Adolescent treatment for teenage depression, teen anxiety, and other teen mental health challenges take time and care. Thus, different stages of the healing process may require different types of mental health treatment. Therefore, mental health treatment options for teens range from youth residential treatment to intensive outpatient therapy to partial hospitalization programs to day treatment programs.
Optimal treatment of mental health issues takes into account an adolescent’s individual needs and situation. As a result, experts recommend the best approach for each phase of treatment. Hence, teens might receive treatment first in a residential setting. Then they may go to an outpatient program. Subsequently, they can receive services at a community teen mental health center.
The Growing Need for Adolescent Mental Health Treatment
Today, 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. And eight out of 10 teens with anxiety don’t receive treatment.
Therefore, getting teens into treatment is a high priority for the adolescent mental health field. And the next step is ensuring that they receive the right level of care in the appropriate setting.
Three Primary Types of Teen Mental Health Treatment
There are three main types of adolescent mental health treatment:
- Residential—in a homelike setting, preferably for 90 or more days
- Hospital inpatient—in a psychiatric hospital or the psychiatric unit of a hospital, usually for no more than 30 days
- Outpatient—in an outpatient clinic, community mental health center, or therapist’s office, for as long as needed.
Within those three categories are more subtle differences. Let’s take a look at each of the teen mental health treatment options and how they support young people.
Teen Residential Treatment
Research shows that residential programs are an effective approach to treatment of depression in adolescence. In addition, residential treatment successfully addresses teen anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders. Furthermore, experts recommend 90 days of residential treatment for successful outcomes.
Residential treatment services can be traced back to the early 1900s. Anna Freud, the daughter of Sigmund Freud, and her colleagues at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society wanted to improve their care methods for children in crisis. Consequently, they created the first residential adolescent treatment facilities for teens with emotional and behavioral disorders.
Teen Residential Treatment Programs
Hence, residential treatment programs, sometimes called rehabs, are live-in healthcare facilities. They offer a structured environment and 24-hour monitoring. While in residential treatment, clients live in a comfortable, homelike setting. They are supervised by trained staff. Staff members include psychiatrists, therapists, recovery counselors, nurses, dietitians, and experiential therapy practitioners.
In addition, teen residential programs include academics. For example, teen treatment at Newport Academy includes a minimum of 30 hours of clinical and experiential therapy each week. Plus, teens spend 20 hours in academic study and tutoring.
The first step in a residential treatment program is a comprehensive evaluation. Such an evaluation assesses a teen’s emotional, behavioral, medical, educational, and social needs. Subsequently, treatment teams create individualized treatment plans. These plans provide interventions designed to attain positive outcomes. In addition, residential treatment is often helpful for teenagers who have not responded to outpatient treatment.
Holistic Teen Treatment in a Residential Setting
According to research, residential treatment is most effective when it takes a holistic approach—addressing mind, body, and spirit.
A review study of 10 years of research examined the outcomes of residential treatment for children and teens. As a result, study author Heather J. Hair, MSc, found that the best residential treatment provides multiple modalities. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Attachment-Based Family Therapy, etc.
In addition, she found that residential treatment was more effective when it was holistic and “ecological.” Ecological treatment recognizes the importance of a person’s environment and relationships to their overall mental health.
“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.”
—Researcher Heather J. Hair, MSc
Inpatient Teen Mental Health Treatment
Inpatient teen treatment is another of the types of mental health treatment. Hence, inpatient treatment involves an overnight or longer stay in a psychiatric hospital or the psychiatric unit of a hospital. Moreover, inpatient treatment is for teens or adults in the acute phase of a mental health disorder. Thus, they may 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.
Following inpatient treatment, those who require long-term care are transferred to teen residential treatment or another type of mental health treatment.
Types of Mental Health Treatment: Outpatient Options
Outpatient treatment provides clients with ongoing care, programming, and monitoring. At the same time, people integrate back into their day-to-day life and home environments. In outpatient treatment, teens live at home outside treatment hours.
Outpatient treatment for mental health conditions and substance use disorders varies in the types and intensity of services offered. Therefore, outpatient treatment models range from intensive day treatment, comparable to residential programs, to low-intensity models. Hence, the needs of the individual determine the appropriate types of mental health treatment in outpatient settings.
Next, we’ll look at the various options for outpatient treatment.
Partial Hospitalization Programs
Teens in a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) live at home and receive treatment in a psychiatric hospital or the psychiatric unit of a hospital. Hence, they are in treatment for six or more hours a day, every day or most days of the week. As a result, PHP programs are sometimes referred to as Day Programs or Day Treatment Programs.
A PHP program includes
- Group therapy
- Psycho-educational sessions
- Individual counseling.
Intensive Outpatient Programs
Intensive outpatient treatment is designed to help teens transitioning from residential treatment continue their recovery in a structured and secure environment. Teen Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs) are similar to PHPs. But clients attend for fewer hours—three to four hours a day, several days a week.
The goal of IOP therapy, as well as any outpatient treatment services, is to sustain and improve positive change. An adolescent IOP program 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.
Studies show that intensive outpatient treatment is effective for substance abuse. In addition, IOPs successfully treat other mental health conditions.
Subsequently, after completing a youth outpatient program, teens move from the IOP to less frequent treatment sessions.
Continuing Care for Adolescent Mental Health
No matter what types of mental health 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.
Therapeutic Day Schools
Day Schools provide therapeutic environments to support teens’ physical, emotional, behavioral, and academic development. Hence, teens gain high school diplomas or college credit while setting attainable goals for the future.
In addition, Day Schools require teens to commit to abstaining from alcohol or drug use. Moreover, elements of a therapeutic Day School may include the following:
- An accredited curriculum
- College application support
- SAT and ACT prep
- An assessment to determine the appropriate level of care
- Process groups and counseling
- Individual therapy.
In summary, teens benefit from different types of mental health treatment at different stages of healing. Therefore, they can succeed in recovery, avoid relapse, and stay happy and healthy.
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.