What Milieu Therapy Involves
The term milieu therapy comes from the French and essentially means therapy conducted in a middle place or a place of safety and comfort. Milieu therapy has proven useful for younger children who have difficulty in "fitting in" with their peers, for patients with mental disorders or behavioral problems, who also have problems in fitting in with the rest of society, and for anyone who needs to make changes in learning how to cope, in an environment which allows those changes to happen, even if they happen slowly.
Milieu therapy is somewhat similar to group therapy, as a number of people, most of them patients, are involved. Whereas most group therapy sessions may last only an hour or two, and perhaps be held on a weekly basis, milieu therapy sessions last much longer and sometimes can last over a period of days, weeks, or even months as the patients slowly learn to make the necessary adjustments to lead the kind of normal life they strive for.
A Secure Retreat - It may be a bit of an exaggeration to say that milieu therapy places the patient in a sort of protective shell, but in reality this is more or less what is happening. The therapy sessions provide a secure retreat for the patient, providing an environment in which, even in the presence of others, he or she can cope with day to day situations. The patients are not necessarily mentally impaired; in fact quite the opposite is usually the case. A person having a nervous breakdown would be a good example of someone who might benefit from this type of therapy. Suddenly finding himself or herself unable to cope with day to day challenges, the patient, through therapy, learns to lift himself or herself back to normal. The leader of the milieu therapy group will at times be passive and at other times intervene, but is always supportive. The goal is that of letting the patient find their own way out of their dilemma whenever possible, while given proper help and support and an environment which makes it possible.
Since it is done in a social context, with most of those present in need of therapy, while the others are care providers, the patients actually help one another develop social skills, learn interpersonal and stress-management skills, learn how to cope, and learn how to progressively take on added responsibilities. The treatment is not designed to treat everyone in the therapy group the same, or apply common denominator techniques. Each patient is treated as an individual, and given an individual and customized treatment plan to follow, but all of this is done in a group setting.
Therapy For Adolescents And Adults Somewhat Different - When adolescents are involved in this type of therapy there is often a great deal of emphasis placed on behavior modification, and the earning of privileges. When adults are involved, behavior modification is normally not so much of an issue, though for some individuals it may be. The rewards to adults come not so much from earning privileges, but in successfully applying the coping skills they are learning. A great deal of emphasis is sometimes placed upon physical activities such as exercising and jogging, and even group sports, all of which tend to build interpersonal skills as well as bolster self confidence.
Family Can Help And Be Helped - Family members are usually appraised of a patient's progress, and at times may participate in therapy sessions. This can be helpful if the family must provide care to the patient once the patient returns home, or if the patient is living at home while participating in therapy sessions.
Milieu therapy is not new. It's been around since the latter part of the 19th century. Some changes in technique have been made along the way, but the goals and objectives, and the basic method of treatment have remained the same.