Mental Health Treatment
Treatment helps people with mental health disorders identify coping mechanisms so they can find balance and pursue meaningful, lost-lasting recovery. It comes in many forms from talk therapy to medication-based options. The exact form of treatment and duration of services depends on several factors, including the type of illness being treated and whether there are other considerations, such as an underlying physical illness or other co-occurring diagnosis.
Often, when people think of mental health treatment, they assume it requires inpatient care at a hospital or treatment center, but there are multiple options available to those seeking help.
Inpatient treatment refers to treatment that takes place in a hospital or clinic. These live-in programs offer round-the-clock care seven days a week. Due to that residential component, these programs tend to cost more than outpatient treatment programs. (1)
Outpatient treatment may take place at a hospital or outpatient clinic. The patient does not stay in the treatment facility. An example outpatient schedule might see the participant attending therapy one or two times a week for three to four hours each session, but the exact number of visits will depend on the patient, type of therapy, and program structure. (1)
Intensive Outpatient Treatment
Intensive outpatient treatment (IOT) takes place on an outpatient basis. The person receiving treatment may return to the hospital or treatment facility daily for several hours a day but will not live on the premises. (2)
Some patients will cycle through all three stages of treatment, beginning with inpatient, moving to intensive outpatient, and then reducing care with outpatient treatment. Others may begin with one type of care and stick with it through the duration of their treatment. Many people have ongoing outpatient treatment, which can consist of psychotherapy visits or follow-up appointments with their doctors. For example, it's typical for a recently discharged psychiatric patient to have a follow-up visit within 7 to 30 days of their release. (3) This visit is often coupled with regular talk therapy sessions as part of an ongoing treatment plan.
Addiction is a chronic disease and dysfunction of the brain system that involves memory, motivation, and reward. Addiction treatment helps those with an addiction stop using their substance or substances of choice. Addiction treatment options include: (4)
- 12-step programs
- Spiritual groups
- Motivational interviewing
- Individual, group, and/or family therapy.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Mindfulness therapy
- Alternative therapies
- Pharmacotherapy (medications)
- Transitional support courtesy of halfway houses and sober-living communities
People struggling with addiction can find help courtesy of the following resources: (4)
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at FindTreatment.gov
- The Mentalhelp.net treatment finder
- SMART Recovery
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety
- Women for Sobriety
- Their insurance company
- Their primary care provider (PCP)
Before choosing a method of treatment, those who believe they or someone they love has an addiction should discuss their concerns with a medical professional. Since some programs require referrals, starting the discussion with a primary care provider is a step in the right direction. (5)
No matter what kind of treatment someone chooses, it's possible to overcome addiction. Searching for local groups or speaking with an insurance company about the facilities covered by its plans is a good way to find out which options are available.
Substance use disorders and mental health disorders affect people all over the United States. Some of those people won't have direct access to care in their communities. For those with limited options due to geographic restrictions or personal or professional obligations, telehealth options for mental health treatment or addictions could help. (6)
Telehealth care offers several important benefits: (7)
- Shorter wait times
- Better continuity of care
- Improved privacy
- Care within the home environment
- Access to digital tools
With telehealth, patients get access to treatment from anywhere, whether they're at home, in a park, or in a vehicle. They have access to care without needing to stay in a clinical environment that can feel off putting. Telehealth options also increase patient privacy, potentially reducing exposure to judgment and stigma the patient might otherwise encounter. Additionally, the therapist or provider can get better insight into the patient's home or other daily environment, which can help with assessing the situation, identifying potential triggers, and pinpointing resources.
Telehealth appointments and virtual care in general are subject to special rules and regulations, especially when prescribing medications. (7) Certain tasks, such as suicide screenings, must be completed online during each session. Other important mental health-related tasks, such as general screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) occur as needed.
Integration with in-person treatment is a consideration for telehealth treatment, and telehealth on its own is not necessarily the goal. Coordinating with primary care has shown an increase in care coordination, so it's fairly common to see telehealth used to supplement in-person visits rather than as a sole form of treatment. (7)
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, provides support to people experiencing mental health challenges. The goal is to reduce symptoms to help patients cope better with their daily lives. (8)
Psychotherapy may help patients address: (8)
Some patients benefit from combining psychotherapy with other treatment options, such as medication. This two-pronged approach allows patients to tackle their challenges from multiple angles, addressing factors like childhood trauma and chemical imbalances at the same time.
Psychotherapy also combines well with lifestyle changes, such as improving nutrition, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly.
Around 75% of people who start talk therapy see improvements in everything from work satisfaction to overall wellness, and those results aren't just anecdotal. (8) Psychotherapy research has shown that this technique can lead to brain changes that show up on imaging tests, and those changes are similar to the changes experienced by patients on medication alone.
It's important to note that psychotherapy isn't a single type of treatment but instead an umbrella term for various kinds of therapy including: (8)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people change their behaviors and thinking patterns to more positive, accurate ones.
Psychodynamic therapy helps build self-awareness to change old patterns.
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
Dialectical behavior therapy focuses on helping regulate emotions. It teaches skills to change unhealthy behaviors.
Interpersonal therapy helps patients address underlying interpersonal issues in short-term treatment.
Supportive, solution-focused therapy
Supportive therapy guides patients to find and use their own resources. It focuses on building self-esteem, improving social functioning, and reducing anxiety.
Psychoanalysis provides a more intensive option of psychodynamic therapy requiring meetings three or more times weekly.
Psychotherapy may also be used alongside alternative therapy types, such as play therapy, art therapy, and animal-assisted therapy.
The Mentalhelp.net treatment finder, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and SAMHSA Treatment Locator both provide lists of contact information for counseling and psychotherapy. (8)
Alternative Mental Health Medicine
Alternative options for mental health treatment exist to use separately or in combination with traditional treatment.
Some kinds of alternative mental health medicine include yoga, cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES), and animal therapy. (9)
Yoga is a mental, spiritual, and physical practice that takes practitioners through different poses and movements while focusing on mindfulness. Some benefits of yoga include reduced stress, better immunity, increased flexibility, body weight management, and improved balance. (9)
Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES)
Cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES) treatment uses a small electrical device to deliver a charge to the brain that may stimulate the production of neurotransmitters. CES stimulates the brain at a current of 4 milliamps or lower. The patient feels no pain or discomfort. (9)
CES has no drug interactions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes it has a class III medical device for anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders. (9)
For people who enjoy being around animals, animal therapy can provide both fun interactions and relief from some mental health concerns. Some forms of animal therapy include equine-assisted psychotherapy (9), canine-assisted therapy, dolphin therapy, and pig therapy. Some people may also benefit from having a service, therapy, or emotional support animal in their home. (10)
Many people turn to supplements to help support their mental health. One option is S-adenosylmethionine, or SAMe, a naturally occurring chemical in the body. Studies show that this compound is an important part of the body's processes and that it may help treat depression. (11) It is available in supplement form without a prescription in the U.S., but patients who are taking other prescription medications should consult their doctor before adding any supplements into the mix. (10)
Aromatherapy may offer another alternative treatment option for anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. Essential oils, scented candles, and other aromatic products may trigger emotions. Sometimes, combining aromatherapy and conventional treatments helps patients feel comforted or can assist in triggering a conditioned response. (12)