What is Partial Hospitalization Like?

May 23, 2022

If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, including addiction, a partial hospitalization program (PHP) may help. There are numerous forms of treatment available for those with mental health issues, so choosing the right one might seem confusing.

By talking to a mental health professional, you can get a better idea of where to start. Treatment for mental health issues has different “levels of care.” A higher level of care would be more intensive than a lower level of care.

The determination of which level of care to start with depends on many different factors. Usually, a person will attend a partial hospitalization program once they’ve completed residential treatment. However, this is not always the case.

Here’s an example of the different levels of treatment you may go through, starting with the highest level of care:

  1. Residential treatment (usually 30 to 90 days)
  2. PHP
  3. Intensive outpatient program (IOP)
  4. Sober living

What is Partial Hospitalization?

It makes sense one level lower than residential treatment, is partial hospitalization. That’s because residential treatment is “full hospitalization.” This is because you check into a residential treatment facility for an extended period of time.

Residential treatment usually lasts 30 to 90 days, and you live on site for the duration of your treatment.

Partial hospitalization is basically the same as residential treatment except that after you attend your daily programming, you get to go home.

All partial hospitalization programs are different. However, here is a general idea of what a PHP looks like.

You will go to PHP 5 days a week. Monday through Friday you will attend programming for the better part of a workday. Many PHPs go from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. or 3 p.m.

A PHP is different from an intensive outpatient program (IOP) in a few ways. For one, an IOP will usually only meet 3 days a week for 3 hours at a time. However, depending on your situation, your road to recovery probably won’t start at the IOP level.

A PHP has many facets that help address a person's mental health issues

PHP Sessions can consist of:

One of the great things about attending a PHP for mental health/addiction is that you have access to a doctor and/or psychiatrist. Meaning that while you are at PHP, the doctor can be contacted immediately by the staff.

Changes in medication often occur in residential treatment. In some cases, these changes can be subtle while they can be pretty drastic in other cases.

If you start a completely new medication during residential treatment, and that treatment only lasts 30 days, it can be difficult to see whether or not the medication is working well.

This is because many psychiatric medications can take much longer than a month to start working in a noticeable way.

If you go to residential treatment and then attend 6-week PHP, new medication/medication changes will be able to be assessed by you and the doctor.

Why Go to PHP for Mental Health and Addiction?

For many people, a 30- to 90-day stay in a residential treatment setting isn’t long enough to set them up for success as they return to their daily lives. Also, if you go straight back to your regular life right after residential treatment, it can be a bit like jumping off of a cliff.

PHP is that first step after residential that can help you navigate the everyday stressors you’ll face. Here are some of the facets of PHP and the benefits that come with going to one.

You Can Continue to Work

When you go to a residential treatment facility, your life takes a pause. You are in an intensive 24/7 hospital environment, and you won’t be going to work while you are there.

This proves to be extremely challenging for some. They want to get the help they need, but time off from work could mean they lose their job. They may also have children that no one is able to look after if they went to a residential treatment center.

If you truly want help for your mental health issues but aren’t able to commit to a residential treatment stay, then you could go directly to PHP.

Some PHPs are so intensive that it’s also very difficult to continue working a job, but many PHPs are flexible and make working a job possible. PHPs often have options as to what time of day you would like to attend programming.

For instance, one PHP group might meet on their designated days from 7 a.m. until noon. This same PHP may offer another group from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on the same days.

Navigating life mentally healthy/sober can be difficult. Paying the bills, dealing with difficult family members and co-workers, and taking the kids to school can get extremely overwhelming. 

A PHP can give you a safe space to talk about your day-to-day struggles and get professional advice on how to handle specific situations in the real world.

Group Therapy/Sober Support

PHP surrounds you with other people trying to better themselves just like you. They come from all walks of life and can offer unique insights based on their personal experience with mental illness and/or addiction.

Suffering from a mental illness can cause you to isolate yourself. Before PHP you may have only left your home if you absolutely had to.

PHP helps you take that big step out of isolation and into a community. Many counselors and other mental health professionals associated with PHPs are often in some form of mental health/addiction recovery themselves. 

Group therapy often serves as a time for patients to present assignments they’ve been asked to work on by their individual counselors.

These assignments are usually based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques and can help you talk about things that you haven’t been able to open up about yet.

