What Is Outpatient Therapy?

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What Is Outpatient Therapy?

Outpatient Therapy

Outpatient therapy is defined as any psychotherapy service offered when the client is not admitted to a hospital, residential program, or other inpatient settings. Outpatient therapy is a resource for individuals seeking support for mental health concerns who do not require round-the-clock support or safety monitoring.

Outpatient therapy can be offered through hospitals, in doctor’s offices that employ therapists, group practices, or private practice.

Psychologists, clinical social workers, counselors, and certain medical professionals can offer outpatient therapy. Interns and students working towards degrees or licensure in mental health may also offer outpatient therapy with supervision and oversight from a qualified, licensed professional.

Types of Outpatient Therapy

Outpatient therapy can take many forms, depending on the client’s needs. Individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and couple’s therapy can all be provided in an outpatient setting. Sessions can range in frequency, including weekly, twice per week, every other week, and monthly, depending on the individual client’s need and progress in treatment.

Therapists offering outpatient services can practice from many different theoretical orientations depending on the therapist’s personal style and training background. Most orientations taught in clinical and counseling programs can be implemented in an outpatient setting, including:

  • Adlerian therapy: A brief therapy approach that emphasizes setting and achieving specific goals, as well as psychoeducation about mental health.
  • Behavioral therapy: A form of therapy aimed at changing problem behaviors by reinforcing preferred behaviors.
  • Cognitive therapy: A typically short-term therapy approach that explores how one’s thoughts affect feelings and behaviors.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy: A form of therapy aimed at helping individuals identify the connection between maladaptive thoughts, behaviors, and emotions and make positive changes to these patterns.
  • Humanistic therapy: An approach to mental health that helps clients identify their “true self” and determine how to live their most authentic life.
  • Psychoanalysis: A long-term talk therapy approach that involves exploring how one’s unconscious mind impacts thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  • Psychodynamic therapy: A long-term therapy approach involving deep exploration and understanding of emotions and thoughts through talk therapy.
  • Strengths-based therapy: An approach to therapy that emphasizes clients’ already existing strengths and helps the client identify and use these strengths in their life.

Techniques of Outpatient Therapy

Therapy techniques will vary based on the therapist’s theoretical orientation as well as the client’s individual needs. All orientations include talk therapy, which helps the client articulate their needs and treatment goals and allows the therapist to determine which interventions might be most helpful.

Because outpatient therapy consists of sessions with time in between, many outpatient therapists will assign homework in between sessions. Assignments might include tracking thoughts and emotions, mindfulness or meditation exercises, or trying different communication styles or conflict resolutions.

What Outpatient Therapy Can Help With

Because outpatient therapists have the flexibility to pull from a variety of theoretical orientations and techniques, outpatient therapy can help with a wide variety of mental health concerns.

Therapists can use outpatient therapy to help with many diagnoses, including depression, anxiety, trauma, and stress.

Benefits of Outpatient Therapy

Therapy in an outpatient setting allows clients to schedule sessions based on their availability, and they can choose frequency and treatment goals based on their needs and priorities.

Outpatient therapy allows anyone to seek therapy services and support for their mental health while allowing them to live their lives in between sessions. Many clients can continue to work or go to school while receiving outpatient therapy services.

Since many different types of outpatient therapy exist, clients can find a therapist who meets their individual needs and preferences. Outpatient therapy can also be conducted via telehealth, so clients living in rural areas do not have to travel to receive services.

Effectiveness of Outpatient Therapy

“Outpatient therapy” can refer to many different techniques and therapy approaches, which vary in their empirical support and evidence-based data about effectiveness. However, outpatient therapy can reduce an individual’s risk for needing a psychiatric hospitalization or inpatient mental health services.

Research has shown that various outpatient services can provide symptom relief for diagnoses from depression and anxiety to borderline personality disorder. In addition, outpatient therapy is an important resource and support for clients following discharge from the hospital, including improving treatment outcomes and reducing the need for additional hospitalizations.

Things to Consider

If you are struggling with your mental health but are able to live independently, outpatient therapy might be a good resource for you.

Individuals who require ongoing therapeutic support, need to be seen daily, or who are unable to live independently may require residential or inpatient treatment. If you experience active suicidal ideation, you might need a higher level of care to ensure your safety.

When exploring options for outpatient therapy, contact your insurance company to get information about your coverage and what therapy services might cost you. You can also talk to your employer about whether you have an Employee Assistance Program that provides a limited number of free sessions.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

How to Get Started

If you feel like you would benefit from outpatient therapy, you can find a therapist whose training and style fit your needs and preferences.

Your first therapy session will likely include providing information about your personal history, family history, and symptoms. When you first start therapy, it can take time to build trust and rapport with your therapist, and you might find yourself exploring emotions you had not previously addressed. You may also have to try out more than one therapist before you find a provider who is a good fit.

You and your therapist will work together to develop a treatment plan and goals that fit your needs and address your specific symptoms. Starting outpatient therapy can be stressful, but it allows you to continue living your life while you receive support for your mental health needs.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Eskildsen A, Reinholt N, van Bronswijk S, et al. Personalized psychotherapy for outpatients with major depression and anxiety disorders: transdiagnostic versus diagnosis-specific group cognitive behavioural therapy. Cogn Ther Res. 2020;44(5):988-1001.

  2. Ellison WD, Levy KN, Newman MG, Pincus AL, Wilson SJ, Molenaar PCM. Dynamics among borderline personality and anxiety features in psychotherapy outpatients: An exploration of nomothetic and idiographic patterns. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment. 2020;11(2):131-140.

  3. Teixeira C, Rosa RG. Post-intensive care outpatient clinic: is it feasible and effective? A literature review. Revista Brasileira de Terapia Intensiva. 2018;30(1).

By Amy Marschall, PsyD
Dr. Amy Marschall is an autistic clinical psychologist with ADHD, working with children and adolescents who also identify with these neurotypes among others. She is certified in TF-CBT and telemental health.