Mental Health Levels of Care: Residential vs Outpatient Treatment

Mental Health Levels of Care: Residential vs Outpatient Treatment

A group therapy session with preteens and a therapist illustrating outpatient mental health treatment. It's important to understand the difference between residential and outpatient treatment for children.

There are essentially two recommended levels of treatment for children and teens experiencing moderate to severe symptoms of a mental health disorder — residential treatment (hospitalization), and structured outpatient programs. Identifying the appropriate level of treatment for a mental health disorder depends on the diagnosis, severity of symptoms, and treatment goals. Let’s explore the differences between residential and outpatient treatment for adolescents.

What is Residential Treatment?

Residential treatment, also called inpatient treatment, may be necessary for adolescents who pose a danger to themselves or others. This level of treatment is often prescribed for children who are actively suicidal. A child in residential treatment will be under 24-hour supervision at a hospital or residential facility. This is considered the most rigorous form of mental health treatment for children and teens.

Children in residential treatment can be called or visited by a parent or legal guardian on certain occasions. The daily schedule at most residential treatment facilities is similar to school. Your child might take classes to learn about their mental health, interact with other adolescents experiencing similar issues, and engage in therapy sessions to develop coping and communication skills. During this time, they may also meet with behavioral health providers, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists to explore medication options and discuss their mental health struggles.

Residential treatment should be considered when community-based options, like outpatient treatment, have been explored and are not successfully meeting the child’s health and safety needs, or if a child requires immediate stabilization due to a severe psychiatric concern.

Benefits of Residential Treatment

While each residential treatment center is unique, concentrating on different aspects of care, they share common benefits. These include:

  • 24-hour supervision and support
  • Seclusion from possible triggers
  • Intensive therapy sessions
  • Structure and routine

What is Outpatient Treatment?

To put it simply, outpatient treatment does not require an overnight stay at a hospital or facility. Outpatient treatment typically involves a patient spending structured time at a clinic like Embrace U, a hospital, or a therapist’s office. Some outpatient programs include daily therapy sessions and interventions that range from three to eight hours. Other programs may only require participants to come a few days a week or for only a few hours each day. For example, outpatient treatment can include daily group therapy sessions and weekly one-on-one meetings with a therapist. Outpatient treatment is for adolescents who are not at risk of harming themselves or others.

In general, children are a good fit for outpatient treatment programs if they are motivated to get better, able to learn and apply recovery skills, comfortable in a group setting, and willing to verbally express their thoughts and feelings. More intensive outpatient treatment, like a partial hospitalization program, can help adolescents quickly develop coping and communication skills to help manage symptoms of a mental health disorder. Children with symptoms of anxiety, depression, mood disorders, and PTSD can benefit from outpatient treatment. If you’re unsure whether your child is a candidate for outpatient treatment check out this page.

Benefits of Outpatient Treatment

The biggest benefit of outpatient treatment is that patients receive an intense level of intervention without it entirely disrupting their current situation. In many cases, adolescents in outpatient treatment can attend school. Here’s a look at the primary benefits of intensive outpatient treatment programs.

  • Patients sleep at home
  • Structured care provides more direction
  • Clinicians and other participants provide support
  • Patients maintain a sense of “normalcy”

Types of Outpatient Treatment for Mental Health

Many people think of mental health treatment as being either in a psychiatric hospital (inpatient or residential) or in a therapist’s office. However, structured outpatient programs provide intermediate levels of care. There are two main types of structured outpatient treatment — intensive outpatient (IOP) and partial hospitalization (PHP). The primary difference between these levels of care is the number of treatment hours they provide.

What is Intensive Outpatient (IOP)?

Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) consist of at least six hours of treatment, or therapy sessions each week. Participants in Embrace U’s intensive outpatient program meet at least three times a week for about three hours a day. While in an IOP children spend their time engaging in individual, group, and family therapy. Here they will learn tools essential to their mental health journey and be able to practice them in real time. At Embrace U, we also offer a support program for parents and provide regular updates on their children’s progress.

Intensive outpatient programs also offer a sense of normalcy to your child. Since they are not admitted to the hospital, they will be sleeping in their bed, eating meals with the family, and attending school as they normally would.

What is Partial Hospitalization?

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) consist of at least 20 hours of treatment or therapy each week. A PHP is exactly what it sounds like: your child will be hospitalized part of the time, but won’t spend the night. At Embrace U’s partial hospitalization program participants attend sessions five days a week at our clinic during the day. They engage in individual, group, and family therapy, as well as education and processing time. This program is for teens who require more than intensive treatment for symptoms of a mental health disorder, but do not require residential treatment.

PHP allows your child to sleep at home. They may be able to attend some school and participate in other activities. Partial hospitalization programs provide the most support possible while disrupting the child’s life as little as possible.

How Do I Enroll My Child in an Embrace U Program?

Embrace U is always here for you and your family. Please contact us at (615) 656-8624. Our intake forms can be found here if you are interested in enrolling your child. We offer a free clinical consultation. After determining your child’s specific needs and discussing treatment goals we’ll schedule a psychiatric assessment. Typically, children enter our program the day after an assessment, depending on availability.


Latest News & Articles