential Neighborhoods

Many residential treatment centers in California offer something teens with severe mental health or behavioral issues need. It’s something you won’t find in a treatment manual – but the staff at many treatment centers for teens in California realize it’s essential:

Teens need to feel like they’re in a real home.

A real home offers safety, protection, and a sense of belonging. A real home offers the chance to be seen, heard, understood, and – dare we say – loved. We’re not joking, and neither are these treatment homes in California. Treatment center designers and staff know that these are the things teens need to feel whole, so they do their best to provide them.

Here’s how they do that:

They’re in real homes.

Many residential treatment centers for teens in California are in repurposed residential homes designed for families. They’re not in hospitals or strip malls. Since many residential centers in California were first built with a family dynamic in mind, treatment centers renovate them to meet local professional and healthcare safety in mind but retain that original family feeling. Designers and clinicians collaborate to ensure they maintain an atmosphere that’s conducive to healing and growth.

They’re in real neighborhoods.

This means that both the treatment home and its immediate surroundings feel safe, comfortable, and home-like. They’re in residential areas. Neighbors are families, rather than strip malls or convenience stores. A teen in a residential treatment center is likely to have a view that’s relaxing. They’ll the ocean and the coastal ranges. They’ll see trees and plenty of green.  They’re close enough to their neighbors to feel a comforting sense of community, yet far enough away to feel the privacy necessary to engage in the work of recovery.

The groups are small.

Residential treatment centers for adults are often in hospitals or office parks. Sometimes they’re part of outpatient treatment centers. This means there may be a hundred or more people on-site on any given day. That can make a teen feel disconnected, small, and like a little cog in a big machine. That’s not at all the case in one of the residential treatment homes in California we’re talking about. These homes support an average of six teens at a time, and maintain a high staff to teen ratio. This gives teens the feeling that their recovery is important and that there’s always an adult there to help them if needed. Most importantly, the small groups and intimate environment combine to help a teen in treatment feel like they’re the priority – because they are.

In addition to all that – the resources available in California, the access to outdoor activities, the daily proximity to true beauty, and the unique, home-like locations – many residential treatment centers for teens in California have the amenities that make all the difference. For instance, a treatment home in California might have a swimming pool, a small but fully equipped gym, tennis, basketball, or volleyball courts, common areas outside and inside, dedicated school areas, and comfortable bedrooms. In some cases, they even have an on-site gourmet chef.

Please understand that these are real treatment homes where real recovery happens every day. We encourage you not to mistake the word amenity for the word luxury. The goal in these homes is to help teens heal. The amenities facilitate that – but the most important feature of a treatment home in California is the dedication and skill of their therapists and counselors.

Who – as it happens – move to California for many of the reasons we list above.

California: A History of Innovation

California has a longstanding tradition of openness, creativity, and innovation. This is as true for teen treatment centers as it is for things like entertainment, cultural diversity, intellectual achievement, and healthy living. In fact, when we think of a healthy, self-care lifestyle, what often comes to our mind is quintessential California: plenty of sunshine, outdoor activity, and cutting-edge thinkers creating an environment that’s totally unique.

When a teen attends a residential treatment center in California, they get it all – without sacrificing one iota of scientific rigor or responsible, practical medical and psychiatric care. The essence of California is in its contrasts. We already talked about mountains and the sea. What we mean now is the balance between rock-solid science and creativity. Think of the wide-open creativity of Silicon Valley, grounded in the hard sciences, and tempered by the demands of an economic market, and you’ll get an idea of the amazing environment you can find in California.

If you’re looking for cutting-edge, evidence-based residential treatment for your teen, look no further: it’s hard to beat California.

Finding Help

If you’re seeking residential treatment for your teen, 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.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) is an excellent resource for locating licensed and qualified psychiatrists, therapists, and counselors in your 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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