Outpatient Treatment

Aspects of Recovery: Outpatient Treatment

What is Outpatient Rehab?

An outpatient rehab program offers drug and alcohol treatment sessions that are scheduled during various times throughout the week. This schedule allows patients to continue with their regular responsibilities and continue living at home, but they are required to check into treatment at their allotted times for counseling and medication if in a medically managed treatment facility.  An outpatient rehab is an option for people who are motivated to stop using their substance of choice but require the flexibility of a program that will work around their schedules.

Outpatient programs come in a variety of formats, differing levels of intensity and offer an array of services — but the general focus is on counseling, education, and providing a network of support.

Individuals with a strong will to succeed in recovery and who have a committed, disciplined approach, along with strong supports within their homes or community may benefit from an outpatient treatment program.

Benefits of Outpatient Rehab

For mild to moderate addictions, outpatient rehab is usually an ideal treatment choice. These programs are more accessible and flexible than an inpatient program.

Some of the biggest reasons to consider outpatient rehab include:

  • Affordability. Because you’re able to live at home during outpatient treatment, you don’t have to pay the costs of lodging at an inpatient facility — making it more affordable than inpatient.

  • Flexibility. Outpatient programs can usually work around your schedule. This is beneficial for those who feel like they can’t leave their job or family for an extended period of time.

  • Access to family. Throughout the outpatient rehab program, family involvement and support is emphasized, as loved ones can help encourage you to stay on the path to sobriety.

Outpatient care also presents some drawbacks, including:

  • There is less control over the environment, creating more access to use and temptation to use.

  • There is no separation from the environment of past use

  • Treatment is on a predefined schedule and might have little support between sessions.

  • If the addiction is very severe, outpatient treatment may be less effective.

  • Adequate treatment for co-occurring issues is limited

Types of Outpatient Rehab

There are different types of outpatient rehab based on things like the substance abused or the individual’s severity of addiction and stage of recovery.

The general types of outpatient rehab fall into the following three categories:

  •  Day Programs, also know as Partial Hospitalization Program, or PHP

    High Intensity-Clients attend 20 or more a week while continuing to live at home. People use these types of programs when their needs are for a intensive and structured experience. Day treatment can be appropriate for individuals with co-occurring mental illness. PHP day programs have the highest level of care and structure provided within an outpatient setting. In a day program, clients commit to meeting 5-7 days per week at an outpatient facility for multiple hours each day. During this time, patients will participate in ongoing therapy, group counseling,  and other adjunct therapies, such as art or music therapy.

    Patients may return home after each session, either to their families or a sober living home.  Day programs require a considerable time commitment, which can limit an individual’s availability to work or go to school until the program is finished.  Some residential facilities add this program as a final step and patients may rent a shared apartment and become employed while remaining in the structured environment of treatment.  

  • Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)

    Medium to High Intensity-Clients attend 9 + hours of treatment a week (slightly less for teens) at a specialty facility while continuing to live at home. Many programs make services available in the evenings and on weekends so individuals can continue to work or stay in school. This is a better option for individuals with accompanying medical or psychological issues who need multiple services, or have not been successful in outpatient treatment.  Intensive outpatient programs establish a treatment plan with defined, measurable milestones in place to indicate progress. As these milestones are met, the time commitment required per week decreases.  A typical minimum program would be three times per week, for 3 hours each time.  

  • The IOP is a good option for those serious about abstaining from drugs and alcohol, but that still need to be able to work and perform daily responsibilities. An IOP may require multiple sessions for a few hours each week to conduct counseling sessions, group therapy, relapse prevention education, and attendance in a 12-step or similar recovery support group.


