Even though hospital psychiatric units and residential inpatient treatment programs seem similar, the reality is there’s a big difference between residential treatment programs and a psychiatric hospital unit stay. Regardless of what mental health condition, substance use disorder or dual diagnosis you may be struggling with, it’s important to know the differences.

Whether you or someone you care about is struggling with mental illness, general mental health, substance abuse, eating disorders or a dual diagnosis, it’s helpful to know how both residential inpatient treatment programs and hospital psychiatric units work.

Inpatient vs. Residential Treatment

No two residential treatment centers or hospitals are exactly the same. However, you can expect to find some general similarities and differences between residential treatment at residential treatment centers and in hospital settings.


Both residential inpatient treatment and psychiatric units offer intensive mental health treatment from experienced mental health professionals. Most offer a combination of group therapy and individual therapy and can provide treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders.


At the same time, inpatient mental health hospitalization and residential treatment in a mental health facility are also different. For example, a hospital stay differs from an inpatient treatment program because it helps stabilize a patient. A residential program offers skills and resources for long-term recovery. Simply put, medical services are the primary goal for hospital units, while inpatient treatment focuses on behavioral and mental health challenges.

Residential inpatient programs are set up for longer-term stays of up to three months, whereas hospital psychiatric visits are generally much shorter. For many people, entering a psychiatric hospital is a great first step to receiving assessments, managing medications, getting help with detox or creating initial recovery goals. Patients often find transitioning from a psychiatric hospital into an inpatient treatment program helpful.

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What To Expect in a Hospital Stay

Patients admitted into a psychiatric unit can expect 24-hour medical care. They have full access to health professionals capable of managing symptoms of withdrawal, medications and trouble adjusting. It’s not uncommon for people to enter a hospital mid-crisis, sometimes through the hospital emergency room. Unlike inpatient programs, psychiatric hospital unit visits always take place in licensed hospital facilities. Licensed doctors can look closer at your overall health concerns and conditions instead of focusing only on mental health disorders or other challenges.

Some people find that addressing serious mental health issues in the hospital is a good way to seek treatment before deciding about inpatient or residential care. This is because they can work with trained mental health professionals in the hospital setting to determine what type of inpatient and residential program might be best for them.

During your stay in a psychiatric unit, ask your doctor about partial hospitalization programs, outpatient clinics, residential rehab, inpatient programs and other treatment options.

What To Expect in Inpatient and Residential Treatment

If a longer-term stay in a more casual environment sounds like a good fit and you aren’t in a mental health crisis, a residential treatment center or program could be a great choice. In inpatient residential treatment, you will work with mental health professionals to focus on your mental illnesses, challenges with substance abuse, goals and more.

An inpatient treatment program will often offer family therapy, group therapy, various mental health services, a mentor for your recovery process and more. Because most people entering inpatient residential mental health treatment are not in an immediate mental health crisis, healthcare professionals can focus more closely on behavioral health problems than in a crisis unit.

Residential inpatient care programs also offer outreach to help with failing or struggling relationships or challenges due to substance use disorders, long-term drug abuse, behavioral challenges and more.

Specific Skills and Treatments

Residential inpatient programs will offer proven therapies, such as dialectical behavioral therapy and group therapy. In a residential facility, you’ll learn skills for daily life, regardless of having a dual diagnosis or a substance use disorder. Trained, experienced professionals will work with you one-on-one and in groups to help you manage the early stages of the recovery process. Together, you’ll make a plan for your transition back home and connection to community mental health centers.

Residential and Inpatient Treatment Supports

In a residential setting for young adults, for example, patients work privately with a mental health professional to talk about mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder. They meet in groups to practice social skills and attend educational sessions. Residential inpatient rehab programs can offer treatment options that aren’t generally part of a hospital’s services. These options could include coordination with a treatment team for a discharge treatment plan with ongoing support.

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Mental Health Matters: Finding the Right Match for You

We understand it can be difficult to know what type of treatment might be best for you. Our team can answer questions about the difference between outpatient treatment, partial hospitalization programs, inpatient hospitalization, inpatient therapy and the type of mental healthcare that could be a good match.

Whether you need help with medication management or want to know more about intensive outpatient programs or the difference between substance abuse treatment and intensive residential treatment, we can help you.

Here To Help

For more information on whether a hospital unit stay or inpatient and residential treatment are right for you or to learn about a treatment facility offering inpatient therapy that could help, contact us today.