Mental Health Treatment: Levels of Care

When you hear the phrase “mental health treatment”, what do you picture? Is it a therapist’s office in a high-rise building? Maybe it is a large healthcare facility. Maybe it is a center on a ranch in another state. Mental health treatment can look like a lot of different things! In the same way we need individually tailored approaches to treatment, we also need different levels of care to accommodate varied levels of mental health concerns. Below are some of the most common levels of care currently in place for mental health treatment.

Traditional Outpatient Therapy: This is typically 1-2x per week or every other week for 45-90 min at a time at an outpatient clinic.

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP): This is the next level which is a bit more intensive. Our program at AAOCDS, for example, is 20 hours of therapy over the course of two weeks. Typically 2 hours per day, 5 days per week. Other programs may vary in session length and duration of the program as a whole. Some IOPs are 1:1 while others include group therapy and family therapy components.

Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP): This level of care is typically 5-7 days per week for 5-8 hours per day. The patient does not sleep/live at the facility. They leave to their family/home each day, however, they might eat some meals at the facility due to the extended session length each day. Most programs are group therapy focused with family therapy and individual therapy built in. There might also be a psychiatrist and other professionals and technicians on the treatment team.

Residential Treatment Center (RTC): This is considered the “highest” level of care. These programs are typically a minimum of 30 days in length. During treatment, the patient resides at the facility full-time. These programs are also typically group based with family therapy and individual therapy built in. Most residential treatment teams are multi-disciplinary including therapists, nurses, psychiatrists, behavior technicians and other staff.

Inpatient Hospitalization: This is an emergency level of care. This level of care is typically for situations where a patient is at risk of harm to themselves or others. This level of care primarily serves to stabilize and connect to the appropriate level of ongoing care. The average stay for an inpatient hospitalization is typically 3-7 days though can vary.

*Of note, if a patient attends an IOP, PHP or residential program it is almost always recommended to continue “stepping down” levels of care and eventually return back to traditional outpatient care. Many programs are self-pay though you can attempt to request reimbursement from your insurance through submitting Superbills. Many programs likely have a waitlist at this time due to the current high demand for mental health treatment in the United States and world as a whole.

If you are wondering if a higher level of care is appropriate for you or a loved one and you or they are currently receiving a lower level of treatment, consider speaking about this with the treating therapist or current treatment team. If you or your loved one are not currently receiving any form of treatment and are wondering if a higher level of care is appropriate, consider contacting various programs to be screened. It can be beneficial to complete phone assessments with several programs in order to determine goodness of fit, assess current wait times, and to receive additional recommendations on level of care.
For more information on AAOCDS’ IOP, click here:

Written by: Samantha Myhre, PhD

If you have any additional questions please contact us at 512-246-7225. If you are ready to get started, please visit our client portal.