Making Sure Aftercare is not an “Afterthought”

IECA National Conference in Boston May 4-7, 2016

One of the breakout sessions I attended at a recent conference was about transition from a therapeutic program to a step down program. This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart. Why? Prior to becoming a professional educational consultant, I worked in the area of Organizational Development or “OD” for short. One thing we always believed in and worked on were what we called “organizational systems”. The basic premise is that nothing in our lives really happens in a vacuum. We work in organizational systems and we live in family systems.

When a family sends a son or daughter to a “program” for treatment, what they are doing is taking the teen or young adult out of a toxic, dysfunctional system. Now we all know that parents sometimes play a role in the dysfunction, but so do peers, peer cultures, school systems, and now, of course, the internet and social media.

We often place a student in an extremely structured environment where things that might cause harm, like illegal substances, are unavailable for a period of time. One wilderness therapist I work with calls this time in wilderness “the back country” and the time back into the day to day world “the front country”. As students regain healthy behaviors and learn more effective ways to deal with stress, anxiety, and depression, they frequently move to what we call a “step down” program that has less structure and more risk of relapse into old negative patterns.

One quote from Tony Mosier, therapist and owner at Telos RTC was interesting: Tony said, “we often structure away the pathology when a student is in a program.” In other words, access to bad substances, negative family dynamics, and other stressors can cause a student to be depressed or anxious. As they become acclimated to a healthier environment, they get better! Voila! As you reintroduce the exact same stressors that caused a family and to use a program in the first place, will the student quickly revert to older behaviors?

Kyle Gillett, Executive Director at Solstice East RTC, described the model that they use for transition with the acronym HELPS:

H= healthy living which includes health eating, sleep, hygiene, community engagement

E=education – having a plan and have registered for classes

L=life skills or activities for daily living

P=personal responsibility, such as getting a job, making thoughtful choices

S=social engagement, such as how to navigate social media, cell phones, technology, and having a safety net.

Another nice thought was to help a client have an individualized plan based upon the amount of freedom they can handle. Some of our students do not have confidence about riding a public transportation system or other tips for getting around in an urban environment. We at The Price Group think the transition planning or aftercare planning is AS important if not MORE important than the care and planning that goes into the initial placement. We have many resources to provide parent support and mentoring! So let us know how we can help you.

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