Common Challenges Families Face During Residential Mental Health Treatment

If you have a family member who is about to enter residential mental health treatment, you probably have a lot of questions.
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Help for Families When a Loved One Goes to Residential Mental Health TreatmentThe realization that a family member needs residential mental health treatment is a significant occasion for many families. Often, this decision is made when outpatient treatment has been unsuccessful and a family realizes that more help is needed. Whether the family member is dealing with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, drug addiction, or another condition, the whole family realizes that the problem has grown bigger than they are able to manage on their own.

If you have a family member who is about to enter residential mental health treatment, you probably have a lot of questions. How much will I be involved in treatment? When will I be able to communicate with my loved one? Will I be informed of the treatment plan and how things are going? What will it be like for them to be gone? What will it be like when they return?

For many families, it helps to know what you can expect so you can prepare for the challenges that are ahead.

When Your Loved One is No Longer in Your Hands

Research on the challenges families face during mental health treatment has shown that the number one frustration families describe is feeling uninformed.[i] For months into years, you have cared for your family member. You have ensured that your family member receives adequate care. You have educated yourself on diagnoses, medications, and coping skills. You have been ready and available, oftentimes 24 hours a day.
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All that changes when your family member enters a residential treatment center. You may anticipate a great deal of relief to no longer have 24-hour-a-day responsibility for your loved one’s safety and well-being. Many families do experience this sense of relief, but what they don’t anticipate is how difficult it is to give up control.

Families no longer have constant contact with loved ones while they are in residential treatment, and they are no longer the main person in charge of their loved one’s care, at least for a season of time. Many families struggle with concern about how their family member is doing.

Change of any kind is difficult. With your loved one no longer in the house, you will find that your schedule and routine throughout the day changes. Many people find this to be a difficult transition, as it provides unexpected time and space to think. It is often only after a family member leaves for residential treatment that families are able to process how difficult the last months have been.

Two Reminders as You Deal with Time Away

While your loved one is away at residential treatment, focus on the following two reminders.

  1. Remember that the space away from your family member is a healthy thing. Use this time to engage in self-care practices that improve your own health and well-being so you can be recharged for when you family member comes home.
  2. Remember that you can still stay informed through family therapy. While you may not be as informed as you would like, make the best use of your time in family therapy to get the necessary information you need.

Transitioning Back Home

While giving up care for a family member can be difficult, it can also be difficult to take up this care again after a break. The second common frustration that many families report is the difficulty of transitioning back home after treatment.

Many families report that it is difficult for their loved ones to maintain the progress that was gained during residential treatment. Specifically, once clients return home, families report struggles with drug compliance, anger management, and continued use of coping skills.

The family as a whole often struggles to maintain the new ways of relating that were discussed in family therapy. Families are often asked to make specific changes in the way they run the home and relate to one another. Making these changes can be difficult and stressful. Everyone has work to do that can be difficult to maintain.

Two Reminders to Smooth the Transition Back Home

  1. Remember the importance of coming together as a family. You are all in this together. To be healthy, everyone needs to be dedicated to making changes and sustaining them for the long haul.
  2. Remember to ask for help. Just because your family member has come home from treatment, does not mean all care must now fall on you. Ensure that your family member has a counselor to go to at an outpatient program. Consider support groups, ask for help from extended family and friends, and reach out to programs in your community that provide assistance.

Take these reminders to heart as your family member transitions into and out of residential treatment, and things will go much smoother for your family.


[i] Sabanciogullari, S. & Tel, H. (2015). Information needs, care difficulties, and coping strategies in families of people with mental illness. Neurosciences, 20(2), 145-12.

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