Treatment was great….now what?

If your child has been in treatment for any length of time you know that it’s really just an intensive experience intended to jumpstart a lifelong journey toward healing and personal growth.  While the level of intervention and support should ease significantly over time, you and your teen or young adult are still likely to need some level of support long after treatment.
Many treatment programs have an aftercare system built into their programs to help families with the initial transition from treatment back home, to college or elsewhere. But it’s wise to explore additional support options prior to your child’s graduation or discharge from treatment.  Following are some post-treatment support tips from Beth Laughlin, MA, who has spent the past fifteen years working with aftercare and transition programs in the US and abroad.  Beth is currently the co-founder of Second Nature 360, a mobile parent coaching and therapeutic mentoring program.
Laughlin says that parents should select their resources according to where their child is going after treatment. The most typical post-treatment scenarios are college, home and independent living.
Common Issues: One of the biggest issues a family faces when child comes home from treatment is learning new ways of dealing with old triggers, Laughlin told us.  It’s not wise to expect that even a successful treatment experience will keep your family from having to navigate old patterns and triggers (though it should help). She noted that leaving a highly structured treatment environment and returning home can lead to short-term regression. This can make everyone feel like they’re back to square one and nothing’s changed. But it’s really a great opportunity to apply newly learned skills to a familiar, and therefore particularly challenging, environment.
Resources: A local therapist familiar with the family’s story is a terrific resource for helping parents prepare for and navigate their child’s homecoming, according to Laughlin. Often this therapist’s work can be powerfully complemented or ever supplanted by the program’s own transition program (if one is available). A parent coach can help support the reintegration process by offering parents practical, real-time input. “Parents are probably the ones needing the most support at this point,” said Laughlin. However, a mentor dedicated to supporting the young person can prove invaluable at this time as well.  Parents do well to identify in advance other relevant resources available in their community, such as tutoring centers, 12-step meetings, youth groups, etcetera.
Common Issues: “It’s a big leap to suddenly go from the structure of treatment to an unstructured college setting where students have to manage their own schedule and deal with an environment that is often full of emotional triggers,” says Laughlin. The first semester of college is a sensitive time and is the period in which the vast majority of attritions occur.
Resources: “Know before it’s needed what’s available on campus through the university (both terms of academic and therapeutic support),” Laughlin told us.  She suggests a mentor (either remote or in-person) for any student who may need assistance with organization, social adjustment or maintaining sobriety. A good mentor will have regularly scheduled meetings with the young adult, plus emergency availability 24/7 (by phone, text or email). Mentors should have the background to understand the placement the young person has come from and her future aspirations. Mentoring involves helping the student plug into local resources so that the student becomes increasingly autonomous in terms of managing her own support and personal growth. Other resources for new students include the student counseling center, a private tutor and/or the college tutoring center, the student’s faculty adviser, sober living houses and transitional support programs located near campus.
Issues: Some students transition directly from a residential program to life on their own. Laughlin has seen these students, (overwhelmed by the simple, practical demands of life) finding and maintaining a job, keeping an apartment clean, insurance, transportation, diet, exercise and loneliness. Parents often intervene in ways that cross the line of support and become enablement or enmeshment. This situation is uniquely challenging and calls for a high level of family support, says Laughlin.
Resources: “When a young person goes from treatment to an independent living situation,” says Laughlin, “I think that a local mentor is the best bet for supporting the young person. Someone who’s available in person to help navigate local resources and who’s also available for after-hours crises.” Parents, she says, typically have a lot of skill building to do in terms of learning to support without enabling. A good therapist, social worker or parent coach can help here. Community based vocational or transitional support programs can provide a good “step down” option, providing community, support and practical skills.