Ring in the New Year with Outpatient Treatment for Your Mental Health Needs
It’s 2020 — meaning many of us are already crafting our New Year’s resolutions to guide us through the new year (and decade!). If your goals for 2020 include better mental health, it might be time to consider outpatient treatment for your mental health needs in the new year.
Even in 2020, patients still face considerable stigma when it comes to seeking treatment for their mental health. However, choosing to go to outpatient treatment despite this shame and judgment only proves your inner strength.
Outpatient treatment — whether that’s therapy, counseling or a structured outpatient program — can help you achieve your goals and improve your quality of life by helping you think more positively, develop healthier habits and raise your overall mood and self-esteem. Even if you don’t suffer from mental illness, you can still benefit from talking to a neutral third party about the stressors and challenges you face in life!
Still not sure if you’re ready to take the plunge into outpatient treatment in 2020? This blog post is all about why you should consider outpatient treatment, what outpatient treatment really is and some of the things you’ll learn once you get there.
When to Consider Outpatient Treatment
Outpatient treatment may not be right for everyone. Some people may want to let their stress run its course naturally. If they have healthy coping skills, they may not need outpatient treatment to get through difficult times in their life. Others may require more intensive treatment than an outpatient treatment program can provide. Someone whose mental illness interferes significantly in their life or puts their life in danger may require 24/7 monitoring as part of an inpatient treatment regimen. So, when should you consider outpatient treatment?
You are newly diagnosed with a mental illness.
If you are newly diagnosed with a mental illness (or suspect you have a mental illness), outpatient therapy is the first-line treatment for patients like you. Unless your life is in danger, you typically will not need the constant care an inpatient treatment program provides. Depending on the severity of your illness, your doctor may recommend a combination of therapy and medication, or that you try therapy before starting psychiatric medication. However, if you have never pursued treatment for your mental illness before, outpatient treatment is generally the first place to start.
You’re feeling much worse than usual.
Already know that you suffer from a condition such as anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder? If your condition has suddenly worsened and you feel powerless to fix it, this may be the time to ramp up your treatment plan. Switching from outpatient therapy to a more intensive outpatient program, or starting therapy again after a period of time away, may help you feel more in control of your mental illness and start getting back to the things you used to do.
Alternatively, if you don’t suffer from a mental illness but are going through a period of extreme stress, you can still benefit from outpatient therapy. There’s no shame in needing a little extra support, especially when going through a stressful life event. Stressful live events include but are not limited to, a big move, going to college for the first time, getting married or getting divorced or a death in the family. In other words, any big life change that leads you to feel significant mental distress is a good reason to seek support from an outpatient therapist.
Inpatient treatment isn’t an option for you.
Last but not least, you may consider outpatient treatment when inpatient treatment is warranted, but may not be an option for you. For example, if you cannot afford an inpatient treatment program, if inpatient treatment is not covered by your insurance or if you cannot take time away from work or school for inpatient treatment, an intensive outpatient program or partial hospitalization program — two types of intensive outpatient treatment — may be a good option for you. Your doctor or mental healthcare provider may also recommend one of these programs after discharge from an inpatient treatment facility to help you with the transition back into everyday life.
Types of Outpatient Treatment
When most people hear “outpatient mental healthcare,” they immediately think of therapy. However, therapy isn’t the only option for outpatient treatment. Here are some of the forms of outpatient treatment you may not know about, in addition to more information about outpatient therapy services.
Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)
PHPs comprise the most intensive form of outpatient treatment. Typically, a person enrolled in a PHP spends as many as five to seven days per week at the hospital or outpatient treatment facility, for half of or all of the business day. One of the benefits of this arrangement is that patients receive 24/7 supervision from counselors or therapists as part of the program, preventing them from engaging in self-harm or other destructive behaviors.
As part of a PHP, the patient attends group therapy sessions where they learn helpful coping skills and may also meet with a psychiatrist regularly for assistance in medication management. They remain in the program for four to six weeks, or until a counselor or doctor determines they are ready to be discharged. PHP programs may meet separately or alongside an intensive outpatient program, detailed below.
Because they are the most intensive type of outpatient treatment, PHPs often serve as a transitional form of treatment for patients leaving an inpatient treatment center; these patients go to PHPs to help them gradually transition back into everyday life, rather than being thrust back into their real-world responsibilities without warning.
Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs)
IOPs are a step between PHPs and outpatient therapy in terms of how intensive they are. A person enrolled in an IOP usually spends three to five days at the hospital or an outpatient treatment facility for several hours. They are not appropriate for patients who are at immediate risk of hurting themselves or others since they only offer supervision by counselors or therapists while the patient is at the program. Some PHPs meet alongside IOP patients; in these cases, the IOP patients are invited to leave halfway through the day, while PHP patients stay longer.
During the program, patients in an IOP attend group therapy sessions and may meet with a psychiatrist as needed. They remain in the program for four to six weeks, like patients in a PHP, or until a counselor or doctor determines they are ready to be discharged. These programs are less intensive than PHPs, making them a good option for patients who need additional support alongside their individual therapy sessions but would like to continue work or school part-time.
The least intensive form of outpatient treatment is traditional therapy sessions with a qualified mental health professional. This professional may be a social worker, personal counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist (we’ll explain the difference later).
The patient typically meets with the professional once per month, biweekly or weekly for an hour-long session, though the initial evaluation session may be longer. During that hour-long session, the professional will talk to the patient about their concerns and use elements of various treatment modalities to teach the patient coping skills and correct harmful thought patterns.
