Charting Your Course: Exploring Mental Health Treatment Program Options

If you have a rash, you go to a dermatologist. If you have cancer, you go to an oncologist. If you are pregnant, you go to an obstetrician. But when your mental health disorder is presenting challenges your weekly therapy appointments or psychiatrist visits can’t address, many people find themselves without a clear picture of their options. Should you go to a hospital? An intensive outpatient program? Are you better off at a residential treatment program? At a time when you’re already experiencing high levels of distress, the choices can feel overwhelming, scary, and exhausting. Gaining a better understanding of the various mental health treatment programs that are available to you can help you determine what type of program is best suited to your unique needs and symptoms, so you can make an informed choice regarding your care.

Outpatient Treatment Programs

Outpatient treatment programs, also known as day programs, are typically either partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) or intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). PHPs provide short-term intensive treatment on an outpatient basis within a hospital or a separate facility, allowing clients to continue living at home while engaging in full-day treatment throughout the week.[1. http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/09/05/what-is-partial-hospitalization/] Typically PHPs combine individual psychotherapy or counseling with group therapy and psychoeducation, after which time your care is transferred to an individual care provider. IOPs are similarly structured, but involve fewer hours of daily treatment and sometimes lower frequency of treatment, making them attractive to those who must balance treatment with work, school, or family obligations. Outpatient treatment programs can be ideal for people seeking more intensive treatment than is possible in individual therapy, but who do not need the level of care and monitoring afforded by inpatient and residential treatment.

While outpatient treatment programs are a wonderful option for many, for others they are not enough. This is particularly true if you are experiencing symptoms that interfere with your ability to attend the program or if you need more constant support and structure than is possible in an outpatient setting. Additionally, trying to keep up with your day-to-day obligations or living in a damaging environment while in a PHP or IOP can reduce your ability to fully engage in and benefit from treatment; treatment may feel like just another stressor on an already full plate. In these cases, inpatient or residential treatment can be a better option to give you the time and space to focus on your recovery.

Inpatient Hospitalization

Hospital-based inpatient care describes mental health treatment programs in which clients stay and are treated in general or psychiatric hospital environments. This category encompasses an enormous variety of treatment practices and models, from short-term emergency treatment of acute distress to long-term arrangements for clients with mental illness who need continuous nursing care. Hospitals provide a secure environment in which clients can be kept safe and continuously monitored while stabilizing. Typically, inpatient hospitalization lasts for a maximum of 30 days, and most are discharged far sooner, at which point your care may be transferred to another type of inpatient facility, an outpatient treatment program, or individual treatment providers in the community.[2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21285100] The exception to this is dedicated psychiatric hospitals, where more extensive stays are possible. The specific treatment approach taken depends largely on the individual hospital; some provide outstanding, highly specialized, and comprehensive treatment of mental health disorders and co-occurring addictions using psychotherapy, pharmacological interventions, and therapy groups, while particularly poor hospitalization programs do little more than act as a holding pen until a client can be released. Furthermore, many hospitals primarily focus on attending to immediate crises rather than performing in-depth psychological assessments and instilling the insight and coping skills needed for long-term alleviation of chronic symptoms and deeply ingrained patterns of maladaptive thought and behavior. As such, many patients don’t find the sustainable relief they are looking for within inpatient hospitalization. Investigating the specific hospital-based inpatient treatment programs you are considering and making an informed decision is often critical to optimizing your chances of having the positive, healing experience you are looking for.

While some types of inpatient hospitalization can provide vital services and high-quality treatment, many would-be clients still want to avoid hospital-based treatment for numerous reasons. Hospital environments are often lacking in privacy, creature comforts, individual attention, and a feeling of community. A psychiatric unit is also likely to include clients with drastically divergent levels of need and functioning, combining those on involuntary psychiatric holds following suicide attempts with people suffering from acute psychosis with voluntarily admitted, high-functioning people seeking treatment for depression. As a result, certain patients may feel alienated, overwhelmed, and out of place. In some cases, the stress of hospitalization itself can preclude responsiveness to treatment and create further psychological distress.

Residential Mental Health Treatment Programs

Residential mental health treatment programs are an alternative to inpatient hospitalization that delivers intensive, structured care within a home-like environment. Admission into adult residential treatment is strictly voluntary, and while these cater to a vast spectrum of disorders and severity, you are surrounded by others who are actively engaged in treatment and share your desire to heal.

The quality, size, and focus of residential mental health treatment programs can vary greatly. High-quality, licensed programs work from a whole-person approach to mental health disorders and co-occurring addictions, and seek to create lasting wellness through multimodal interventions. Rather than simply acting as a space of crisis management and containment, these treatment programs delve into the roots of your distress through sophisticated psychological assessments to gain a full understanding of your needs. Once the assessment is complete, the tailored integration of  innovative, evidence-based therapeutic modalities through individual psychotherapy, therapy groups, holistic therapies, and pharmacological therapy is used to make meaningful and lasting changes in your emotional and behavioral functioning. Staffed by board-certified psychiatrists and doctoral-level therapists, residential programs combine the expertise of clinical staff to create a collaborative, interdisciplinary model of treatment—and your care providers are consistent throughout treatment; you work with the same primary therapist, psychiatrist, and group therapists throughout your stay, allowing you to build strong therapeutic alliances. Additionally, these programs can be much smaller than hospital environments and have extraordinarily low client-to-staff ratios, allowing for truly personalized care, individual attention, and an intimate community in which each person is heard and valued. This can greatly improve client integration and make you feel more comfortable throughout treatment.

The best residential treatment programs seek to create an immersive therapeutic environment in which people can have extraordinary treatment experiences not only based on the clinical curriculum, but on the design of the facility and overall services provided. Beautiful surroundings, the option of private accommodations, and gracious living spaces can greatly increase your sense of serenity and well-being throughout treatment. Gourmet meals, personal trainers, and complementary therapies can nourish your body as well as your mind and fortify healing. This approach has been shown to be remarkably effective, allowing you to experience faster relief from suffering and promoting more joyful living.

Connecting With the Right Resources

If you need help determining what type of treatment program is best for you, talk to your therapist or doctor. If you need further assistance, the staff at Bridges to Recovery are always available to discuss your options and help you identify the treatment options that make sense for your situation. If we are not the best fit for you, we will help you connect with resources within your community and across the country that are better suited to your needs. We are committed to supporting all people with mental health disorders find freedom from psychological suffering, regardless of whether or not you seek treatment within our facility, and we make every effort to guide you towards the care you need.

Bridges to Recovery provides comprehensive residential mental health treatment for people living with mental health disorders, co-occurring addictions, and co-occurring eating disorders. Contact us at any time to discuss your treatment needs and let us help you find relief, whether with us or another treatment program.