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What Will My Teen’s Discharge Plan Look Like?

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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Your teen is getting treatment at a teen rehab center. Now what?

While treatment can be challenging, it can be equally difficult for your child to maintain progress after leaving the more supervised and structured elements of a teen rehab center. Your adolescent will be re-exposed to all the stressors in their environments (like their friends, not-such-great friends, school, and more). They’ll need a post-treatment plan that will keep supporting them through the coming months and years ahead.

Before your teen leaves their mental-health treatment center, their discharge coordinator and primary therapist should work closely with you to arrange an aftercare plan that provides a seamless, successful transition from structured treatment to daily life.

Post-treatment plans vary entirely from one client to another depending on the teen’s diagnosis, clinical needs, and level of care. For example, if your teen has successfully discharged from a residential treatment center (RTC), their aftercare plan may indicate a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) or an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). The discharge plan will look completely different if your teen is continuing treatment at a long-term residential program, or stepping down to traditional outpatient (OP). Your teen’s discharge should be unique to their situation.

Here are a few things most commonly included in a post-treatment plan:

Referrals to Support Groups

Your teen’s post-treatment plan may include referrals to weekly support groups. These meetings are useful for teens in any stage of their recovery, but are especially beneficial for those who have completed treatment at a teen residential or outpatient rehab center and are now looking to maintain their progress and feel supported among a community of peers.

Many teens benefit from attending 12-Step meetings, like Codependents Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, or Narcotics Anonymous (if they have also dealt with substance abuse issues). Other weekly programs include local SMART Recovery meetings. These groups often feature recovered alumni participating or leading the sessions. Clients may even start attending these 12-Step meetings while in IOP/PHP. Many clients find sponsors so that they can learn how to utilize this support appropriately. Teens’ parents and siblings also benefit from attending support groups, such as Al-Anon Family Groups and NAMI Family Support Groups.

Some OP programs also provide counseling groups on the outpatient level (such as Art Therapy, Teen Process, or Trauma-Focused groups). The groups are yet another opportunity to connect with like-minded peers even after your teen has discharged from their rehab center. Your child’s discharge coordinator will provide all the dates, times and locations of these meetings in the aftercare plan.

A Home Contract

The discharge plan will vary depending on where your child will live next and where they will attend school. If your teen is returning home, their discharge plan may include rules about parents, friends, and social media. Your child’s therapist may draft a home contract between you and your teen that outlines all the terms and conditions required for them to live at home. The therapist may often institute policies regarding social media and networking as well. He or she may have a discussion with your child about their friends and acquaintances, and go through your teen’s phone together to delete contacts of people who could be detrimental to their recovery or trigger relapse.

Relapse Prevention Strategies

On that note, every discharge plan should include such strategies for relapse prevention. In addition to establishing proactive ways to limit relapse (such as cutting off contact with harmful friends), relapse prevention plans also include a review of one’s most helpful and/or favorite coping skills, medication management tips, and strategies to identify the emotional states and environmental situations most likely to trigger relapse.

Follow-Up Appointments

Teens stepping down to outpatient care need to have doctors and therapists lined up before they leave rehab. The discharge plan should include follow-up appointments with these professionals already scheduled for dates in the future. In order to achieve smooth coordination of care, your discharge coordinator will ask you to sign a release of information. That way, your treatment center can send your child’s medical records to the new providers.

For those with psychiatric disorders taking medication, the list includes psychiatrist appointments, too. Which psychiatrist will take over the monitoring and dispensing of medication? This needs to all be decided in advance. It is especially vital to have a psychiatrist in place before discharge in order to ensure medication compliance. If you do not have a competent psychiatrist in place for follow-up treatment, the discharge coordinator should help you find one. This will ensure your child receives uninterrupted care.

School-Related Recommendations

If your teen will be going back to school, the discharge plan may include recommendations to request modified instruction, services, or other support. If your teen has not been in school for a while due to the severity of their mental health issue, the discharge plan will outline the plan for returning to school.

At times, a child’s mental health and/or behavioral issue severely impacts their educational progress. If this is the case, your child may be eligible for an IEP (Individualized Education Program) to receive special-education services. All public schools in the U.S. must legally provide appropriate special-educational support to children with disabilities. In this case, a physician-diagnosed mental health or behavioral disorder qualifies as a disability. If your teen needs an IEP, the discharge plan should include this. Or, if you already have an IEP for your child it may need to be updated. Input from the residential treatment center may be required.

It’s important to understand that discharging from an RTC, PHP or IOP can be difficult for your teen. The road to recovery is rarely linear. Your teen will have ups and downs, good days and bad days. But hopefully, with the right support and aftercare plan, it will be just a little bit smoother.

Check out our other articles on aftercare plans for those recovering from addiction, discharging specifically from an RTC, or preventing relapse during vacation.

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