The Importance of Outpatient Aftercare

The Importance of Outpatient Aftercare


Typically, those who are heading into a treatment facility for 30, 60 or 90 days may consider returning to their former lives after they complete the program. However, there is evidence that remaining in treatment in an outpatient setting leads to more success maintaining sobriety. Outpatient treatment comes in many forms, and finding the right fit is important. Depending on the needs of the individual and their level of care, an outpatient program can be the difference between whether or not relapse occurs.

Outpatient Options

Outpatient treatment varies in intensity and how many days a person is expected to be at a facility participating in groups and individual therapy. The highest level is a Partial Hospitalization Program, or PHP. This is also sometimes referred to as a “day” program.

A PHP can be a good alternative to a residential program in that it requires several hours of treatment per day, and usually runs between five and seven days per week. The only real difference is the client returns home at the end of the day.

If people choose a PHP after an inpatient stint, it may be due to how they feeling about returning to their community, or that they simply need a substantial amount of support. Oftentimes a PHP caters lunch and includes several different daily activities and experiences on top of the regular schedule of therapy. 

An Intensive Outpatient Program, or IOP, is the next level of treatment. This is still fairly structured, yet steps down in terms of treatment hours. On average, an IOP runs three to five days per week for about three hours at a time, give or take. An IOP is still considered a higher level of care in an outpatient setting, though at this stage it is not unusual for clients to return back into the workforce and start to acclimate back into their communities.

A standard outpatient program can offer clients a way less intensive schedule of treatment. In some cases, clients attend either a group or individual therapy once per week, so it’s essentially a maintenance program. Depending on the outpatient program, it is not uncommon for clients to see their therapist when it works in their schedule.

What to Look for in an Outpatient Program

Finding a good outpatient program after leaving a residential facility can be challenging. Staff at the residential program can usually help clients find a program that works for them and close to where they live. It also helps if the outpatient facility offers similar treatment options and philosophies.

For instance, does the outpatient program offer Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)? Is there dual diagnosis care? Is it a 12-step facility, or are there alternatives, like SMART Recovery? Are there holistic treatment options? Really knowing what the needs of the client are and recognizing what worked while in residential care will help when matching them to the right outpatient program.

What If an Intensive Program Is Not an Option?

While it is not ideal, there are times when it is simply impossible to continue on in an intensive treatment program, outpatient or not, due to life circumstances, whether it’s a demanding job or not having access to childcare. Perhaps the cost of treatment is simply too high and insurance isn’t going to cover an extended outpatient program.

Nowadays, thanks to the internet, there are several alternative options. Several mental health providers now offer their services online. There are Skype therapy sessions, or even options to text a session in a pinch.

There are also recovery coaches who can either come to where the client lives, meet them in a coffee shop or a park, or again, have a Skype session. In some cases a recovery coach is able to offer additional wellness suggestions to help with maintaining recovery. This may be in the form of recommending some exercises, nutritional advice, or helpful literature. There are some recovery coaches who also make themselves available 24 hours a day as a support system.

While not a cheap option, there are also programs that can provide a sober companion. This basically means that there is someone who accompanies the client and checks in on them frequently throughout the day. This may seem a little intrusive for some, however there are many people who, if they are not able to remain in a structured outpatient program, are likely to relapse if they don’t have someone to help keep them accountable and sober.

Last but not least, there are support groups. This means AA, NA, CA, Refuge Recovery, Celebrate Recovery, Moderation Management, LifeRing and more. These communities offer a support system of like minded people and a feeling of camaraderie. For some, just knowing that there is a place to go that is safe and free of judgement is very comforting.

An Added Layer of Support

In addition to an outpatient program there are several treatment facilities that also offer a sober living option. For example, Oceanside Malibu in Malibu, California not only offers a stellar residential treatment experience but also has transitional living for the clients who complete it. Sober livings are safe, substance-free homes or apartments, where everyone is sober and there are rules that need to be followed in order to stay at the residence.

What a sober living house does is add that extra bit of structure while in an outpatient program. It basically gives that feeling of living on their own, however the client has to report to a house manager, usually go to a certain amount of meetings per week, and work within the parameters of the program.

In a way, it’s sort of a dry run of what life will be like once they return home and really have to live without alcohol or drugs.

A Personal Journey

In the end, choosing a proper outpatient program is essential to the success of one’s recovery. The program needs to feel like a safe place that is encouraging, caring and supportive. The experience is very personal and different for everyone.

The bottom line is that having a solid outpatient program or aftercare plan is important. It can be the deciding factor between remaining in recovery or not.


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