When starting a new treatment, the unknown can be the most scary. Here are the details of my experience, including the good, the bad, and some tips I learned along the way.
As someone who’s struggled with severe mental health issues for over a decade, I’ve been through times when I needed extra support. I’ve had a therapist since I was 14. Still, sometimes, when depression becomes all-encompassing, and it feels like there’s no escape, I need to seek more intensive treatment, like a partial hospitalization program (PHP).
PHPs are one level below inpatient hospitalization. Instead of living at the hospital for several days, weeks, or months, you travel to the PHP program each weekday for a full day of group therapy. At the end of the day, you return to your own home. I’ve been admitted to two PHPs in the past 2 years and found the programs to be both challenging and extremely helpful.
This essay intends to help others suffering from depression understand the treatment options available to them and to demystify what happens in a typical PHP program day to day. I’m sharing the challenges and benefits of attending PHPs to help others considering that option feel more prepared and knowledgeable about what the program may entail.
PHP programs typically run from Monday to Friday from about 9:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. At both of the programs I attended, the schedule looked something like this:
Before you’re admitted to the PHP, you will go to an intake appointment where you share details about your mental health with a clinician and fill out some paperwork.
PHPs can be extremely helpful for many people struggling with severe symptoms of mental illness, like suicidal ideation, inability to attend to daily living tasks, and more. I went to my first PHP after I was hospitalized to transition from inpatient back into my everyday life in 2021. The second time I went to a PHP was in February 2023 because I struggled with suicidal ideation.
Both of my PHP stays were over 1 month long, but people go for varying lengths of time. Almost everyone I met at a PHP shared that they found the program helpful when they were ready to leave, including me.
First, PHPs helped me because they provided structure. Having a safe place to go daily with a routine set in stone was really helpful for me. It helped me start waking up earlier, eating breakfast, and getting out of bed instead of sleeping all day. It made me feel accomplished.
The psychoeducation groups are beneficial when it comes to learning new coping skills and examining challenges in your life. Even after undergoing 10 years of therapy, I learned new skills and ways to approach my life in both PHP programs.
Another excellent aspect of PHP programs is the community. It can be tough for me to open up and be vulnerable, but in the PHP, everyone is doing it, making it much more manageable. Since we all share our deepest thoughts, feelings, and desires with the group, we form a bond and become a small, incredibly supportive community.
Lastly, PHP programs give you time and a safe space to focus on your mental health. In our day-to-day lives, we’re so busy working, doing chores, and trying to have fun when we can that processing our emotions and facing our mental health issues can be put on the back burner. The opportunity to dive into your challenges and work on yourself is a gift PHPs provide their patients.
Every morning before I’d drive over to the PHP’s location, I’d remind myself of three things to keep in mind during the group. While there are many benefits to attending a PHP, the program also comes with many challenges. When I can stay flexible, open-minded, and kind, I find I get the most out of those days.
The most challenging moments in the PHP for me have been at the beginning and end of my time in the program. The first couple of days or weeks, I was emotionally overwhelmed as I acclimated to the schedule, new people, and diving deep into my mental health struggles.
Another challenge comes up when you’re nearing your discharge date. Transitioning back into your regular life after intensive therapy all day can be tricky. By staying flexible and open-minded, it was easier for me to acclimate to the program and process my feelings about leaving it.
I’d also like to mention that when you discharge from the PHP, there is often an option to move down a step to an intensive outpatient program, which is like the PHP, but you attend either a morning, afternoon, or evening group for a few days a week.
Another challenge I’ve faced is the emotional overwhelm of processing big feelings for 7 hours a day. When I got home in the afternoon after the program, I’d usually nap when I could. If you need to relax after a long day at a PHP, that is 100% valid. It’s another way to care for yourself so you’re prepared for the next day.
Lastly, I often grew impatient and frustrated when the schedule shifted because of hospital staffing issues or when I’d been through the same group topic multiple times. In those moments, it can be easy to feel like the PHP is wasting your time. When I start feeling that, I remind myself that this is a chance to practice being flexible and open-minded. Even when you learn a coping skill twice, you may pick up on something new the second time around as long as you’re willing to listen.
If you’re struggling with acute mental health issues and don’t know where to turn, consider signing up for a PHP program. While PHPs provide some challenges, they have helped me immensely in my recovery journey. PHPs have helped me return to baseline and find a way to move forward through some of the most challenging moments in my life.
I also know it can be difficult to overcome the stigma society holds around hospitalization. To read more about how my experience in these programs shifted my perspective about this, here is another article you might find helpful.
Medically reviewed on June 15, 2023
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