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Inpatient Vs. Outpatient: Outlining the Key Differences

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Making the decision to take control of your life, health, and future by seeking treatment for a mental health or substance use disorder can be the most difficult part of your journey toward successful recovery.

There are many different treatment options to consider, and the differences between them can be confusing. Most programs for treating mental health and/or substance use disorders use a wide variety of treatment methods to help you gain the skills you need to cope with the difficulties of life in a healthy, sustainable way.

Some elements of treatment programs include various different therapy methods, group and individual counseling, detox, and more. Every program for the treatment of mental health or substance use disorders falls into one of two categories: inpatient or outpatient.

So what are the differences between these two categories of care?

Inpatient Vs. Outpatient Care

On the most fundamental level, the biggest difference between inpatient and outpatient treatment programs is whether the person seeking treatment stays overnight in the facility or goes home.

In an inpatient program, the person stays at the facility each night, receiving treatment full time without returning home or leaving the facility.

The goal of an outpatient treatment program is to provide the very same treatment options, but rather than stay overnight at the treatment facility, the person is free to return home after programming is done for the day.

SUN Behavioral Delaware is proud to announce we now offer evening outpatient treatment as well as daytime outpatient care. This move comes as the latest in our efforts to cater to members of the Delaware community.

Our Outpatient Evening Program is meant for people who could benefit from treatment for mental health or substance use disorders but also have personal or professional duties to attend to during the day.

It’s important to understand that the question of inpatient vs. outpatient care isn’t as simple as saying one is more effective than the other. The question comes down to figuring out which approach to treatment is best for each particular person and their unique situation.

In order to figure that out, it’s important to examine and understand each type of treatment and its individual benefits.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment for mental health and substance use disorders involves daily programming, such as counseling, and both individual and group therapy sessions. All of this takes place within a licensed treatment facility.

People who choose to enter outpatient treatment at SUN Behavioral Delaware can attend therapeutic and educational programming either in the day or the evening. This allows for the person to receive a high level of compassionate care and treatment while still fulfilling professional and personal duties at home.

Outpatient programs are also typically less costly than inpatient programs but also provide a less intensive level of care.

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Benefits of Outpatient Treatment

There are numerous benefits of outpatient treatment programs that can make them the best choice for many people. Some of these benefits include:

  • Treatment appointments are often available for evenings and weekends, allowing the person receiving treatment to get the care that works with their schedule.
  • People receiving outpatient care can live at home and fulfill duties in their employment, relationships, and family life. Outpatient treatment is often the best option for people who have a strong support system from friends and family.
  • The cost of outpatient treatment is typically much lower than the cost of inpatient treatment. Because of this, outpatient care may be more appropriate for people who have minimal insurance coverage or are uninsured.
  • There are many types of therapy and counseling offered in outpatient programs. The person receiving treatment will work with their therapists, counselors, and other healthcare professionals to figure out which types of programming will be most effective for them and their unique situation.
  • Many outpatient programs are also able to treat patients with co-occurring issues or disorders. Co-occurring disorders are when a person is suffering from both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder at the same time. Some of these co-occurring issues include depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Potential Downsides of Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment may not be the best option for a person seeking help with mental health or addiction issues if:

  • They have a difficult time attending treatment sessions on their own. The success of outpatient treatment programs relies on the person’s ability to attend and participate in treatment sessions.
  • They require treatment for multiple disorders and also need medical attention. Many outpatient programs may not be able to give medications or offer intensive, multi-step recovery programs for complicated mental health or addiction issues.
  • They experience intense, constant drug cravings. Because outpatient facilities are not open around the clock, they may not always offer 24-hour immediate care.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient programs are often referred to as residential or live-in programs because the person receiving treatment also lives at the treatment facility throughout the program. This level of care can be very effective for people experiencing severe, underlying, and co-occurring mental health conditions. It can also be very effective for anyone who is facing severe substance use disorder.

Receiving treatment while living at the facility can help the person by removing them from a potentially harmful living environment and allowing them to start healing without the influences, stressors, or temptations of daily life that can be triggering.

Benefits of Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient care for mental health and/or substance use disorders has many benefits that may make it the best fit for certain people. Some of the benefits include:

  • Inpatient treatment offers both short-term and long-term options that are designed to help the person overcome mental health and/or substance use disorders.
  • All treatment programs are highly structured and focused on all aspects of mental health and/or addiction, from education to skill teaching. This structure provided by inpatient care can help to create a solid foundation to help you overcome any mental health or substance use disorders you may be facing.
  • Residential mental health and addiction treatment facilities offer around-the-clock support for people who require the most intensive treatment.
  • Safe housing and medical staff are available 24 hours a day. This can be crucial for someone who is facing severe mental health or addiction issues.

Potential Downsides of Inpatient Treatment

An important thing to consider when determining if inpatient treatment is the best option for you and your unique situation is that it will always require a larger commitment than outpatient programs. For a person considering this approach to treatment, it’s also important to keep the following points in mind:

  • Inpatient care requires that the person disconnects from their home environment and their daily life. Many times, the most effective way to help a person find success in recovery is to remove them from their potentially harmful living environment and place them in a safe space where they can learn to live life in a healthy way. Because of this, the person may need to arrange for childcare or take a leave of absence from duties at work or in school.
  • Treatment is rigidly structured and can be difficult. The treatment schedule is often determined for the person by staff with input from the patient. Some people may have difficulties transitioning to this type of rigid structure.
  • Costs are often higher for inpatient treatment than they are for outpatient. That said, the cost of mental health and addiction treatment will always be less than the cost of suffering from untreated mental health or addiction issues.

SUN Behavioral Delaware Will Help You Find an Approach that Works for You. Reclaim Your Health and Find Success in Recovery Today.

Making the decision to seek help for a mental health or substance use disorder can be a lonely, confusing, and emotional experience, but you are not alone. If you or someone you love is struggling, SUN Behavioral Health Delaware is here to help. Please call us today at (302) 207-6152 to get help for you, your family, or your loved one.



What is the difference between inpatient and outpatient treatment?

In an inpatient treatment program, the person receives support and treatment while staying overnight and living at the facility for the duration of the program. In outpatient programs, the person attends treatment during the day or evening but sleeps at home.

Why is outpatient care better than inpatient?

Outpatient is not necessarily better than inpatient for the treatment of mental health or substance use issues. Licensed treatment facilities will typically work with you to determine which approach to treatment is appropriate for your unique situation.

Is an ER visit inpatient or outpatient?

Emergency room visits are typically considered outpatient, but if the person’s condition is severe enough to require hospitalization, it turns into an inpatient situation.

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SUN Behavioral Delaware

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