For those seeking effective treatment for mental illnesses or substance use disorders, outpatient treatment can be a practical, affordable solution. While this intensive treatment option offers a structured experience, it’s more flexible than inpatient treatment. It’s ideal for individuals who are comfortable in group settings, who are motivated to work toward recovery, and who have a stable home environment that supports their mental health.
Finding the right mental health outpatient program can be challenging. No two treatment programs are exactly the same, making it possible for most individuals to find one that fits their schedule, focuses on the skills they’re working to develop, and features a format they’re comfortable with. Connecting with the right program can be a key factor in someone’s recovery, so it’s important to know what to look for.
What Does Quality Care Look Like?
Successful outpatient treatment helps clients learn to manage their mental illness and lead productive, happy lives. While some mental illnesses are curable, many are not, and staying ahead of symptoms requires a lifetime of complying with medication therapy, regular visits with trusted mental health professionals, and practicing coping skills and healthy habits. While full recovery may or may not be a good measure of whether an outpatient treatment program works, individuals should be able to see clear progress during the weeks or months they’re in treatment.
When researching outpatient treatment programs, there are a few things individuals can look for. First, they should determine whether a treatment facility is accredited. This distinguishes treatment programs as meeting high standards of ethical practices, provider qualifications, and patient outcomes.
Second, individuals should consider the qualifications of the mental health care professionals. Some states have lax guidelines regarding who can provide mental health services, making it especially important to ask about factors such as level of education and clinical experience.
Finally, individuals should find out what kind of follow-up care is available after treatment is over. While outpatient treatment is a great first step toward mental health, it’s not the last. Quality programs not only provide robust care while the individual is in intensive treatment, but they also have step-down programming that encourages independence without leaving clients to figure out their own path.
What to Look for in a Mental Health Professional
For those who’ve never seen a mental health provider before, it’s helpful to know what to look for. An individual can target their search by considering what type of mental health provider they need, the condition they’re seeking treatment for and how they plan to pay for services.
Types of Mental Health Care Providers
Mental health care professionals diagnose mental health conditions and provide treatment. There are several types of mental health professionals. In some cases, they may specialize in a specific area such as affective disorders or substance use. They may also work in a variety of settings, including private practices, hospitals, community agencies, or behavioral health clinics.
Psychiatrists are physicians who specialize in mental health. These doctors can diagnose and treat mental illnesses, prescribe medication, and provide counseling.
A psychologist focuses on thoughts, behaviors and emotions. Most psychologists hold doctoral degrees, such as a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. Like a psychiatrist, they can diagnose and treat mental health disorders and provide one-on-one or group counseling. Depending on their licensing, they may not be able to prescribe medications. However, they may work with another provider who can.
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse
A psychiatric-mental health nurse is a registered nurse with special training in mental health conditions. They hold at least a masters-level degree and can assess mental health conditions and make diagnoses. Depending on state law, they may be able to provide other services, such as prescribing medications.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Licensed clinical social workers have master’s degrees in social work, and many have a doctorate in the field. They’re able to provide assessments, diagnose conditions and administer counseling. However, they’re not licensed to prescribe medication.
Licensed Professional Counselor
Licensed clinical professional counselors generally have master’s degrees and some clinical experience. They’re not able to prescribe medication, but they’re able to diagnose conditions and provide counseling.
Personal Factors to Consider
Individuals should consider several personal factors when determining which mental health provider they should see.
Their Concern or Condition
In general, the more severe a person’s condition is, the more expertise and training they should seek when looking for a mental health care provider. It’s also helpful to find a professional that specializes in the individual’s condition.
Whether Medication Is Necessary
Medication is an essential part of treatment for numerous mental health conditions such as ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. For those with conditions such as these, it’s generally a good idea to see a professional who can either prescribe medication or who works with a colleague who can.
Health Insurance Coverage
Not all mental health care professionals accept health insurance. However, if someone intends to use their health insurance policy to help them pay for treatment, they need to make sure the provider they choose accepts their plan.
How to Find a Mental Health Care Provider
To find a mental health care provider, individuals can:
- Ask their health insurance company for a list of covered providers
- Ask for referrals and recommendations from their primary care provider
- Contact a mental health organization, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Conduct an online search
- Look at the directories of professional associations such as the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers and the Joint Commission.
What to Expect During Outpatient Mental Health Care
Outpatient rehab programs vary considerably from one provider to another. At FHE, clients in the Intensive Outpatient Program participate in about 15 hours of therapy per week. Sessions may be available during the morning or evening to accommodate different work schedules and responsibilities.
Over the course of their treatment, individuals have access to specialized therapies, ongoing individual and group therapy sessions, and follow-up care. Counseling sessions typically focus on life skills such as personal care, time management, and healthy habits, as well as identifying triggering events and developing healthy coping mechanisms. They may live at home, if their home environment is stable and supports their recovery. Otherwise, they may live in a therapeutic environment such as a recovery house.
How to Get the Most from Outpatient Mental Health Care
Outpatient mental health care is an effective way for those with mental illnesses to get the intensive help they need while still fulfilling their responsibilities. While these programs are generally very structured, they don’t have the same 24-hour oversight as inpatient programs. Understanding the program, trusting the process, and staying invested are essential for getting the most from outpatient care.
Do the Research
Some outpatient programs have daily therapy sessions while others have sessions two to three days per week. It’s inevitable that this intensive form of therapy is going to require the individual to put some activities and commitments on hold. However, if the schedule is too demanding for the individual or requires too much travel, they may be less likely to stick with their treatment plan. Doing the research into what a program entails, as well as where sessions are located in relation to where the individual lives or works and what the overall cost will be, is vital for long-term success.
Trust the Process
Healing from a mental illness can feel like two steps forward and one step back. Some days and weeks may feel easy and symptoms may be mild. Other times, lasting mental health may feel out of reach. It’s important for the individual to continue following their treatment plan and trust the process, especially if they’ve seen success.
After spending some time in outpatient rehab for depression, many individuals begin to experience more control over their mood, actions and emotions. As they begin to feel better, it may be easy to become lax with continuing treatment. To get the most out of outpatient care, clients should continue taking their medication, keep scheduled visits with their counselor, and practice the skills they’ve learned, regardless of how good they’re feeling.