Woman opening curtains and looking out windowDuring the process of recovery from addiction and mental health issues, people often look for residential treatment facilities. While these facilities offer round-the-clock support, they are not the only option for mental health and substance abuse treatment. Outpatient programs can also be effective. 

The primary distinction between inpatient and outpatient programs is that people live at inpatient programs. People in outpatient treatment continue living at home. However, the two options aren't mutually exclusive, and many people in need of treatment transition from one to the other. 

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Types of Outpatient Treatment 

Outpatient treatment exists on a continuum, with many people blending several options at once. Those include:

  • Individual psychotherapy: Therapy offers broad treatment for a range of issues. Therapists can make recommendations for lifestyle changes, help you process challenging emotions, and call attention to self-defeating thoughts and behaviors. 
  • Family counseling: Family counseling can help families learn to work with a loved one who has a mental health issue. It can also address underlying dynamics that contribute to addiction and provide education about addiction and mental health. 
  • Group counseling: Some therapists offer counseling in a group setting, which typically consists of people with similar issues. Therapy groups offer support, insight, and a sense that you’re not alone. 
  • Support groups: Support groups are distinct from therapy. Rather than offering clinical assistance, they provide fellowship, support, and a chance to seek guidance from people who have faced similar challenges. 
  • Medication management: Medication management is the process of assessing the ongoing effects of psychiatric medications. In some cases, it may also include measuring drug interactions or finding safe alternatives to traditional medications. 
  • Detox support: People detoxing from addictive substances are not always able to enroll in inpatient detox programs. Detox support programs through doctors or addiction clinics monitor the detox process, ensure its safety, and may offer medication to mitigate the effects of detox. 
  • Intensive outpatient programs: Intensive outpatient treatment (IOT) is a form of outpatient treatment that offers many of the benefits of inpatient treatment. Participants spend most of the day in treatment, then go home at night. IOT usually includes therapy, medication management, and support groups. 

Types of Inpatient Treatment 

Inpatient treatment includes many of the options available on an outpatient basis, but all under one roof. The length of treatment can be predetermined or based on the needs and recovery speed of residents. 

Most inpatient treatment falls into one of three categories:

  • Detox: Detoxing from some drugs can be painful, or even dangerous. Inpatient detox provides support and monitoring for people detoxing from addictive substances. Detox lasts as long as withdrawal—anywhere from a few days to a week. 
  • Short-term treatment: Short-term treatment can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. The goal is to stabilize and equip a person with the skills necessary to function on their own. 
  • Long-term treatment: Long-term treatment can last from several months to a year or longer. These programs help people in recovery master a broad range of skills that can help them successfully transition out of residential treatment. 

Which Option Is Better?

No single treatment option works for everyone. Many people with mental health or substance use issues may need to use several strategies over time. For example, a person with opioid abuse might seek short-term detox at a residential facility, pursue intensive outpatient counseling upon discharge, and then attend weekly support group meetings. 

The high cost of inpatient treatment can pose a significant barrier. People who are relatively stable may get good results from affordable outpatient treatment, but pursuing that when you need intensive treatment can be more expensive in the end. Working with a therapist can help you determine the best option for addressing your mental health needs. 


  1. Making the transition from inpatient to outpatient. (2014, April 10). Foundations Recovery Network. Retrieved from https://www.foundationsrecoverynetwork.com/making-transition-inpatient-outpatient/ 
  2. Types of treatment programs. (2012). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs