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How to Deal with Social Skill Issues After Residential Treatment

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social skills issues

One question many teenagers have after leaving residential treatment is “is it possible to replicate the relationships I’ve built in treatment in the real world?” Anyone who has been through residential treatment recognizes how refreshing it is to be able to share fears and insecurities in a group setting and receive support and empathy rather than judgment and exclusion. Yet, the same social rules don’t always apply when they leave residential treatment. While they’ve identified values they want to seek out in relationships, they may find it difficult to find the same level of vulnerability and support in others outside of a treatment setting. This puts teenagers at risk of feeling socially isolated and struggling with social skills issues after residential treatment. 

Leaving a Therapeutic Community Brings Up Social Anxiety

Most residential treatment centers limit access to cell phones and social media in an effort to encourage teens to connect with peers in the program. This means that one challenges teens face as they prepare to transition from residential treatment is how to reconnect with old friends and how to continue to maintain distance from relationships that no longer serve them. Many teenagers are anxious about returning to their hometown or high school and how to respond when people ask how they have been. They question whether it is socially appropriate to describe their experiences in treatment and whether their peers will recognize the growth they’ve experienced or if they will have to start over in “proving it” to others.

Despite the progress they may have made in working on social anxiety, social skills issues, and relational trauma in a residential treatment setting, it is not uncommon for young adults to reach a plateau when they first leave a controlled environment. It is important to remember that the process is not linear and that it takes ongoing self-awareness and community support to maintain the progress they’ve made in residential treatment.

Reintegrating into the Community with Support

One of the biggest challenges for teens who have a history of substance abuse is feeling comfortable socializing with others without using drugs and alcohol as a prop or a coping mechanism. While they may feel like it was easier to socialize in a treatment setting with others who have shared histories of substance use as there was no access to substances, they may find it more difficult to connect with others when they enter school settings or workplaces where their peers are not in recovery.

As many teens are sheltered from these triggers in a treatment setting, they are not always prepared when they re-enter these scenarios where it can be more difficult to advocate for themselves, set boundaries, and share their goals with others. Coming up with a transition plan regarding how to address these situations can help young adults feel more confident in their ability to reintegrate into the “real world” and maintain a support network. Although they may not need the same level of care, individuals are not expected to do it on their own once they leave a residential program. Continuing to work with a therapist and forming relationships with those who have also been in treatment helps young adults address these challenges as they arise. 

Continued Practice of Social Skills

One of the benefits of a step-down program, as compared to outpatient therapy, is the continued support of a therapeutic community where young adults can practice social skills and maintain a positive support network. Many young adults feel conflicted between wanting a blank slate when they leave residential treatment and wanting to return to a familiar environment. Looking into a step-down program offers a balanced opportunity to gain independence while staying connected with a therapeutic community. 

Step-down programs, like Journey Home, help cultivate a supportive group dynamic by offering mentorship and group social activities in addition to weekly community groups. We recognize that social integration is one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of transitioning from a residential environment into the community. Between community service opportunities, positive recreation activities, and discussions about healthy dating practices, we help young adults work on developing the skills to seek out and maintain healthy relationships with others. 


For more information about social skills issues after residential treatment, contact Journey Home at (801) 444-0794. We can help today!