If you or someone you know struggles with their mental health, it may be time to consider treatment options. For many people, the word “treatment” conjures up images of locked facilities where visiting hours are strictly regulated. While this type of treatment does exist and can be very helpful, a less-restrictive therapeutic environment can be helpful as well. Outpatient mental health programs offer the same quality of treatment as inpatient programs but with more freedom and flexibility. 


What is outpatient treatment for mental health? 

Outpatient treatment refers to non-residential treatment, in which the patient spends structured time in treatment during the day or evening and returns home each night. People who choose to participate in outpatient mental health treatment do so for a variety of reasons. They may have small children at home or businesses to run and cannot take weeks or months out of their lives to live in a residential facility. Others may be transitioning out of an inpatient program but still require the support and structure that outpatient treatment provides. Outpatient treatment programs are beneficial for those with mild to moderate symptoms who have a strong support system at home.  


Types of outpatient mental health programs

Outpatient mental health treatment is not one-size-fits-all. Most mental health treatment programs do involve some combination of individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, medication management, and after care, but treatment plans are customized to meet the specific needs of each individual. 


One of the first things to consider is which type of outpatient treatment program will be most beneficial to the patient. There are three main types of outpatient programs, each with varying levels of structure. 


  • Standard outpatient treatment involves regular visits to the outpatient clinic, treatment center, or hospital, as outlined by the patient’s personalized care plan. Therapy sessions are scheduled around the patient’s work, school, and other responsibilities.  Treatment may be weekly or more frequent, and may continue for a year or more. 


  • Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) involve 3 to 4 hours of treatment for up to 5 days per week. IOPs are designed to provide more structure and support than standard outpatient programs while still allowing patients the time and flexibility to tend to outside responsibilities. The length of an IOP can be anywhere from a few weeks to a year—90 days is usually the recommended minimum.


  • Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) involve 6 or more hours of treatment per day, for up to 7 days per week. Highly structured and supervised, PHPs provide the most intensive level of non-residential care, and are often beneficial for patients reintegrating into their lives after an inpatient stay. PHPs typically last around 30 days before the patient transitions to a more flexible level of care. 


With a focus on managing symptoms, identifying triggers, overcoming fears, developing communication skills, and establishing healthy social norms, outpatient mental health treatment aims to help patients learn to thrive outside the therapeutic environment.   


Benefits of outpatient treatment for mental health

For people with mild to moderate symptoms, strong support systems at home, and the ability to function independently, outpatient treatment is usually an ideal choice. Patients can:

  • Stay connected with loved ones while still receiving the treatment they need
  • Maintain commitments and responsibilities with work and school
  • Apply the skills and strategies they learn in treatment to real life situations
  • Stay connected with their treatment team and remain accountable to their personalized care plan
  • Transition slowly back into everyday situations, equipped with tools to help optimize their independence and live a meaningful life

Most outpatient treatment programs also have the added benefit of being less expensive than residential programs. 


Outpatient mental health treatment in San Diego | Pacific Health Systems 

Your mental health is key to living a rich and meaningful life. If you’re struggling with symptoms of mental illness or addiction, we can help you manage your symptoms, develop coping skills, and optimize your mental health.  At Pacific Health Systems, we specialize in the treatment of depression, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and more. For more information on our outpatient mental health services, please contact us at 619-267- 9257 or fill out our contact form today.