Types of Teen Mental Health Treatment

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Adolescent treatment for teenage depression, teen anxiety, and other teen mental health challenges takes time and care. Different stages of the healing process may require different types of mental health treatment. Therefore, teen mental health treatment options include youth residential treatment, intensive outpatient therapy, and partial hospitalization programs.

Optimal treatment of mental health issues takes into account an adolescent’s individual needs and history. Experts recommend the best approach for each phase of treatment. Hence, teens might receive treatment first in a residential setting, then go to an outpatient program, and then can receive services at a community teen mental health center.

Given all these options, it’s important to understand what distinguishes inpatient vs. outpatient mental health programs, as well as inpatient vs. residential treatment.

The Growing Need for Adolescent Mental Health Treatment

About one in five teens has a diagnosable mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety. Moreover, many adolescents don’t get the types of mental health treatment they need. In fact, six out of 10 teens with depression don’t get treatment, according to Mental Health America’s 2022 ratings. And eight out of 10 teens with anxiety don’t receive treatment.

Therefore, getting teens into adolescent mental health treatment is the highest priority for families. And treatment is much more likely to be successful when a teen is placed in the right level of care.

The Primary Types of Teen Mental Health Treatment

There are several main types of adolescent mental health treatment, also referred to as levels of care. The levels of care include:

  • Weekly therapy, online or in person; which may include medication prescribed by a psychiatrist or physician
  • Outpatient programming—at an outpatient clinic or community mental health center.
  • Inpatient care—in a psychiatric hospital or the psychiatric unit of a hospital, usually for no more than 30 days
  • Residential care—in a homelike setting, preferably for 90 or more days.

Within those categories are more subtle differences. Let’s take a look at the difference between inpatient and residential treatment, as well as inpatient vs. outpatient mental health programs.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Mental Health Treatment

What’s the difference between inpatient and outpatient treatment? Outpatient treatment provides clients with many of the same clinical and experiential modalities—but rather than living at a residential inpatient facility, they live at home and attend programming during the day. Depending on the type of outpatient care, teens may attend their home school or continue to progress in their academics with the support of the outpatient program’s educational component.

Outpatient treatment for mental health conditions and substance use disorders varies in the level of structure and the number of hours of programming. The needs of the individual determine the appropriate types of teen mental health treatment in outpatient settings. Let’s look at the various options for outpatient treatment.

Partial Hospitalization Programs

Teens in a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) live at home and receive treatment all day, five days a week, in an outpatient clinic or in a psychiatric hospital or the psychiatric unit of a hospital. PHP schedules are designed to help teens transitioning from residential treatment continue their recovery in a structured and secure environment.

A PHP typically includes:

  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Psycho-educational sessions
  • Parent support groups
  • Experiential activities, such as art, music, and Adventure therapy.

Intensive Outpatient Programs

Teen Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs) are similar to PHPs. But clients attend for fewer hours—three to four hours a day, up to five days a week. The goal of IOP therapy, as well as any outpatient treatment services, is to sustain and enhance positive change. An adolescent IOP may be part of a hospital’s services or an extension of a residential program.

An Intensive Outpatient Program for young adults includes

  • Individual therapy sessions
  • Experiential therapies
  • Group sessions
  • Psychiatric and medical management
  • Therapeutic activities such as yoga, meditation, creative arts, hiking, kayaking, and more.

Studies show that intensive outpatient treatment is effective for substance abuse. In addition, IOPs successfully treat other mental health conditions.

A teen can gradually decrease their IOP hours as they regain lost ground in terms of mental health, social-emotional development, and overall well-being. After completing a youth outpatient program, teens move from the IOP to less frequent treatment sessions, such as weekly therapy in a therapist’s office.

Teen Residential Treatment Programs

Residential treatment is the next step up from outpatient treatment. It is appropriate when a teen needs a higher level of care than weekly therapy or outpatient programming can provide.

Research shows that residential programs are an effective approach to treating teen depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders. Furthermore, experts recommend at least 90 days of residential treatment for the most successful outcomes.

