They are privately funded and sometimes run by churches. Families put their faith in these residential treatment centers and send their so-called troubled kids away from home to get better.
But in some cases, things actually get much worse. In Washington D.C. on Tuesday, some were working to stop the abuse.
A tiny closet was where Jodi Hobbs was locked for hours as a teenager.
"It was horrible," she said. "My parents tricked me into going there. They want to break your will. Your spirit."
She is talking about a residential treatment center. Hobbs went there for being a "troubled kid." Others go for what is called gay conversion therapy.
"They use things like sleep deprivation, high anxiety, keeping you always on your toes," said Hobbs.
Paul Gionfriddo's son has schizophrenia and he wrote a book about his experience with his son.
"Tim was not permitted to talk to me on the phone because he had to 'earn that privilege,'" he said at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol.
Advocates there spoke about a new bipartisan bill aimed at improving these treatment centers.
"We are here today to demand action on behalf of the hundreds of young people who have actually died in these programs and the many thousands of others who suffered long-term trauma because of the abuse that they have endured while in these unregulated institutions," said Lorri Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
The bill would end gay conversion therapy in the centers and require state oversight that is tied to federal funding.
Many states do have regulations for these types of businesses and non-profits, but often when one is shut down, they simply pick up and move to another location. That is why people think this work needs to be done at the federal level.
"These are basic requirements which are already part of many state regulations," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California). "But by finally tying these minimum standards to the eligibility of states to access federal funds, the bill will make sure that these states are enforcing their regulations and helping identify bad actors."
Hobbs now runs a non-profit called Survivors of Institutional Abuse. She said what happened to her as a teenager changed her entire life.