Patients who need more support may pursue medication or alternative treatments (for example, acupuncture or massage) alongside these regular therapy sessions. If your provider is a psychiatrist with a medical degree, they may be able to prescribe psychiatric medication in-house. Otherwise, your provider will refer you to a medical doctor or psychiatrist who is able to prescribe medication.
What to Expect from Outpatient Treatment
Going to outpatient treatment for the first time can be scary. Whether it’s a PHP, IOP or outpatient therapy session, doing something new always takes time to get used to, but knowing what to expect may lessen any anxiety or fear you feel about starting outpatient treatment. Here is what you need to know about outpatient treatment providers and what to expect from your first visit to an outpatient treatment provider.
Types of Providers
You’ve probably heard of therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists — but do you understand the difference between them? Each of these providers possesses a different degree and different knowledge of mental healthcare. Here is the difference between each type of provider to help you make an informed decision about which type of provider may be right for you in 2020.
The term “therapist” is used broadly, and has a fairly generic meaning — so it’s difficult to tell what people mean when they talk about their therapists! However, most therapists fall into one of two categories when it comes to their training: social workers or personal counselors. Regardless, both have a master’s level of education, though their coursework may have been slightly different.
A therapist who attended school for social work will have the letters LSW or LCSW after their name, in addition to their MSW degree: these stand for “Licensed Social Worker,” “Licensed Clinical Social Worker” and “Master’s of Social Work,” respectively. (In this case, the word clinical is used to denote that the provider has met state requirements for a particular number of hours worked in clinical practice since receiving their license.)
Alternatively, a personal counselor will have the letters LPC or LMHC after their name, and their Master’s degree will typically be in counseling or mental health. LPC stands for “Licensed Personal Counselor” and LMHC stands for “Licensed Mental Health Counselor,” though both refer to the same amount of training and similar licensing requirements. Above all else, however, what your counselor calls themself depends primarily on the state they are licensed in since in the U.S., individual states set the standard for licensure.
A psychologist has more training than a therapist, offering a different perspective on their clinical practice. Psychologists receive PhD degrees in Psychology after several years of coursework and research at a university. Thus, if a provider has the letters PhD after their name, you can infer that they refer to themself as a “psychologist!”
The greatest difference between therapists and psychologists is their relationship to academia. Psychologists are required to undertake a research project prior to their graduation, rather than taking a licensure exam, meaning they are much more entrenched in academia than their therapist peers. In fact, many psychologists are employed by counseling centers at universities even after their graduation, allowing them to continue to participate in research even as a practicing psychologist.
Of all the mental healthcare professionals, however, psychiatrists have the most extensive training. Psychiatrists attend medical school for four years before specializing in psychiatry during a three-year residency. This means they have the generic training of any medical doctor, in addition to specialized experience as a practicing psychiatrist during residency.
Because psychiatrists are medical doctors, they will bear the letters “MD” or “DO” after their name, standing for “Medical Doctor” and “Doctor of Osteopathy” respectively. (The only difference between the two is the type of medical school attended; both types of doctors have the same training and experience when it comes to psychiatry.) Psychologists, too, can refer to themselves as “doctors” — but looking for whether they have a medical degree or PhD will allow you to tell the difference between the two.
In terms of clinical practice, psychiatrists don’t often offer talk therapy as part of their services. Instead, they specialize in medication management, since they are the only mental health professionals that can prescribe medication in all states. (In some states, nurse practitioners can also prescribe medication. An NP specializing in psychiatric care may call themselves a PNP, or psychiatric nurse practitioner.)
Your First Visit
If you’re considering visiting a mental healthcare provider for outpatient treatment, then congratulations! Your first visit to an outpatient treatment program may be nerve-wracking. However, if you choose to take this step, you’re making an important decision that will improve your mental health and overall quality of life. Still, knowing what to expect from your first appointment may lessen the anxiety you feel about this decision.
Regardless of what kind of outpatient treatment you choose to pursue, you will typically need to be seen for a first appointment, called an evaluation, before beginning formal treatment. These first appointments typically consist of many questions about your medical history and why you’re seeking outpatient treatment. Coming prepared with information about your medical history may help, so don’t forget to bring your insurance card, primary care doctor’s contact information and a list of any medications you may be taking to your first outpatient appointment.
Every provider is different in terms of what they want to know before beginning a treatment program — but here are some questions you may want to prepare answers for before attending outpatient treatment:
- What brought you to therapy?
- What symptoms are you currently experiencing?
- Have you ever seen a therapist before?
- Do you have a previous mental health diagnosis?
- Are you taking any medications?
- What are your goals for treatment?
These questions may seem personal, but remember that outpatient treatment is 100% confidential, and anything you say will stay between you and your therapist (as long as you do not threaten to hurt yourself or others, or sign a release form permitting them to give information about your health to another person or provider).
Though the first appointment may be scary, remember that you can ask your therapist questions, too — in fact, we highly recommend it! Make sure you also bring a list of any questions you have for your provider at the first appointment about your condition or what your treatment program will entail. Writing them down may help you remember them, especially if you tend to get nervous seeing a new provider for the first time.
If you’re looking for eating disorder treatment at an outpatient facility, look no further than The Meadowglade. We’re a facility with a solid reputation for treating eating disorders and mental health issues and helping people develop healthy coping mechanisms for themselves. Ring in 2020 with us!