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What is Outpatient Rehab?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Outpatient rehabilitation or outpatient rehab is a form of rehabilitation therapy in which patients travel to a clinic, hospital, or other facility specifically to attend sessions and then leave, rather than remaining hospitalized for the duration of their therapy, as is the case with inpatient rehab. There are a number of different types of outpatient rehab, along with a wide variety of approaches to the rehabilitation process. This type of rehabilitation tends to be less expensive than inpatient rehab, because there are no costs for hospitalization and associated expenses.

While many people think of rehabilitation for substance abuse when they hear the word “rehab,” rehabilitation therapy can actually take a number of forms. It may be used to treat people with speech disorders, for example, along with people recovering from emotional or physical trauma. The goal of rehabilitation is to examine the patient's individual case and develop a treatment plan which will allow him or her to regain or achieve normal function. In physical rehabilitation, for example, a patient recovering from a stroke might learn to walk again with the assistance of a physical therapist.

When patients are admitted into outpatient rehabilitation programs, it indicates that the patients are doing well enough to be allowed out of the hospital, and that their doctors are confident that they will be able to complete a rehabilitation course on an outpatient basis. In some cases, patients start out in outpatient therapy from the beginning, as in the case of someone struggling with substance abuse who wants outpatient counseling. Patients can also graduate to outpatient therapy after undergoing a period of inpatient therapy.

The number of sessions required per week varies, depending on the situation. Some people attend outpatient rehab sessions every day, or even multiple times a day, working with a care team which usually includes a doctor, a nurse, and a therapist. Others attend once a week, or a few times a week, with the number of sessions being scaled back as the patient's condition improves. Eventually, the patient may not require outpatient rehab at all.

This form of rehabilitation requires a commitment from the patient and his or her care team. Patients may need transport to rehab, along with support from friends, family, and employers who are willing to make accommodations for rehabilitation appointments. Some patients may consult with their rehabilitation teams and determine that they would benefit from a period in inpatient therapy even if they are eligible for outpatient rehab, while others may work with their care providers to hold sessions at home or in other off-site locations to make it easier to complete the therapy.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By irontoenail — On May 24, 2012

It can be so difficult to commit to outpatient rehab at physical therapy clinics, but you have to think of the whole thing as a commitment to getting better.

When you've injured yourself it's easier than people might expect to brush off the therapy you need to get better.

Not through anger or grief either. Just because it's easier not to do it.

But, if you have to commit to coming into a clinic every week, if you know people will miss you if you miss your appointment, then you will have extra motivation to show up and do what needs to be done.

By umbra21 — On May 23, 2012

@croydon - It obviously works for some people or they wouldn't bother doing it.

I think that both kinds of rehab can help, but outpatient drug rehab is not necessarily inferior to inpatient rehab.

When you think about it, the person needs to learn coping strategies with the life that they have. Sure, it's great to have a break from that life, but they will have to go back.

If they can make a breakthrough while they are still living in that life, and make changes directly, that seems like a much better and more livable situation.

I know when I get distance from a problem it is easier to see what's going on, but it's also easier to make easy promises that I never carry through.

I think using outpatient rehab makes sense in a lot of cases.

By croydon — On May 22, 2012

The difficulty with outpatient rehab programs, when it comes to substance abuse, is that it's so hard to make it work.

When you're still surrounded by all the things that have been leading you to drugs in the first place, you're still caught in the same cycle and it can be very difficult to get off.

If you are able to go into a clinic and stay there, getting away from your friends and family and breaking old routines, you might be able to get some distance and see what was going wrong.

Until you understand what was going wrong, you'll never be able to fix it.

I understand in some cases it's not possible and it's much cheaper to have outpatient rehab, but it just doesn't seem like it would work to me.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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