CBT assignments can also shed light on things going on in your mind that you didn’t even know were there.

In group therapy, a counselor may suggest that the patients exchange contact information so that they can attend outside meetings together. Recovery meetings, such as SMART recovery meetings and 12-Step meetings, are available to those struggling with mental illnesses including addiction.

Being in group therapy also provides a safe space to develop social skills. Many people with mental health issues have a great deal of social anxiety.

When patients can express themselves fully in group therapy without the fear of being judged, they will have a better chance of developing healthier relationships as they move forward in their life.

Medication Management and MAT

Medication plays a vital role in treating mental illnesses, including addiction. Many medications take a considerable amount of time before their effectiveness can be assessed.

Therefore, a great benefit of PHP is that you and a doctor can meet regularly to talk about how you think your medication is working and determine if there are any changes that need to be made. 

When it comes to assessing the effectiveness of your medication, the longer you are in structured treatment overseen by a doctor, the better off you are. That’s why after residential treatment and a partial hospitalization program, an intensive outpatient program (IOP) is a logical next step.

Recovery is a marathon, not a race. 

A PHP that helps people with addiction issues is very likely to offer medication-assisted treatment (MAT). 

Many people today have a dual diagnosis. This means that along with a mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, they have addiction issues with a substance (such as heroin).

Depending on the substance you’ve been addicted to, different MAT medications can be used. For instance, if you’ve been addicted to heroin, a PHP doctor might prescribe you Suboxone. Suboxone blocks the euphoric effects of opiates like heroin and can also help with cravings.

There are other MAT medications for different substances that can be used, but they all generally have the same characteristics — they block euphoric effects if your drug of choice is taken, and/or they reduce cravings for your drug of choice when taken regularly.

Some people may only use MAT medications for a short period of time until they are more stable in their sobriety. However, many times a person might take a MAT medication for a long period of time.

It’s very common for opiate addicts to stay on Suboxone for years or even the rest of their lives. In the addiction recovery community, taking Suboxone long-term is somewhat controversial. 

There is no shame in taking a MAT medication such as Suboxone long-term. Opiates such as fentanyl and heroin are incredibly powerful and have been the cause of many deaths in recent years.

MAT medications can literally save people’s lives.

Individual Counseling

A partial hospitalization program will also offer one-on-one therapy. This is an extremely important part of treatment for mental illnesses, including addiction.

When you meet with your individual counselor, you’ll be able to address issues and talk about things you may have never talked to anyone about before.

You may revisit childhood trauma that has negatively impacted your life and contributed to your mental health issues including addiction.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly used in individual counseling sessions in a PHP. CBT addresses faulty ways of thinking, which are called cognitive distortions.

For instance, one cognitive distortion is called “catastrophizing.” Catastrophizing basically means “you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.”

When you are catastrophizing something in your head, you believe that the worst possible outcomes are going to become true.

Maybe you have a big presentation to do at work and you start obsessing about how bad of a presenter you think you are, even though you’ve given really good presentations in the past.

You convince yourself that once you give this presentation you will immediately be fired and become homeless within a month.

It sounds pretty severe, but if you think about it long enough, you’ll be able to recall some times when you were catastrophizing.

Since cognitive distortions such as catastrophizing can set you up for failure, it’s extremely important to address them in individual therapy as a part of a partial hospitalization program.

Your counselor will help you replace these negative thought patterns with more helpful and beneficial ones.

Individual counseling is something that you may want to continue once you’ve completed a PHP. A PHP can give you the resources to find a good therapist to work with long term.

Takeaway

Treatment for mental health issues such as addiction should be highly individualized. What works for one individual may not work for another.

When seeking treatment, it’s extremely important to talk to a mental health professional and be as honest as possible about your current concerns.

The more information they have, the better the decision they will be able to make as to which level of care you should start at.

A partial hospitalization program is a great place to start as it gives you the intensity of a residential treatment center while giving you the flexibility to do things such as work a job or go to school.

A PHP will give you the tools you need to maneuver life successfully, and you will be able to address specific issues and situations that arise in your life while you are attending it.

Attending a PHP is just one possible level of care out of many. Continuing treatment after a PHP by going to an IOP or sober living house will increase your chances of staying mentally healthy and sober.

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