Therapeutic boarding schools are defined as supervised inpatient schools with a strong focus on therapeutic development but also includes an educational element so teens can stay on track in school. Students who attend therapeutic boarding schools commonly struggle with behavioral issues, emotional problems, learning differences, and/or substance abuse.

While they share certain components, residential treatment centers tend to be more clinically focused and provide treatment for adolescents struggling with more intense or further-along conditions. Therapeutic boarding schools tend to focus more on emotional and academic recovery. Typically, students attend a therapeutic boarding school for one to two years.