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What Is Partial Hospitalization?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Partial hospitalization is a treatment strategy that is used for patients with substance use issues, mental health disorders, and physical disorders like chronic pain. Instead of patients being hospitalized 24 hours a day, they may spend most of the day, most days of the week at an outpatient facility. Generally, these facilities specialize in certain types of treatments or age groups. Partial hospitalization is also known as day treatment.

The one thing most programs have in common is insistence on a relatively stable living environment. Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) see themselves as partners with family or friends of the patient. Since some patients can still require a lot of support outside of the treatment center, PHPs have a poor chance of success when patients lack this. This mode of treatment is not appropriate to people who are at an unacceptable risk in their out of hospital hours.

The actual structure of any day treatment program varies widely. For those suffering from mental health issues, the principal goals are to stabilize patients on medications, provide psychoeducation about conditions and treatments, and to help a patient achieve greater functionality. Common elements of mental health PHPs include consultation with psychiatrists, group activities, and possibly vocational or life skills training. The specific treatment plan and length of stay for each patient is individualized, but it may be partly based on the PHP's theoretical orientation.

Substance dependence partial hospitalization programs emphasize quitting or maintenance treatment. These can also have theoretical bias, but most will feature things like individual counseling and group therapy. Some may address vocational issues, too. Individual participants usually have a goal and commit to a certain amount of time in the program.

Some partial hospitalization programs are broad in their application and others are very refined. For example, there are programs to treat adolescents with eating disorders, and those that work only with geriatric clients with mental health issues. Programs may be specific as to disorder, appropriate age group, type of substance use, or certain physical impairments. For instance, stroke day treatment centers may focus on physical and occupational therapy, and speech-language rehabilitation.

Some centers are less goal directed and have been called adult day care facilities, instead. They principally provide watchful care for compromised individuals and may not set patient goals. These are occasionally considered to be partial hospitalization programs, too.

Partial hospitalization has risen in popularity in places like the United States, as the country has shifted away from institutionalizing the mentally ill. Outpatient care like therapy isn't always enough for severe mental illness, and the need exists for vulnerable people to get help during the bulk of their day. PHP trends humanize mental health care, but it can create problems for people in need of total hospitalization.

Competitive PHPs may deplete inpatient program participation to the point where hospitals simply shut down. This means those with severe mental illness may need to travel far from home to get care. Some facilities solve this by offering inpatient and outpatient programs. If necessary, a patient could get inpatient care until he or she is ready to join a PHP. The hospital, and arguably the patient, may profit from this arrangement.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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