People dealing with mental health or substance abuse problems often opt for outpatient programs, as they help them develop new skills and regain control of their mental well-being.

But when deciding whether to choose a partial hospitalization program (PHP) or an intensive outpatient program (IOP), the choice may feel confusing.

This article aims to change that. Join Holly Hill Hospital as we walk you through the differences between PHPs and IOPs, including their core goals and benefits, and how to make the best choice.

What Is an Outpatient Program?

Before diving into whether you should choose a mental health partial hospitalization program or an intensive outpatient program, we should first understand what an outpatient program is.

An outpatient program treats behavioral health struggles such as mental health or substance use issues without requiring that the patient stay in a medical facility for over 24 hours. It treats conditions such as depression, anxiety, trauma, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and substance use disorders.

Overall, outpatient programs aim to provide patients with coping skills that enable them to engage in a healthy and fulfilled lifestyle.

There are generally two kinds of outpatient services: Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) or intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). Let’s dive into the unique benefits, characteristics and differences between the two.

What Is a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)?

Partial hospitalization programs provide a structured level of care for those with moderate behavioral health issues. It may be presented as an alternative to prevent inpatient hospitalization or be recommended to patients who have been recently discharged from an inpatient program as they continue their road to recovery.

The highly structured nature of PHPs, therefore, may prove beneficial to those who either struggle to manage their day-to-day lives, require a higher level of care or are finding the sudden reintegration into their routine after an inpatient stay too daunting.

PHP treatment occurs in a therapeutic center (such as a treatment facility) and is conducted by a licensed medical professional. It usually occurs 3-5 times per week, in 4-8 hour sessions. Holly Hill’s partial hospitalization program, for example, occurs five times per week (Monday through Friday), from 8:45 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Given the length of a session, food is typically served.

PHPs are not designed to be a long-term solution to behavioral health problems. Rather, they should be understood as the next step in one’s path toward healing. Given this, partial hospitalization programs may involve family, individual and group therapy.

Of course, the intensity and duration of the program depend on the unique needs of the patient and the specific issues they are dealing with. For additional information, you should consult a medical professional.

What Is an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)?

An intensive outpatient program (IOP) provides psychiatric therapeutic care to those with mild behavioral health symptoms. It is often the logical next step after completing a partial hospitalization program, but it is typically available to anyone struggling with a mental health or substance abuse condition.

IOPs are conducted by a licensed medical professional in some variation of a therapeutic environment (whether that be a psychiatric treatment center, a psychiatrist’s office or a hospital). In recent years, virtual visits have also become popular.

Intensive outpatient therapy occurs at least 2-3 days a week, but unlike partial hospitalization programs, sessions only last a few hours. Holly Hill’s intensive outpatient program, for example, occurs three times per week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) from 8:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. This enables patients to carry on with their day-to-day life with minimal disruptions.

Like partial hospitalization programs, intensive outpatient programs may also involve family, group and individual therapy.

So How Do I Choose?

Now that you understand the difference between partial hospitalization programs and intensive outpatient programs, how do you know which one is the best fit for you? Holly Hill Hospital recommends asking the following questions:

  • PHPs are designed for people with moderate symptoms, while IOPs are designed for those with mild How severe is your (or your loved one’s) behavioral health condition? Does it affect your ability to carry on with your daily activities?
  • PHPs demand a higher time commitment on a week-to-week basis but typically end sooner, while IOPs require less of a weekly time commitment but may carry on longer. What intensity/duration aligns with your lifestyle?
  • PHPs and IOPs are typically meant for people in different stages of their recovery journey. PHPs represent a transitional step between an inpatient program and an intensive outpatient one. While IOPs are normally designed for those in the final stages of recovery. How far into your healing journey are you? Are you just setting out on your mental health journey?

Figuring out whether you should opt for a partial hospitalization program or an intensive outpatient program is never a simple question. Sometimes, it may be difficult to answer these questions on your own. That’s why it is always best to consult with a mental health professional.

Begin Your Healing Journey Today

Partial hospitalization programs and intensive outpatient programs each provide their own unique benefits and healing strategies. Understanding the difference between the two is important when considering how to get started on your path to recovery.

At Holly Hill Hospital, we understand that sometimes life just feels too heavy, but you are not alone. Located in Raleigh, North Carolina, our compassionate team provides a judgment-free path to recovery. Holly Hill’s outpatient programs treat adolescents, adults and seniors.

We are here to help out. Reach out at 919-420-3256 or complete this form to get started on your path to recovery today.

If you are in crisis and need assistance immediately, call:

Suicide Prevention Hotline: 988

Emergency Services: 911