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Understanding the Different Levels of Care in Mental Health Treatment

Making the decision to send a loved one to a higher level of care is very difficult. If you are reading this post is probably because you are thinking about it and perhaps you were even already suggested that this can be an appropriate course of treatment for your loved one. Making an informed decision will help you feel confident that this is the right choice for your loved one and will protect your relationship with them. Often a higher level of care might be needed when there are safety concerns (medical and/or psychological), inability to function socially, at school and/or work, and there has been a lack of response to treatment at the outpatient level of care.

In general, levels of care in mental health treatment refer to the intensity and structure of services provided to individuals based on their medical and psychological needs. Here are common types of levels of care in mental health treatment, listed from least to most intensive:

1.     Outpatient Services:

  • Outpatient treatment involves therapy sessions, counseling, or psychiatric appointments scheduled at regular intervals (e.g., twice a week, weekly or biweekly) while the individual continues to live at home.

  • It is suitable for individuals medically and psychologically stable with mild to moderate symptoms who can function relatively well in their daily lives and do not require 24-hour supervision or support.

  • Co-occurring conditions are minimally impactful and motivation for recovery is fair to good. Individuals have some support from parents and friends.

2.     Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP):

  • Intensive outpatient programs offer more structured and frequent therapy sessions compared to traditional outpatient services. Individuals need to be medically and psychologically stable.

  • Typically, individuals attend therapy sessions usually 3 times per week depending on the program for 3-4 hours each day, while still living at home and maintaining their regular activities at school.

  • IOPs provide a higher level of support for individuals who require more intensive treatment but do not need round-the-clock care.

  • Co-occurring conditions may indicate the need for additional support and high level of care depending on the severity and impact of the symptoms. Motivation for recovery is fair and individuals have some support from parents and friends.

3.     Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP):

  • Partial hospitalization programs are structured day programs that offer comprehensive therapeutic services during the day, typically five days a week, while allowing individuals to return home in the evenings.

  • PHPs provide a higher level of support than outpatient or IOP services and are suitable for individuals who require more intensive treatment but do not need 24-hour supervision. They might need some medical or psychiatric monitoring and their motivation for recovery is poor to fair.

  • Co-occurring conditions have a significant impact on the severity and impact of the symptoms and the individual might be struggling with passive suicidal ideation with possible plan but no intent to complete. The individual's support is limited because symptoms might be impacting them socially.

4.     Residential Treatment:

  • Residential treatment programs involve living on-site at a treatment facility and participating in structured therapy, counseling, and activities throughout the day. The individual requires medical and psychiatric monitoring and there must be continual supervision to manage their symptoms. They follow a schedule and meet with their treatment team regularly.

  • These programs offer 24-hour supervision and support, making them suitable for individuals with moderate to severe symptoms who require a highly structured environment to address their mental health needs. Their motivation is poor to fair and they might be struggling with passive suicidal ideation with possible plan, no intent but this needs to be assessed daily.

  • Co-occurring conditions have a direct impact on the severity and impact of the symptoms and the individual might be lacking structure and support outside of the treatment setting and requires that their family is also supported and educated on the complexity of the condition. They offer also family therapy.

5.     Inpatient Hospitalization:

  • Inpatient hospitalization involves admission to a psychiatric hospital or unit for intensive treatment and stabilization because acute medical stabilization is needed.

  • It is appropriate for individuals experiencing severe symptoms, acute medical and psychiatric crises, or safety concerns requiring immediate intervention and round-the-clock care.

  • Inpatient treatment focuses on stabilizing the individual's condition, ensuring safety, and providing intensive therapeutic interventions because there safety is compromised and their motivation for recovery is poor.

6.     Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU):

  • Crisis stabilization units offer short-term, intensive care for individuals experiencing acute psychiatric crises or emergencies.

  • CSUs provide immediate assessment, stabilization, and short-term treatment in a secure and supportive environment, with the goal of addressing the crisis and facilitating transition to appropriate ongoing care. They often provide referrals for the individual.

These levels of care may vary in terms of duration, intensity, and specific services offered depending on the condition, the type of program and facility. The most appropriate level for an individual depends on factors such as the severity of their symptoms, safety concerns, functional impairment, and treatment goals. Treatment providers can help determine the most suitable level of care based on a comprehensive assessment of the individual's needs.

Remember, you are not alone, and help is available. We are here to guide you and answer your questions. We provide individualized treatment and collaborate with several facilities that provide higher levels of care for eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), substance abuse and trauma, as well as co-occurring conditions. For more information about higher levels of care and treatment for eating disorders, depression, anxiety, OCD, substance abuse and trauma, please contact us today at or at 561.600.1424 for a FREE 30-minute consultation! With early intervention and appropriate support, individuals who are struggling can embark on the path to recovery and reclaim their health, body, and well-being.

Below is a FREE PDF with questions for treatment centers:

Questions for Treatment Centers
Download PDF • 153KB

Real change, enduring change, happens one step at the time.

- Ruth Bader Ginsburg


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