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Teen Treatment’s Troubled History

April 29, 2022

By Wesley Gallagher

Teen treatment has been in the news recently, and not for good reasons. Celebrities like Paris Hilton, Jenny Pentland, and Paris Jackson are among those who have come forward with stories from their time in treatment facilities and reform schools that were supposed to help troubled teens. They’re stories not of hope and healing, but of trauma and abuse.

Celebrities with PTSD from Treatment

In the 2020 documentary This is Paris, Paris Hilton opened up for the first time about her experience at various boarding schools and youth treatment facilities she was sent to in her teens.

She recounts how she was taken from her bed in the middle of the night by two men with handcuffs and sent off to the first of many reform schools. She spent almost a year at Provo Canyon School, where she claims to have experienced and witnessed emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, solitary confinement, and forced medicating. Hilton suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and recurring nightmares to this day because of her time there.

Since Hilton’s documentary came out, other celebrities with childhood trauma, including Roseanne Barr’s daughter Jenny Pentland, Michael Jackson’s daughter Paris Jackson, and child star Drew Barrymore have told similar stories of abuse. Pentland wrote a memoir about her childhood that discusses the time she spent in various reform schools and psychiatric institutions. As discussed in USAToday, she, too, struggles with PTSD as a result.

The Trouble with the Troubled Teen Industry

What is the “troubled teen” industry, and why does it have such a checkered past? According to the American Bar Association (ABA), the troubled teen industry is a network of private youth programs, therapeutic boarding schools, residential treatment centers, and addiction treatment for troubled teens that have operated largely unregulated for the past 50 years.

While these programs claim to help youth who struggle with behavioral, mental, and addiction issues, many of them have dealt with allegations of serious abuse.

While these programs claim to help youth who struggle with behavioral, mental, and addiction issues, many of them have dealt with allegations of serious abuse. In fact, the US Government Accountability Office released a report in 2008 detailing thousands of instances of abuse in facilities across America and abroad.

Fortunately, many of the offending facilities have been shut down or undergone massive overhauls, but Hilton and others are still pushing for greater regulation and accountability. Childhood is such a formative and vulnerable time, and young people in need of help should never be exposed to trauma and abuse under the guise of help or “reform.”

Should I Send My Child to Treatment?

If you’re the parent of a teen or adolescent who is struggling with mental health or addiction issues, this might leave you wondering whether you should entrust your child to any type of treatment center. While there is reason to be concerned, you shouldn’t let stories like these keep you from seeking help.

There are steps you can take to get your teen or adolescent addiction help or mental health services that will genuinely benefit them. To start with, it’s important to have them evaluated by a professional so you know what type of treatment is best. There is a wide range of treatment options, and while outpatient treatment may work well for some, others may need more intensive inpatient treatment. Only a trained clinician can help you make that decision.

It’s also important to find a reputable organization with a history of evidence-based practices that can meet your child’s specific needs. Look for accreditations from outside organizations that ensure the program meets or exceeds certain professional standards. For instance, The Meadows carries the National Quality Approval seal from The Joint Commission, is LegitScript-certified and is accredited by the National Association for Behavioral Healthcare (NABH) for patient safety and quality of care. That is on top of our decades of experience using proven therapies, and the top experts from various fields who oversee and inform our practices.

This fall, we will open our newest campus, The Meadows Adolescent Center, created to treat teens 13 to 17 (it will initially admit adolescent boys before adding a separate girls’ dorm in the near future). Like all of our locations, it will specialize in trauma and treat a range of mental health and addiction issues with evidence-based practices.

Look for accreditations from outside organizations that ensure the program meets or exceeds certain professional standards.

Located on 120 acres in Arizona’s scenic high desert, The Meadows Adolescent Center will offer clinical professionalism in a casual environment with a focus on experiential options that take advantage of the stunning Wickenburg property. The 90-day program will provide an option that is long enough to create lasting change, but short enough to not upend the lives of the young people who come. They will even be able to continue their schoolwork while there, so they don’t miss a beat.

In addition to our caring clinical staff, our Meadows Senior Fellows offer unparalleled expertise to our facilities, and they will be an indispensable asset at The Meadows Adolescent Center as we cater our time-tested therapies to teens. And as with all of our programs, our aim is to treat the whole person and their unique needs in order to achieve long-term healing.

No parent wants to make that phone call, but sometimes it’s necessary. And when you do, your teen will be in good hands. “Hope is there,” says Mike Gurr, Executive Director of The Meadows Adolescent Center, adding, “Relationships can be healed. Tools and skills can be learned. And you can actually get your kid back.” If you have a teen who needs help with trauma, addiction, or mental health issues, call us to find out more about our programs and whether we are the right fit for your family.