Residential Treatment

Inpatient Rehabilitation for Mental Health and Eating Disorders

What Is Residential Treatment?

When struggling with severe mental illness and/or eating disorder, sometimes therapy or attending a program on a daily or weekly basis isn’t enough. In these cases, more support is provided through residential treatment.

Sometimes, within the mental health care community, certain terms are used interchangeably. These include inpatient treatment and residential treatment. 1 While residential treatment is an example of inpatient treatment, there are varying levels of inpatient treatments. Some people may consider inpatient treatment as being only when a person is receiving care at a hospital.

As a general rule, residential treatment involves staying at a facility dedicated to treating mental health or eating disorders. Guests have around-the-clock care or a supervisor available. There is also participation in regular treatment sessions, such as counseling, group therapies, and more.

Sometimes, residential treatment is a good option after an inpatient hospital stay. Perhaps there was a crisis in which they were contemplating harming themselves or others. Once stabilized at a hospital, residential treatment may be the next step in a healing journey.

Other times, residential treatment is a first-line therapy. Perhaps an unstable home life or the pressures of their job and commitments are closing in on them and they cannot get the help they need by remaining in their home. When this is the case, residential treatment may be an option.

It’s important to contact individual treatment facilities to determine the medical conditions in which they specialize. There are often medical facilities across the United States that focus on treating different conditions specifically, such as an eating disorder or other health condition.


People in residential treatment may have a variety of medical conditions.
Examples of these may include:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Binge eating disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Bulimia
  • Depression
  • Mood disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Personality disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Residential treatment facilities offer care for these and other medical conditions.

Residential Treatment

  • Participants eat and sleep at the facility
  • Professional care available 24/7
  • Structured schedule of therapy sessions

What Are Types of Treatments?

Acute Inpatient Hospitalization

Generally speaking, there is a spectrum of care available to those who suffer from eating or mental health disorders. One on end of the spectrum is the highest level of care known as acute inpatient hospitalization.1 A person receiving this level of care would be in crisis and experiencing psychosis, mania, and/or thoughts of self-harm.

Residential Treatment

Next on the spectrum would be facilities that offer residential treatment. A person would not return home and have access to some medical personnel or supervisors 24 hours a day. Many residential treatment facilities require a time commitment that may range from one to three months at a minimum. Some residential treatments facilities may have lengths of stay that are significantly longer – anywhere from six months to two years.

Outpatient Treatment

A lower (but not necessarily lesser) level of care is outpatient rehabilitation approaches. This can include partial hospitalization, where a person participates in intensive therapy during the day but returns home at night. Another is outpatient therapy where a person goes to a rehabilitation facility on a weekly or several times a week basis to receive care.

Continuum of Care:

  1. Acute Inpatient Hospital Stay
  2. Residential Treatment
  3. Partial Hospitalization Programs
  4. Intensive Outpatient Treatment

What Therapies Happen In Residential Treatment?

A high-quality residential treatment facility will provide a comprehensive offering of therapies to treat a mental health or eating disorder. These therapeutic modalities would be facilitated by a multidisciplinary, fully-licensed team. An effective therapy offering would include a combination of individual and group therapy, family programming, medication management as needed, and extended aftercare services.

Psychoeducational Therapies

Meaningful psychoeducational therapy creates opportunities to process conditions from an intellectual standpoint as a way of helping with emotional processing. Psychoeducational therapy can include, but is not limited to:

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Self-Acceptance and Identity
  • Trauma and attachment
  • Life skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Gratitude
  • Nutrition education
  • Self-direction

Holistic Therapies

Also referred to as alternative treatment modalities, holistic therapies compliment psychoeducational therapies to provide emotional and spiritual healing. These holistic modalities can include:

  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Equine therapy
  • Trauma-sensitive yoga
  • Ecotherapy

How Do I Know If Residential Treatment Is
Right for Me?

