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The Flip Side

Planning Transitions to Help Students Keep on Track

Parents—and teens themselves—breathe a sigh of relief when teens overcome obstacles that previously held them back. When teens struggle with mental health and addiction issues, finding effective services and support is the foundation for clarifying concerns, reclaiming health, and refocusing priorities. Then, as families start to move beyond crisis mode, they face another hurdle. Teens and young adults need transition plans that will help them continue to apply the lessons learned in a treatment setting to everyday life at home and school.

By design, the organizations that provide the first round of response have a high degree of flexibility and personalization because each individual has a personal journey to recovery. While in these settings, young people and their caregivers focus primarily on a limited set of goals. As students return to their high schools and colleges, they must make the leap into settings with more structure. They also must maintain the focus on staying healthy, while also balancing a broader spectrum of goals.

Late fall and early winter are busy times for students entering residential therapeutic programs because pressures often build from the start of a school year. Many students then transition out of such programs in the spring or summer.  Synchronizing with the next year’s traditional academic calendar makes for a clean re-entry to school. To plan for this transition, students should consider how to use their summer for activities that will boost confidence for the coming year. Engaging in outdoor behavioral health care and completing missed coursework are common activities.

Increasingly, families can also tap into organizations that soften the line between formal services and the “real world.” Nationwide, these networks offer seasoned mentors who connect with teens and college students outside of a traditional office setting, and are thus more integrated into students’ lives. These flexible, personalized services also are resources for students who have never been in residential treatment, but for a variety of reasons, need additional support navigating the transition to adulthood. When exploring this option, look for an organization with a robust staffing profile, including psychiatrists, recreational therapists, and career coaches. Also look for an organization that has an operations staff of young people who are already connected and integrated into a local community so that they can help their client build connections. Many of these mentors are clinicians by trade; they bring valuable expertise and perspective to play a role that is part therapist and part life coach.   

The most rewarding aspect of my work is seeing clients complete their education, go on to successful careers, and lead lives of autonomy and purpose. Helping young people plan for transitions is key to helping them stabilize their gains and continue personal growth and progress in every phase of life.

Jeremy McGeorge specializes in serving families whose children need nontraditional​ services as part of their educational plan. He can be reached at