Sage Education Group

The Placement Process

The Placement Process

Robin's experience as a therapist on treatment teams in academic and hospital settings provides a model for her approach to working with families and programs. She is accustomed to working collaboratively with professionals from a variety of disciplines and is trained and experienced in assessment and diagnosis.

When considering placement in either a therapeutic or a more traditional academic program, parents may find it helpful to remember that there is no one perfect school. Rather, the best placement for any given student is the one in which he or she is likely to thrive, and this is determined by a variety of emotional, academic, and practical considerations.

In identifying appropriate placement options, the first task is to get to know the student and family as well as possible, often in a very short time. Robin meets at length with the parents, and reviews relevant information such as psychoeducational evaluations, treatment histories, and transcripts. She consults with professionals who have worked with the student and family; these may include therapists, physicians, and teachers. Ideally, there is also a meeting with the student. This process makes it possible to form an initial impression of the student's emotional and intellectual functioning, family dynamics and parenting style, and possible challenges to successful treatment or academic achievement. With this information, Robin, the parents, and, when appropriate, the student, can develop tentative goals and priorities that guide the selection of options.

The second step is to weigh available alternatives. Sometimes modifying or strengthening the use of local resources is sufficient; adding a family therapist or parent coach, for example, may help the parents to establish and maintain more helpful boundaries with a son or daughter. Psychological testing may reveal a difficulty that can be addressed with a therapist, coach, or tutor. In other cases, it becomes clear that a residential placement may be helpful. This is especially likely when

  • the teen’s social, emotional, or academic development is markedly out of step with that of her age peers
  • the teen appears not to learn from past experience/mistakes
  • the family is "walking on eggshells" as the teen consumes most of the parents' emotional energy
  • the problematic behavior or poor academic performance does not change with interventions such as psychotherapy and/or targeted academic support
  • the safety of the teen's or other family members is a concern
  • the teen has had multiple hospitalizations for crisis management

After considering with parents the general type of program that seems appropriate, Robin contacts specific programs or schools to introduce the student and to discuss the likelihood of "fit" and availability of space. She compiles a list of appropriate choices, and again meets with parents to discuss the options and prepare for campus visits. At this time, parents begin their due diligence, contacting the schools by phone, talking with other parents, and scheduling campus tours.

The campus visit is crucial, an opportunity to experience the “feel” of a program, its staff and its students. Many schools require such a visit before an enrollment is arranged. While therapeutic and educational expertise are crucial to an effective program, the peer group also helps to determine how well a teen will “fit” a program, so meeting the students on campus is an important element in the selection process.

While options are being considered, Robin is available to talk with parents. Following the student's enrollment, she maintains contact with the school and parents to monitor the child's progress and, if appropriate, to prepare for the next placement. This follow-up continues through the student’s completion of the program.

It should be noted that with families from out of town or who need an immediate placement, the details of the process may look somewhat different, e.g., some meetings may take place by phone. When a wilderness program is indicated, the initial placement may be completed very quickly.


Finding Sage Education Group was the turning point in our ordeal. The terror of knowing our child wanted to die combined with the frustration of arcane diagnoses and multiple treatment options was overwhelming. The chief psychiatrist at a major psychiatric hospital advised us to consult with Dr. Bullington. Within 48 hours of my first contact with Dr. Bullington she had visited our daughter in the hospital, examined all of her medical records and had a concrete plan of action. Twelve months later our daughter is taking no medication and has no desire for self harm. My wife and I have had no regrets about following Dr. Bullington’s plan and we have asked Sage Education Group to help our daughter to find a college or university where we hope she will be equally successful.

- Father of 18 year-old daughter