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Levels of care vary for mental health-related issues and treatment is provided in a variety of settings. The environment and type of care depends on factors like the nature and severity of a person’s mental condition, physical health, and the type of treatment prescribed or indicated.

The three primary types of treatment settings are hospital inpatient, residential and outpatient. In some situations, mental health care services may be delivered via online and telecommunications technologies.

Here are some specifics:

Hospital Inpatient

Hospital inpatient settings involve an overnight or longer stay in a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric unit of a general hospital — either privately owned or government-operated. This treatment option is usually for short-term stabilization and evaluation of a mental health crisis situation.

Inpatient hospitals provide treatment to more severely ill mental health patients, usually for less than 30 days. A person admitted to an inpatient setting might be in the acute phase of a mental illness and need help around the clock. Typically, a person who requires long-term care would be transferred to another facility or a different setting within a psychiatric hospital after 30 days of inpatient treatment.

Psychiatric hospitals treat mental illnesses exclusively, although physicians are available to address medical conditions. A few psychiatric hospitals provide drug and alcohol detoxification as well as inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation services and provide longer stays.

Sometimes psychiatric hospitals also have specialty units for eating disorders, geriatric concerns, child and adolescent services, and/or substance abuse services. And general medical and surgical hospitals may have psychiatric inpatient or substance abuse units, but these are not common. They provide medical services that would not be available in a free-standing psychiatric hospital.

Residential Treatment

When a person needs a higher level of care than an outpatient setting and a longer period of treatment than an inpatient hospital setting, a residential treatment facility is an option. Designed to be more comfortable and less like a hospital ward, it offers a highly structured environment with multiple individual and group sessions per week, as well as treatment from a variety of personnel, including therapists, psychiatrists, teachers and residential staff.

Residential treatment examples include psychiatric residential centers that are tailored to people with chronic psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, and those with a dual diagnosis — such as a mental disorder combined with substance abuse problems — which impairs their ability to function independently. 

Alcohol and drug rehabilitation facilities are inpatient centers that treat addictions and may provide detoxification services. Patients typically reside in this type of facility for 30 days but stays may be individualized according to each facility’s policy.

Outpatient Treatment Settings

While there is wide variety in the types of outpatient settings, they all involve office visits with no overnight stay. Some are based in community mental health centers; others are located in general hospitals. In addition, many individuals in need of mental health counseling or treatment go to private offices to see a mental health clinician who is in solo or group private practice.

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), are usually recommended immediately after an inpatient or residential stay. Partial hospitalization means individuals spend part of each day, usually six or more hours, in the hospital for treatment, therapy, or structured programs. Also referred to as “day programs,” PHP treatment is less intensive than inpatient hospitalization and may focus on psychiatric illnesses and/or substance abuse. Group therapy is a common offering as well as educational sessions and individual counseling. A PHP may be part of a hospital's services or a freestanding facility. 

Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) are similar to PHPs, but generally feature reduced hours — three- to four-hour sessions, up to five times per week — and may meet in the evening to accommodate work schedules. Most IOPs focus on either substance abuse or mental health issues. It often follows an inpatient stay or partial hospitalization and may entail individual or group therapy, or both.

Outpatient Clinics are settings where patients obtain therapy services from a variety of mental health professionals. Depending on the particular clinic, individual therapy, group therapy and medication management may be available.

Community Mental Health Centers, often referred to as Mental Health and Mental Retardation Centers (MHMR), are designed to treat low-income individuals. In seven North Texas counties (Dallas, Collin, Hunt, Navarro, Kaufman, Ellis and Rockwall) these public mental health services are delivered under the NorthSTAR program. Services are accessed by applying to NorthSTAR

Private Therapy by a mental health professional may be primary treatment or post-inpatient treatment for an individual with mental health problems. Counseling is offered in either individual or group therapy formats. Many mental health professionals accept insurance payments, but they vary widely in terms of which insurance plans they accept; and some practitioners only accept personal payment for services.

Telepsychiatry and Telemental Health Services refer to the remote delivery of psychiatric assessment and care, or psychological support and services, via telephone or the Internet using email, online chat or videoconferencing. Most commonly, these services improve access to care for individuals who live in remote or underserved areas, or those who can’t leave home due to illness, emergencies or mobility problems. They also allow clinicians to support their patients or clients between visits.

The information on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. We do not recommend or endorse any specific tests, mental health providers, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on this site. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.

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