Is a Residential Treatment Center the Right Choice?

A loved one is experiencing mental health problems – or perhaps you are dealing with mental illness yourself.  As you look into treatment options – outpatient, inpatient, etc., one option that may be recommended is a residential treatment center.  Such programs provide comprehensive assessment and care for individuals dealing with complex mental health and/or addiction issues.

But is this type of program right for you or your family member? After all, any type of treatment approach isn’t right for everyone.  Consider the following information before you make a decision about whether residential treatment is the best choice.

Who Is the Best Candidate for a Residential Treatment Center?

While a variety of individuals can benefit from the structured and supportive environment of a residential treatment center, some of the best candidates are those who:

  • Have complex diagnostic or treatment issues;
  • Need a more structured environment or do not have a natural environment ideal for supporting their treatment;
  • Have not responded sufficiently to previous treatments;
  • May have a higher risk of decompensation. (While stable, they may need a greater degree of watchful oversight to address potential suicidal risk, “acting out” behaviors, etc.).

What Are the Benefits of Residential Treatment?

For an individual who meets one or more of the above criteria, a residential treatment center can provide many benefits, such as the following:

  • A supportive environment. The community and therapeutic milieu provided in a residential treatment environment can be treatment approach themselves. Many individuals with mental illness do not live in a naturally supportive environment and may easily become socially isolated or frustrated after an acute treatment episode.  Others lack the life skills necessary to function productively, and the therapeutic environment of a residential program provides a safe place to learn and practice them. It helps foster more responsible behavior, greater self-esteem, and positive relationships.
  • A greater degree of structure.  Residential treatment centers provide structured and stabilizing routines throughout the entire day.  These can be beneficial to individuals with impulsivity, compliance issues, medical problems, or high-risk behaviors.
  • More intensive, longer-term care. If a behavioral health problem is particularly severe or complex, outpatient treatment is not sufficiently intensive, and inpatient treatment is not long enough to help patients develop new coping and social skills. Ten- or 28-day programs are an increasingly popular option in many residential treatment centers today.
  • More extensive diagnostic assessment process and tools.   An estimated 85% of individuals with addiction are also dealing with a mental illness. Additionally, individuals with one type of mental disorder may also have other mental health issues.  Proper assessment and diagnosis is important to guide the best treatment plan possible.  Residential treatment programs typically provide more extensive assessment, often using sophisticated tools and technologies such as psychological tests, brain scans, and even genetic testing.
  • Broader range of treatments. A residential treatment center typically offers a broader “menu” of services than other settings. Once assessment is completed, residential program offer a robust selection of therapies, from traditional psychotherapy to recreational therapy. The fact that the environment is more structured and supervised makes some treatments, such as medication adjustments, more feasible. The logistics of obtaining therapeutic assessment and high-tech treatments are also easier when services are provided literally under one roof. Finally, this environment is also ideal for implementing detailed protocols for specific disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive, substance abuse, and eating disorders.

One way to remember the overall benefits is to think of the “4-S” approach to treatment: Supportive, Structured, Safe, and Sophisticated.

Residential treatment is not appropriate for everyone.  Patients with short-term or milder disorders may benefit sufficiently from outpatient treatment, while individuals with critically acute problems or significant suicidal risk may need inpatient care.  But for many individuals, the “happy medium” provided by an effective residential treatment center offers the best head start on regaining a productive and enjoyable life.

For more information about residential mental health and addiction treatment, view our in-depth guide.