Residential treatment programs are live-in healthcare facilities that provide a structured environment. A residential schedule for teens includes clinical care, experiential activities, and academics. While in residential treatment, clients live in a comfortable, homelike setting and are supervised by trained staff. Staff members include psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, nurses, dietitians, and experiential therapy practitioners.

Comfortable environment in a teen mental health treatment program

Integrated Teen Mental Health Treatment in a Residential Setting

According to research, residential teen mental health treatment is most effective when it takes an integrated approach—addressing all aspects of an adolescent’s well-being, including:

  • Relational
  • Social
  • Educational
  • Physical
  • Psychological.

A review study of 10 years of research examined the outcomes of residential treatment for children and teens. The researchers found that the best residential treatment provides multiple modalities—for example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; Dialectical Behavioral Therapy; family therapy, such as Attachment-Based Family Therapy; and EMDR. In addition, most teen residential programs include academics. Teen treatment at Newport Academy includes a minimum of 30 hours of clinical and experiential therapy each week and about 20 hours weekly in academic study and tutoring.

“Results showed that children and adolescents with severe emotional and behavior disorders can benefit and sustain positive outcomes from residential treatment that is multi-modal, holistic, and ecological in its approach.”

—Journal of Child and Family Studies

The Difference Between Inpatient and Residential Treatment

While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a difference between inpatient and residential treatment. Inpatient teen treatment involves an overnight or longer stay in a psychiatric hospital or the psychiatric unit of a hospital. Moreover, inpatient treatment is for teens who are in the acute phase of a mental health disorder and need continuous support. Thirty days is usually the maximum time for inpatient teen mental health treatment.

Psychiatric hospitals employ both psychiatrists and physicians to treat mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Some hospitals provide substance abuse treatment as well. In addition, a psychiatric hospital might have a specialized unit for eating disorders. Inpatient stays often follow a teen emergency room visit for a suicide attempt or other crisis situation.

Following inpatient treatment, adolescents who require long-term care are often transferred to teen residential treatment. Sometimes called residential inpatient treatment centers, these longer-term programs typically provide an educational component and various types of experiential therapy that are usually not available in a hospital-based program.

Group therapy is one of the types of mental health treatment

Continuing Care for Adolescent Mental Health

No matter what types of inpatient or outpatient treatment a family chooses, continuing care is essential. Once an adolescent is on the path of healing, ongoing support and therapy help maintain health and well-being. Below are options for continuing care.

Community Mental Health Centers: Many towns and cities have centers that provide therapeutic groups and other offerings. In addition, some centers offer yoga and meditation, as well as other experiential approaches to maintaining mental health.

Private Practitioners: After residential and/or outpatient treatment, teens may work with a private mental health clinician. Regular individual sessions help adolescents to firmly establish new, healthy behaviors. Furthermore, family therapy sessions support families to build on new ways of connecting and communicating.

Support Groups: Parent support groups and teen support groups offer encouragement and the wisdom of peers. Some community mental health centers and other community centers offer ongoing support groups.

Alumni Support: Many residential and outpatient teen mental health treatment programs offer alumni programming after discharge. Special events, group activities, and get-togethers keep former clients connected so they can support each other on the journey of recovery.

How to Find the Right Teen Mental Health Treatment

An assessment by a mental health expert can help teens and families understand what they’re going through, and take the next step of seeking the appropriate level of care. Newport Academy’s experts offer confidential mental health assessments at no charge, and recommend the adolescent mental health treatment option that has the best chance of helping a young person heal. Contact us today to schedule an assessment.

In summary, teens benefit from different types of mental health treatment at different stages of healing. The right adolescent mental health treatment can support young people to find sustainable healing, so they can successfully take the next steps into young adulthood and beyond.

Sources:

US Dept. of Health & Human Services

Psychiatr Serv. 2014 Jun 1; 65(6):718–726.

J Child and Family Studies. 2005 Dec;14(4):551–575.