You took an important step when you sent your child to a residential treatment program.
It was probably one of the scariest things you’ve ever done.
Committing to residential treatment is neither simple nor easy. You deserve praise for making that difficult decision. It’s totally understandable that you were on edge while your teen was in treatment, and it’s totally understandable that you’re on edge now that they have a return-home date.
Completing a residential treatment program is a legitimate reason for hope. There’s an unexpected catch, though. It’s what you’re going through right now: positive emotions aren’t the only ones you feel. Alongside excitement and hope, you probably feel many of the negative emotions you felt before treatment, such as anxiety, fear, and uncertainty.
And don’t let the conflicting emotions throw you.
During treatment, you knew exactly where your child was and what they were doing. You knew they were in the hands of skilled professionals, receiving the best combination of therapy, counseling, and complementary support available. Now that they’re returning home, you wonder what’s going to happen when they no longer have all that support.
Here’s something you need to know. It’s essential to understand this, especially now, as you and your teen enter the next stage of your family journey to health and wellness:
The support is not going away.
The Importance of an Aftercare Plan
The end of treatment is the start of the next phase of the recovery journey. That means you and your teenager get to apply what you learned – together – about their mental health, behavioral, or substance use disorder while they were in treatment.
Let’s get on the same page about what we mean by recovery. Many people believe that the word recovery only applies to people with an alcohol or substance use disorder when they get sober. That’s not true. Recovery applies to all mental health and behavioral disorders – including things like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
Here’s the definition of recovery we want you to embrace:
“Recovery is a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.”
Your teen is now in recovery, and when they come home, the next chapter begins. And we get it: you may be freaking out.
But you have good reason not to.
If they went to a high-quality treatment center, they’ll come home with a robust aftercare plan that’s tailored to meet their ongoing, individual. Their aftercare plan should include the following core components:
- Family Engagement. You’re already part of the healing process. The fact you’re reading this article proves it. Before your teen comes home, you can make sure everyone else in the family is on the same page and fully engaged, too.
- Therapeutic Support. Sustainable recovery requires the continued participation of your child’s treatment team, including therapists, counselors, and in many cases, a psychiatrist. Before your teen leaves treatment, you should have a therapist or psychiatrist arranged up the first round of appointments scheduled.
- Medical Support. In the weeks before your teen’s return-home date, take the time to schedule a checkup with their pediatrician. Their discharge packet should include all medical records related to their treatment. If their treatment plan included medication, the aftercare plan and discharge packet should include medication details and contact information for prescribing psychiatrists.
- Community Support. Positive social support outside the family is an essential element of sustainable recovery. If your teen was in treatment for an alcohol or substance use disorder, they probably attended Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings – and continuing those meetings is probably part of their aftercare plan. If they were in treatment for depression, anxiety, or a behavioral disorder, the treatment center should provide you with the resources to find community support groups specific to their condition.
- Healthy Lifestyle and Complementary Supports. During treatment, your teenager probably learned about the importance of exercise, nutrition, and stress management in the recovery process. They may have tried yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness activities. They may have started exercising or gotten into staying in shape. It’s important to keep up with all these activities going on when they come home. Find out what they tried – and find a way to keep it going. Don’t wait. Make it happen as soon as possible. It’s important to capitalize on the positive momentum they have when they complete their treatment program.
The aftercare plan is mostly about them – we know.
And right now, you’re the one who’s a nervous wreck.
But the aftercare plan applies to you and the rest of your family, as well as your teen. In fact, you can adopt almost every element of the plan to you and your needs – without sacrificing the time and energy you need to devote to your teen.
Some parents are the worst at one category of things: treating themselves as well as they treat their kids.
They make their kid a healthy lunch with all the food groups – but wolf down a frozen burrito or skip lunch altogether, themselves.
They ferry their kids back and forth to sports practices, therapy, music lessons, and social events – but when it comes to themselves, they settle for a short walk for exercise, think about therapy but never follow through, and skip social events with friends because they’re too tired or stressed from work. And that piano they used to love to play gathers more dust every day.
Does that sound familiar?
Is that you?
If that’s you, then this is the time for you to make changes. Look at your teenager’s aftercare plan and make an aftercare plan of your own. It should include:
- Social plans for you. You need to get out and be with friends. It’s therapeutic.
- Exercise plans for you. You should get exercise every day. Click here to see what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends for adolescents, and follow the links in that article to find out what they recommend for adults.
- Therapy for you. You may or may not need therapy: we don’t know. Only you know that. But if you think you have unresolved issues from the past – honestly, who doesn’t? – then this is a great time to make an appointment and talk to someone.
- Support groups for you. Get online and find a support group specific to your teen’s diagnosis. There are support groups designed for family members of people with almost every type of mental illness or disorder. Start with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and go from there.
- Breakfast, lunch, and dinner for you. Make sure you practice what you preach. We bet you tell your kid they need three solid meals a day that includes fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Now that your teen understands and – hopefully – is on board with the whole healthy eating thing, you can improve your diet, too.
When one person in the family enters recovery, it affects everyone. It can be hard, it can be frustrating, and there can – there will – be ups and downs. However, if you see this as an opportunity to reset some things in your life that you’ve neglected, you can harness the energy of completing treatment to heal and improve your life, as well.
That way, you share the treatment journey – and you learn and grow right alongside your child.