Searching for Recovery: What To Look For In Residential Mental Health Treatment

The decision to seek residential mental health treatment typically occurs at a time of overwhelming distress; after all, no one comes to residential care when they’re feeling great. Selecting the highest quality care possible is essential for optimizing your ability to heal and nurturing your psychological well-being, but deciding which program is right for you can feel like a daunting task—especially when you have so much on your plate already, and if this is your first time seeking intensive treatment. What do you look for? Where do you start? How do you separate the good from the bad? Here are the most important features to look for in a residential mental health treatment program:

Staff Expertise

A comprehensive residential mental health treatment program will have a multidisciplinary team of experienced mental health care professionals trained to the highest standard within their areas of specialization. This includes board certified psychiatrists, doctoral-level psychologists, and licensed therapists committed to clinical excellence. While many people assume that this is the expectation for all treatment programs, too often, it is not the case. When researching treatment programs, be sure to read about the staff’s qualifications on the program’s website or ask them about it on the phone; you should know exactly to whom you are entrusting your health, and feel assured that they have the experience and qualifications to deliver the highest quality care. A renowned treatment program like Bridges to Recovery can attract some of the most highly respected professionals in the industry who combine their expertise to create outstanding treatment experiences, whether you are suffering from a single mental health disorder or have a co-occurring substance addiction, process addiction, or eating disorder.

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Program Size

The number of clients a program takes and the staff-to-client ratio can make a big difference in your treatment experience. Will you get enough individual attention, or will you get lost in the crowd? Will you be part of a tight-knit therapeutic community or will you be just another client? Will your needs be recognized and honored? Will you feel comfortable sharing with a large group of strangers or do you prefer an intimate setting? Many find that a small program like Bridges, which takes only six clients per location at a time, and has a 2:1 staff-to-client ratio, gives you the opportunity to work closely with clinicians and develop a strong kinship with your peers.


It is critical to select a licensed and certified mental health treatment program to ensure that the program works in accordance with industry regulations and has been evaluated by appropriate overseeing agencies. In California, this means meeting the rigorous standards set forth by the California Department of Social Services and the Department of Mental Health, which include a thorough assessment of treatment design and delivery, adherence to health and safety standards, appropriately trained staff, and background checks on all staff. The licensing process also creates accountability by giving clients access to the Department of Social Services’ complaint and investigation process, ensuring that you have recourse if need be.

One of the most critical features of licensing is that it allows facilities to provide on-site medication administration and management. This is a vital part of treatment for many people seeking residential mental health treatment; the process of designing effective and well-tolerated medication protocols requires not only pharmacological expertise, but keen insight into the needs of each individual client. When the psychiatrist managing your medication is part of your residential care team, they are able to not only gain a great understanding of your symptomology, but can continuously monitor your progress and modulate your treatment to optimize your recovery.

Psychological Assessment

Truly effective mental health treatment is only possible if clinicians have a fully developed picture of your emotional and cognitive health, personality, and history. As such, all residential mental health treatment should begin with in-depth psychological assessment using the most sophisticated, broad-spectrum testing tools available to achieve diagnostic clarity and understand your unique strengths and struggles. With this information, your clinical team can create a personalized treatment plan designed to help you achieve enhanced psychological stability, self-awareness, and personal growth. If you are considering a program, find out what their assessment process is and how it is integrated into the complete treatment picture.

Quality, Diversity, and Intensity of Therapy

People are extraordinarily complex, multifaceted creatures with profound potential for growth and healing. When someone is in psychological distress, unlocking that potential depends on engaging in a therapeutic process that speaks to you using evidence-based therapies designed to address your specific needs. A high-quality residential treatment program will have a complete range of modalities at its disposal to ensure that you are given the tools you need to establish a strong foundation of psychological health. Through a thoughtfully designed, integrative curriculum of individual and group therapies delivered by top experts in the field, you are given paths to healing that are meaningful and relevant to your personality, symptoms, and life circumstances. This includes not only excellent psychotherapy like psychodynamic therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy, but cutting-edge practices such as EMDR and holistic therapies that give opportunities for exploring yourself in deeper ways. Residential mental health treatment programs that take a whole-person approach allow you to fully explore and express yourself, mind, body, and spirit.

How much of that therapy you receive can play an important role in your ability to heal. At Bridges, we offer at least four individual therapy sessions and one Somatic Experiencing session each week, along with 2-3 daily therapy groups tailored to your needs. This intensity of care means that you will receive more treatment in six weeks than would be possible in a year elsewhere, leading to more rapid relief from distress and putting emotional wellness within reach far sooner.

Serenity of Environment

In the midst of psychological crisis, it may seem frivolous to worry about the comfort and tranquility of the treatment setting. However, we believe that the entirety of the treatment experience must be considered, and that our environments can profoundly impact our emotions, thoughts, and healing. A chaotic, sterile, or uncomfortable atmosphere without privacy is not conducive to psychological tranquility and can, in fact, be detrimental to the recovery process. A peaceful, warm, and welcoming setting where you are safe and comfortable both physically and emotionally can allow you to be more fully engaged in treatment and get the most out of residential care; opportunities for private reflection, meditation, decompression, and relaxation are vital to fortifying your well-being throughout the intense therapeutic work you are doing. Look at photographs of the facility online, ask about the amenities, find out if there are private rooms available, and ask yourself if you can picture yourself doing your best work in that environment.

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Compassion, Kindness, and Respect

The hallmark of a truly outstanding residential mental health treatment program is not just clinical excellence, but something more subjective, unquantifiable, and elusive: humanity. You are in treatment not only as a diagnosis or a problem to be fixed—you are there as a fully realized human who is suffering. The clinicians and staff at your residential treatment program must work with this understanding as the core of their practice. At Bridges to Recovery, our team is committed to delivering the highest standard of care built on a foundation of compassion, kindness, and respect for all of our clients. We believe in treating you, not just your illness, and that the success of our program depends on recognizing the unique gifts each person has to offer.

Connecting You With Residential Mental Health Treatment

If you have any questions about residential mental health treatment or would like help finding a program, we are always available to talk, regardless of whether or not Bridges is the right place for you. Whether you have just started considering residential care or are ready to start treatment, we can give you guidance as you explore your options and support you through the process of connecting with the most suitable facility for your needs. Wherever you are in your healing journey, we are here to help.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive mental health treatment in a peaceful residential setting for people suffering from mental health disorders and co-occurring substance abuse, or impulse control disorders. Contact us for more information about our program, residential care, or how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward healing.

Lead Image Source: Unsplash user Yanko Peyankov