As I’m on the road to the Residential Treatment Center (RTC) I was recently accepted into I can’t help but notice a drastic difference in the level of calm and preparation I’m feeling now compared to how I felt prior to attending my first RTC in December.

Just a short number of months ago I was Making Plans to admit into my very first RTC. I had absolutely no idea as to what I was walking into.

Whenever I’ve required higher levels of mental health care in the past I would go to inpatient psychiatric hospitals with a crisis level of need for treatment and intervention.

As far as mental health goes, inpatient was a level of care I had become comfortably familiar with. I incorrectly assumed it would be a comparable experience to attending a residential treatment center.

What is a residential treatment center?

Occasionally referred to as rehabilitation facilities, RTCs are healthcare facilities where patients temporarily live at in a residential setting while they receive treatment for various mental illnesses, substance abuse, and/or other problematic behaviors. RTCs are not another form of an inpatient hospital facility. Instead, they are long-term treatment centers that provide treatment around the clock for the mental and emotional problems of the residents who live there with a supportive network of other patients.

After completing three months of treatment at an RTC beginning in December I feel much more prepared to be heading into a new facility.

if you’re finding yourself in need of the types of services residential treatment centers provide, the following suggestions can help guide your preparation process for admission

1. Length of your stay

The duration of treatment programs at RTCs varies from place to place and from one individual to the next.

If possible, try to get an estimate on what your expected length of stay will be. Understand the timeframe can and will change to adjust to your progress and needs. However, getting a rough estimate of how long you’ll be away is a great starting point for making plans.

2. Check the weather

Particularly if you’re traveling out of state for treatment, be sure to look up what the typical weather is like where the RTC is located and during the time you expect to be there.

This will be super-helpful when determining which clothes to pack.

3. Enquire about the admissions process

Many residential treatment centers have specific procedures and steps you must complete before you can be formally admitted into their program. Find out what the requirements are and approximately how long the process takes so you can proactively choose the best admission date and time for yourself and prepare for it.

4. Packing list

Upon admission into their program, most centers will provide you with a guidance document for packing. The document typically includes a list of items it’s suggested you bring as well as lists of items you are and are not allowed to bring. Print yourself a copy of this guide when you receive it and take the time to familiarize yourself with it.

5. What do you need?

The packing guide is a great starting resource for drafting a list of the items you need and the tasks you need to complete before beginning treatment. Try to familiarize yourself with the information they provide and reference it frequently as you pack. Be sure to avoid any and all restricted items. Don't forget to find out what they suggest the best form of spending money is to bring with you.

6. Know your medications

I firmly believe this is a must, regardless of whether you need to seek treatment or not. You should never put anything in your mouth or body without knowing exactly what it is and what it does.

Make sure you have an up to date list of all of the medications you are taking.

Note their names, the dosage, the frequency, approximately when you began taking the medication, and the reason you’re taking it.

Find out the treatment center’s policies on bringing both prescription and over the counter medications from home. Ask that they explain the process of obtaining new medications while you’re living at the center.

7. Learn about their treatment program

On most residential treatment center websites you can find a plethora of information about the types of treatments, therapies, and activities they offer. Get to know their program as well as you can. Note the things they offer that have been beneficial to you in the past. Also, note what wasn’t so helpful, but don’t convince yourself it’ll be just as unhelpful as the last time yet.

Keep an open mind and give everything a fair chance.

8. Take personal inventory

This step involves some true, deep introspection and the willingness to be vulnerable with yourself. Start listing the aspects of your life and your character you like and want to grow in or maintain. Then, start looking at the parts of your life and character you don’t necessarily like. Don’t be so quick to resolve to just eliminate those parts of yourself. Examine each character aspect you perceive as being a flaw and identify what you don’t like about it. Then, carefully consider how this characteristic may have positively influenced your life. Finally, determine if you can use this attribute in a healthy, beneficial way, or if you believe it is best to let that part of yourself go.

9. Make personal treatment goals

Before you even step foot at the RTC set aside some private time to really dig deep and determine where you feel you are at now compared to where you would like to see yourself at once you’ve completed treatment. Understand that the purpose of these centers is not to ‘fix’ or ‘cure’ you. Adjust your expectations accordingly. Make a detailed proposal of what you want to accomplish in treatment. List specific skills you want to learn and develop, subjects you want to explore in therapy, and behaviors you wish to quit or modify.

10. Make a contact list

Most residential treatment centers have programs that last from 30 to 90 days or more. That’s a long time to be away from the people you love and care about.

Since most centers don’t allow you to carry your cell phone on your person you need to make a physical list of the people you may want to talk to while you are away.

Many centers have designated phone times and some allow computer time as well. Be sure to record your loved ones’ phone numbers and email addresses. While it is a bit old-school consider getting their physical mailing addresses if you can. While RTCs limit and determine your phone and computer access, you’re free to write a letter anytime you want.

Taking the step to seek treatment for an emotional, mental, or behavioral issue is not an easy decision to make. Try to make the transition as seamless as possible so you can conserve your energy for the real work at hand: beginning to heal.