Deciding Between Residential and Outpatient Programs

While deciding to seek treatment for your mental health disorder is excellent, you may feel stuck as you narrow down a treatment facility and program. With so many different facilities and programs to choose from, how do you know which will be the best fit?

There are two main categories of treatment programs: residential (inpatient) and outpatient. Both programs have unique advantages and disadvantages, dependent on your personal needs and goals for treatment. It is important to understand what each of these treatment programs looks like and their requirements for interested patients. Once you are more familiar with each program, you can narrow down which program will work best for you.

Residential treatment programs offer live-in care.

Residential programs, also known as inpatient programs or rehabs, offer live-in care for patients. Residential facilities provide a safe, stable living environment for patients engaging with either short-term or long-term treatment. These facilities have around-the-clock staff available 24/7 to provide support and guidance for patients.

Every treatment facility has different rules and expectations for residents while receiving treatment. Short-term residential programs typically last three to six weeks, while long-term residential programs usually last six to 12 months. Treatment is highly structured and encourages regular, active participation in individual and group therapy sessions throughout the week.

Outpatient treatment programs are flexible.

Outpatient treatment programs offer flexible treatment therapy sessions. They allow patients to attend work or school as they receive treatment, with regularly scheduled sessions throughout the week. Outpatient treatment programs require patients to live on their own. However, many treatment facilities can help patients locate sober living options.

Treatment frequency depends on the program and the facility. There are also intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) that bridge the gap between the highly structured residential treatment programs and the flexible schedules of outpatient programs. An attractive feature of IOPs is that they are often available in person or online.

There are differences between residential treatment and outpatient treatment for mental health disorders.

While every treatment facility is unique, standard elements differentiate residential treatment from outpatient treatment.

Residential treatment programs are unique in that they offer:

  • 24/7 support for patients: Constant support and guidance can help patients better stay on track in their recovery, identify and manage obstacles as they arise, and actively prevent relapse.
  • More treatment modalities: Compared to outpatient treatment centers, residential treatment centers offer more interventions than traditional psychotherapy. Residential centers often take a holistic approach, which means more access to unique treatment opportunities, including trauma-based therapy and mindfulness-based and experiential therapies.
  • More frequent treatment sessions: Residential treatment centers tend to have more options regarding treatment modalities and more frequent sessions.
  • Greater structure and routine: Residential treatment centers are highly structured and routinely scheduled. Patients will remain on consistent schedules, which can positively affect recovery.

On the other hand, outpatient programs are unique in that they offer:

  • Flexible schedules: Flexible schedules may be necessary for individuals who are financially able or mentally able to take time off from school or work. In other words, they allow patients to prioritize personal responsibilities outside of treatment while receiving treatment.
  • More privacy: In residential programs, you often share your personal experiences with your peers in therapy. Outpatient programs can solely be one-on-one sessions if you so choose. Compared to inpatient treatment and even partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), outpatient programs offer greater privacy for individuals as they do not disrupt the daily duties of home and work.
  • The opportunity to actively use skills learned in treatment: While residential treatment is meant to prepare you for life outside, outpatient allows patients to actively use the skills they learn in treatment directly after leaving the facility.

How can you narrow down your treatment options?

When narrowing down what treatment program will be best for you, you must consider the severity of your symptoms and distress. If you struggle to function normally in your everyday life, residential treatment may be the best option. If you still find yourself stuck, consider the following questions.

If you agree with most of these questions, residential treatment may be your best fit:

  • Have I already completed a treatment program?
  • Do I struggle with seeing the bigger picture for treatment and recovery?
  • Do I engage in self-destructive or self-harming behaviors?
  • Do I need access to greater treatment resources to help with my long-term recovery, such as access to housing or work resources?

If you agree with most of these questions, outpatient treatment may be your best fit:

  • Do I have a safe and stable living environment?
  • Do I have other personal responsibilities, such as work or childcare, that I cannot put on hold for residential treatment?
  • Do I have access to peer support, such as family members and friends who support my sobriety?

DiscoveryMD is a mental health treatment program that offers outpatient programs. Unique to our facility, we provide an online intensive outpatient program (IOP) that is great for structure and flexibility. We can help you narrow down the best program to fit your needs. Please contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs.

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