There are no hard-and-fast rules about when a person should seek residential treatment versus other treatment options. If these statements sound like something you could identify with, residential treatment may be an ideal option:

  • I have just completed an acute or sub-acute crisis stay.
  • I need time to adjust my medications and stabilize my eating disorder or mental health condition.
  • I have just experienced my first episode of psychosis, mania, or crisis.
  • I have a medical condition in addition to my mental illness that may require additional care, such as cerebral palsy.
  • I have tried outpatient treatment before, and relapsed or failed to achieve remission.
  • I don’t have a strong network of people at this time who can support me mentally or physically.
  • I have experienced a greater number of self-harming behaviors lately, such as more episodes of binging-and-purging.

If these statements sound like you, you may benefit from the closer supervision that residential treatment can provide. Often, a person who suffer from an eating disorder may also have a mental health disorder. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, an estimated 33 to 50 percent of persons with anorexia have a mood disorder, such as depression while about half of persons with anorexia have an anxiety disorder, such as social phobia or obsessive-compulsive disorder.4


Of persons with anorexia have a mood disorder

How Does Life Change In Residential Treatment?

The answer to this question can depend upon what residential treatment type you are seeking. Within the umbrella of “residential treatment” facilities can include the following:

Apartment or House-Based Communities

These facilities may include living in a community with other persons who may have a mental illness or eating disorder. Therapists, doctors, and other rehabilitation experts will usually come to this facility on a daily basis to offer treatment.

Clinical Residential Treatment Programs

This treatment type is often utilized by those who may experience a co-occurring disorder, such as a substance abuse problem and eating disorder. A person will receive mental health treatments on a daily basis as well as individual and group counseling sessions.

Work-Based Residential Programs

These are residential programs that are united by a regular work activity, such as working on a farm or performing a variety of tasks. In addition to training or job-related activities, a person may also participate in counseling and group therapy sessions. Some people find the opportunity to recover with a purpose or build their job skills highly beneficial.

Life changes, ideally for the better, when a person enters residential treatment. Sometimes a person may find treatments similar to learning to walk again.3 Residential treatment focuses on how a person can live a life where they may healthy choices and recognize what symptoms they have that are due to their mental illness or eating disorder.

One of the greatest benefits to residential treatment is that most facilities are designed to provide a home-like atmosphere. If a person has recently experienced a hospitalization for their condition, a residential treatment facility can be a more relaxing, personal experience compared to inpatient care.

Most residential facilities are designed to provide a home-like environment

Length of treatment is a stronger indicator of success than type of treatment.

What Are the Success Rates for Residential Treatment?

Unfortunately, there is not a significant body of research on success rates for residential treatments for mental illnesses or eating disorders. This is true of almost every type of treatment for these conditions as the populations can be difficult to track long-term. One study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders examined 22 residential eating disorder programs.2  The study found the average length of stay in such programs was about 83 days.

However, researchers and mental health experts do know that the right “fit” for treatment, whatever that may be, can be effective in treating mental illness. Therefore, if a person is stable enough for outpatient therapy, they can benefit. If a person needs greater care and requires residential treatment, they can benefit from this as well.

What Can You Expect After Residential Treatment?

Aftercare Planning

While residential treatment can last for months to even years, the goal is almost always to return home or to a new living situation in order to move forward with life. As a result, aftercare planning is a vital part of the goals process. Sometimes, a person will choose to continue seeing a therapist or doctor they saw at their residential treatment facility. Other times, a person may select a new outpatient therapist. A social or case worker at a residential treatment facility may also connect a person with support groups in their area or other therapy options, such as art, music, or equine therapies.

Development of Healthy Choices

Ideally, residential treatment helps a person get in a “good place” in their life. They are learning to make healthier choices, have their medications managed and understand what they are for and the importance of taking them. They have learned the symptoms and indications of relapse and who to call if they are afraid they will relapse.

More Fufilling Lifestyle

Exiting residential treatment is a time when a person has prepared as much as possible to return to their home life. While there will be challenges that can arise as they do so, residential treatment has ideally laid a groundwork for them to improve on their overall health.