what is outpatient treatment

What is outpatient treatment

For those who are looking for a way to maintain their family, work, or school responsibilities – while also receiving support and treatment for substance use disorders – outpatient treatment is often the right fit.

People can receive outpatient treatment after stepping down from more intensive programs or can engage in outpatient services right from the beginning. Outpatient treatment is designed to help your life to flow smoothly while simultaneously providing the support that you need to maintain your sobriety.

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at a common question we hear – what is outpatient treatment?

What is Outpatient Treatment?

The defining feature of outpatient treatment lies in the name. Rather than being required to relocate from your home and into a group or hospital setting, outpatient treatment provides the opportunity to receive support toward maintaining your sobriety withing moving to a closely-monitored facility. Outpatient treatment programs typically involve required attendance in weekly group meetings and participation in one-on-one counseling or therapy sessions.

The services offered at an outpatient treatment facility will vary, depending on the facility that is chosen. Typically, a customized assessment will be administered by a qualified professional. This assessment will determine your treatment goals and individual needs. You will have a chance to explain what works, and what doesn’t work, for you and your schedule. You will also receive information on what is expected for successful treatment and will be linked to the appropriate services for your situation. The following are some of the features that may be offered within an outpatient treatment program.

Counseling and Therapy

The cornerstone of most outpatient treatment centers is access to specialized counseling and therapy. Substance abuse counselors have not only completed the education necessary to provide knowledgeable support, but many of them have been through the process of recovery, themselves. This means that they are equipped with first-hand knowledge about how difficult the journey can be, and how sweet the victory over addiction feels.

Therapists are those who have completed a Master’s level, or higher, in a specialized discipline. They may consist of social workers, licensed professional counselors, or marriage and family therapists. Their role will be to provide a clinical perspective toward any barriers to recovery that are getting in the way. This can mean individual therapy to address symptoms of depression and anxiety, couples therapy toward improving the communication and boundaries of a partnership, and family therapy to address the systemic issues that tend to exist for families exposed to addiction.

Peer Support Groups

A large amount of emphasis is placed on peer support during recovery from substance abuse issues. Having the benefit of interactions with those who have first-hand knowledge of the difficult journey of recovery provides a sense of validation. Those who have successfully navigated the process to the point of gaining a sober lifestyle can serve as mentors and guides. Those who are in the trenches alongside you can provide the relief that comes from knowing you are not alone in your struggles. Peer support groups offer solace, guidance, and accountability for someone in recovery. The social bonds made during participation in an outpatient peer group can last a lifetime.


Some outpatient teams will come equipped with their own, in-house, psychiatrist. The role of a 

psychiatrist is primarily to assess your mental health and substance withdrawal symptoms from a medical perspective, and to prescribe an appropriate medication to help you mitigate those symptoms. While not everyone is on board with the idea of using psychopharmaceuticals as part of treatment, the right medication applied at the right time can sometimes be what takes the edge off of the symptoms for long enough to get your feet under yourself, again. 


Sometimes, all we and our loved ones need in order to keep moving forward is a little bit of knowledge. Psychoeducation refers to the type of knowledge that can be gained toward increasing awareness of your own thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. This can lead to an increase in understanding of how you and your loved ones operate in the world, and can result in all parties agreeing to make some adjustments toward a better future. Outpatient teams are all about empowering participants to live a successful, independent, life, and psychoeducation plays a big part in how that success if able to be obtained.

Career Training Support

There are many reasons that someone entering outpatient treatment may also benefit from career counseling.

For some, a job has been lost due to substance abuse related issues. Others will be looking for a career more suitable to the new, sober, life that is being lived. Outpatient treatment centers are often equipped with resources, coaching, and pathways toward pursuing a career that will provide both financial security, and personal satisfaction.

If a change in career is in your future, inquiring with your outpatient team about options for education and training programs is a great place to start.

Nutrition Counseling

The benefit of fueling our bodies with good foods is often overlooked. Studies have shown that a healthy diet, consisting of balanced nutrition, can have a positive impact on both our physical health and our mental health. The reasons for this improvement in mental health are many.

Not only do the vitamins and minerals provided in a healthy diet provide the brain with fuel for improved cognitive processing, but the emotional effect of eating better can assist in improving self-esteem and increasing overall mood.

Many outpatient teams incorporate a focus on healthy eating as part of a holistic treatment approach.

Drug Testing

As part of ongoing treatment, you may be expected to take periodic drug tests.

These tests aren’t meant as something punitive. Rather, they are integrated as part of an accountability system.

During times that your resolve to stay sober may be waning, remembering that your outpatient treatment team will be checking in on your sobriety can provide an extra boost of determination.

Remaining sober during treatment is also important for your peer group, as others may be prone to slide back into temptation when being confronted with a peer who has returned to using.