Contributed by: Lauren Moore, LCSW

No matter where you are on your therapy journey, it can get confusing when selecting the appropriate amount of treatment that you or your child needs. In the mental health field, there are various levels of care starting at outpatient therapy and up to inpatient treatment. Each level of care is briefly described below; however, please consult with a licensed therapist and/or your psychiatrist to determine which level is currently best for you. Keep in mind, it is common to “step up” or “step down” levels of care depending on symptoms and mental health history.

Outpatient Therapy

Outpatient therapy is offered in a variety of settings and is the least amount of therapy hours per week when looking at levels of care. Often, outpatient therapy is 1-2x per week to start with the goal of reducing the amount of therapy over time when symptoms have reduced. Licensed outpatient therapists will provide recommendations on the amount of therapy based on your individual needs. If you are interested in beginning therapy, finding an outpatient licensed therapist and setting up an assessment is a good place to start! At Queen City Counseling, we offer outpatient therapy with each of our therapists.

Intensive Outpatient Programs

An Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is the next level of care. IOP includes both group and individual therapy for a total of about 9-12 hours over 4-5 days per week. At Queen City Counseling, our IOP also includes family therapy to best support adolescents in the program. IOPs are typically designed to allow participants to attend most of their school and/or work during the day and then attend treatment in the late afternoons to evenings. IOP is often recommended in outpatient therapy when symptoms are increasing in frequency or intensity, or it serves as a step down from residential and partial hospitalization programs with intentions of successfully transitioning back to outpatient therapy. For more information on our IOP at Queen City Counseling, please follow this link:

Partial Hospitalization Programs

In Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP) or other day treatment programs, participants are in the program for about 6-8 hours a day for five days a week. Participants in this level of care attend group therapy, individual therapy, and meet with a psychiatrist for medication management. This level of care is considered a step up from IOP and a step down from residential or inpatient stays due to its structured daily program. Participants return home at the end of the day and have weekends off.


The next level of care after PHP is residential treatment. Residential treatment centers are designed to add even more structure and support for participants by living at the center and having access to staff 24 hours a day. Residential programs include individual, family, and group therapy along with structured activities throughout the day. Often times, residential programs will offer various modalities of therapy such as equine therapy, art therapy, music therapy, and more. Residential programs also help minimize external factors that were previously interfering with treatment because participants are now at a distance from them. If residential treatment is being recommended, it is usually because symptoms are not being addressed enough at a lower level of care and the participant is medically stable to attend. If medical intervention is needed for withdrawal, nutrients, or other reasons, the highest level of care will be recommended for stabilization prior to attending a residential program.


Inpatient treatment is the highest level of care in mental health. It is designed for acute stabilization, both for mental and physical health. If a patient is in crisis or needs medical intervention, inpatient care is often recommended until the patient has stabilized, which can be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on the need. Inpatient care consists of psychiatrists, licensed therapists, nurses, and other professionals to provide the support required at this level of care. On an inpatient unit, patients are supervised to address any safety concerns. At this level of care, discharge planning is important to review recommendations for further treatment at lower levels of care.

If you have additional questions about levels of mental health care, we recommend consulting your outpatient therapist or psychiatrist to learn more!