  • Outpatient Programs    

    Low to Medium Intensity -Clients typically attend no more than nine hours of treatment a week (slightly less for teens) at a specialty facility while continuing to live at home. Many programs make services available in the evenings and on weekends so individuals can remain in school or continue to work.  Outpatient programs are the least intrusive and are generally the step down from IOP programs.  They are most commonly in a group format, 1 or 3 times per week, for 1-2 hours each.  Groups are a combination of process and psycho-educational, with the focus on relapse prevention and building skills for ongoing sobriety.  ​


  • Individual Counseling

Group therapy for addiction can provide peer support for individuals in recovery and allow clients to feel more connected to others and less alone. For many people, the best supports can be found in community groups such as AA, NA, SMART Recovery and others.  In this environment, people engage with their peers-unlike a structured recovery group, people are able to choose their individual groups, cultures and find people with similar backgrounds, philosophies and values  to build their support network.  

Group therapy has an integral part of any addiction recovery process, but the foundation for success in recovery treatment is a personalized approach. The individualized therapies are customized to the needs of each client rather than a group. In addition, with individualized therapy, traumas, painful pasts and adverse childhood experiences can be addressed safely by a licensed professional counselor trained and knowledgeable in addressing co-occurring substance use and mental health.   

  •  Individual Therapy for Addiction Recovery

In any individual therapy session, a patient will meet with a therapist on a one-on-one basis. Often the same therapist sees the patient over a more extended period, sometimes for months or years. 

Individual therapy allows the therapist and client to focus on the client’s unique set of emotions, thoughts, and history. This level of individual attention means that the client can get to the root of their issues much more quickly than in a group therapy setting, and the client and therapist can work together toward individual solutions and, ultimately, recovery from addiction. Additionally, individual sessions with a therapist can address certain issues or feelings that a client may not be comfortable sharing in a group setting, as well as cover more ground with one-on-one time.

Several different types of therapies may be used in individual sessions, but they often include psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

  • Psychoanalysis

In psychoanalysis, an individual’s personality is explored deeply, addressing their inner conflicts, personal defenses, phobias, and feelings. The therapist will ask guided questions to encourage the client to explore their thoughts and emotions in a safe and welcoming environment. Together, they work toward understanding the issues and finding positive solutions.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

In cognitive behavioral therapy, clients learn how to recognize their moods and thoughts that crop up during drug or alcohol cravings. It also involves identifying certain social situations and patterns that can lead to relapses. CBT therapists work at an individual level with each client to help them learn to avoid these destructive behaviors and thought patterns.

With this type of therapy, not only are troublesome thoughts and situations recognized and avoided, but clients learn how to replace these negative lines of thinking with more constructive and healthy ones. The healthier, positive thoughts and situations help the client remain clean and resist temptations.

CBT uses specific, proven techniques to help people get through difficult thoughts and emotions. Therapists trained in CBT can offer their patients powerful tools for lifelong success against addiction.

  • Personalized Therapy for Drug and Alcohol Recovery

Individualized therapies get at the root of an individual’s problems, helping them deal with their thoughts, emotions, and unique situations. Therapy that treats each person individually is personalized to the client’s needs. Every addiction and recovery story is different and can require different approaches. The client will have the best chance of full recovery when the treatment plan is customized to their needs.


Addiction to alcohol and drugs can be a lifelong battle, with many difficulties. While the intensive therapies offered during and immediately after detoxing are critical, it’s also essential to go forward with a plan for continuing therapies. While everyone is different, and their treatment plans will differ, maintenance therapy is generally recommended for anyone in recovery.  

Addiction treatment in an outpatient program is finite and ends at some point; individual therapy does not include this restriction and may continue as long as the client and the counselor agree there are therapeutic advantages to remain engaged.  The ability to remain engaged over time can reduce stress of a pending discharge and allows the therapist and counselor to address needs and issues over time. 

Important note:  Many individual therapists may also be qualified to engage with family therapy, an important component of treatment.  Many family members may be reluctant to participate in family programs offered through an outpatient facility; in addition, hours available for family groups are severely restricted and not flexible.  A family therapist may offer greater solutions to this issue.   

In addition, many people prefer to begin treatment at a less intensive level to see how they do.  A therapist knowledgeable in addiction treatment would be able to refer to a higher level of care should a less intensive approach be ineffective.  

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