How to Determine the Best Level of Care for Me

Written by: Madeline Redetzky, M.S.
How to Determine the Best Level of Care for Me

There are many different types and levels of mental health care, and it is easy to get frustrated or even know where to start. I enjoy speaking with my clients to determine what care is best for them. Sometimes that means adjusting what I am doing in sessions with them or making a referral to a more appropriate level or professional. I will outline various levels of mental health care, the length of time to expect, and further ways to determine if that is what you need.

As always, if you are questioning your current level of care, speak with your provider. It can be awkward to talk about it and that is okay. You are helping yourself and then can get the services that better match what you need.

Outpatient programs

  • Regular/Routine Care: This level of care is for those who need weekly or monthly support of their presenting problem. Here you will find individual, group, and/or family therapy sessions that often starts at once a week in frequency and may reduce as you make progress. The length of this level of care can greatly vary. I would recommend discussing it with your therapist if you have a preference or want to know what they recommend. This is a great option if you are new to therapy or are unsure where to start.
  • Intensive Outpatient: This program is for those who are not experiencing progress at the routine care level or are recovering from a crisis. The accountability and frequency with which you are working on your presenting program are greater. You would meet with an individual therapist weekly and attend group therapy sessions multiple times a week. Some programs offer psychiatry support or other therapeutic activities. This can last from 6 to 12 weeks, depending on the program. This is a great option for those who need more structure and consistency.
  • Partial Hospitalization Program/ “Day Program”: This level of care is most often seen after hospitalization or residential programs as it promotes short and long-term success. It is sometimes referred to as a day program. You would expect to attend every day for about 6 hours, and then go home. You would be supported by individual and group therapies, medication management, and other therapeutic activities, and some programs have family therapy if appropriate. These can last for about 4 to 6 weeks.
  • Residential Program: This level of care is for people who live where they receive their treatment. It provides an environment that fosters progress and is mostly used for substance use disorders. It is a great option for those whose home environment is not conducive to progress or whose symptoms still impact daily functioning without the presence of safety concerns. It consists of the same kinds of activities as inpatient programs and often includes outdoor and recreational spaces. This allows the facility to provide more types of therapeutic recreation and rehabilitation. Residential programs can range from 30 days to 12 months.
  • Inpatient for Acute Care: This is the highest level of mental health care. This option is for those who have serious suicidal or homicidal thoughts, urges, or intentions, suicide attempts or serious self-harm, acute psychotic or manic symptoms where they pose a safety risk or need to withdraw from substances. This secure environment is for someone who is unable to care for themselves safely at home. It will consist of individual therapy, group therapy, structured free time, and medication management which are all monitored by hospital staff. The length of inpatient depends on the severity of presenting problem. It can vary from 3 days to 2 weeks.