Inpatient vs. Outpatient Therapy: What’s the Difference?

The most significant difference between inpatient and outpatient therapy is where the patient stays during their treatment. For inpatient therapy, a person lives with other patients during their stay. Inpatient therapy may be considered “full time” because you need to pause other life obligations like work or school. Outpatient therapy happens outside of this hospital or residential system. If you’re an outpatient, you’ll go “in and out” of therapy for timed treatment sessions.

This article discusses which situations may call for inpatient treatment and which can be served in outpatient therapy. You’ll also learn more about which may be the most appropriate choice (and how to decide). 

Doctor talking to patients

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Types of Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient therapy is designed in part to take away the immediate demands of everyday living so you can focus more on treatment. Hospitalization and inpatient treatment may be necessary in cases of self-harm and suicidality in an attempt to help keep the patient safe.

Inpatient treatment is for the following:

  • Eating disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Psychotic disorders
  • Self-harm
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Suicidality
  • Medically assisted detox from substances (alcohol, opiates, etc)

Inpatient treatment includes a variety of program services that may include psychiatric evaluation, talk therapy, group therapy, nutritional therapy, and medical support.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one is in immediate danger, call 911. 

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

Types of Outpatient Treatment

Types of outpatient treatment include virtual therapy programs and in-person therapy programs using a range of strategies and tools to help in recovery. Outpatient therapy typically includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which is considered the gold standard of talk therapy. There are several options for outpatient treatment, including the following types of therapy:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT techniques and tools can help you identify what your life problems are stemming from, how to modify unwanted thinking patterns and ways of coping with everyday stress, and how to reach your recovery goals.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is a type of talk therapy that is typically for mood disorders and personality disorders. It includes deeper aspects of self-reflection and how the unconscious mind may be playing a role in your current situation.

Family Therapy

Family therapy is a form of talk therapy that looks at the whole family unit and their relationships with each other. It uses the family unit to address underlying trauma and strategies for healing and helping a loved one sustain recovery over time.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy

EMDR is purposed to help a person who has traumatic stress and associated symptoms. It has proved effective in helping reduce psychological stress associated with traumatic experiences and improving the overall level of functioning in people with traumatic stress.

Outpatient has been deemed good for those who don’t require medical detox or 24-hour care and supervision during treatment, and in cases of supportive and safe home environments.

Differences Between the Two

Differences between inpatient and outpatient therapy include the amount of time spent in therapy and the level of frequency of support during treatment. People experiencing inpatient therapy may have access to a greater level of support and community during treatment (i.e., access to nurses, nutritionists, and different types of mental health professionals in one facility). 

Inpatient care isn’t designed to continue indefinitely. The goal of inpatient therapy is to establish independent living by using the correct level of care to treat your illness.

Making the Right Choice

The right choice is ultimately the one that best supports recovery. The good news is that both inpatient and outpatient therapy are effective.

Inpatient therapy may be suggested to you, but it may be financially out of reach even if you have insurance because time away from work and other responsibilities is necessary during inpatient therapy. Outpatient therapy may be a more affordable option. 

Consider talking to your healthcare provider about how to access inpatient therapy if any of the following applies:

  • You’re still seeking a psychiatric diagnosis or are questioning a current diagnosis.
  • You need medications adjusted or stabilized.
  • Supervision is necessary (during acute or sudden-onset mental health episodes or symptom worsening).
  • You have multiple diagnoses (e.g., a substance use disorder and eating disorder) 


Inpatient therapy and outpatient therapy provide different levels of support to people in treatment for mental health disorders and substance use disorders. Inpatient may be suggested in cases of mental health or medical crisis, or where external and at-home supports are lacking. Outpatient therapy is available for treating the same disorders but on a more part-time or “in-and-out” basis. Inpatient requires a person to pause other obligations such as work, school, and caregiving roles. 

A Word From Verywell

Inpatient therapy may be a necessary part of recovery for many people, and it can be the source of additional support a person needs to reach symptom remission. Outpatient therapy after discharge can help with the transition back into "everyday living." If inpatient is not possible for you, know that outpatient therapy can be just as effective. You can recover in either setting—and you are worth it.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is inpatient or outpatient therapy cheaper?

    Outpatient therapy is typically considered the much cheaper option for someone deciding between the two. Many factors contribute to the total cost of outpatient therapy, though, including the length of time you attend therapy, cost per hour, and whether or not insurance covers treatment (and what percentage).

  • What are the advantages of inpatient therapy?

    The advantages of inpatient therapy are that a person is given the space to focus on recovery without daily distractions and everyday responsibilities such as going to work or school. They may also have better access to a wider range of support professionals including nutritionists and group therapists.

  • Is inpatient therapy better than outpatient therapy?

    Inpatient therapy is not better than outpatient therapy. Both forms of therapy have their purposes and benefits and drawbacks. What is best is highly situation-dependent, meaning whatever works best for you is the better choice.

7 Sources
Verywell Health 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.
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  3. González-Prendes, A. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and social work values: a critical analysisJ Soc Work Values Ethics. 2012;9(2).

  4. Roberts LW, ed. The American Psychiatric Association Publishing Textbook of Psychiatry. Seventh edition. American Psychiatric Association Publishing; 2019.

  5. American Psychological Association. Family therapy.

  6. Landin-Romero R, Moreno-Alcazar A, Pagani M, Amann BL. How does eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy work? A systematic review on suggested mechanisms of actionFront Psychol. 2018 Aug 13;9:1395. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01395

  7. Burdon WM, Dang J, Prendergast ML, Messina NP, Farabee D. Differential effectiveness of residential versus outpatient aftercare for parolees from prison-based therapeutic community treatment programs. Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy. 2007 May 15;2:16. doi: 10.1186/1747-597X-2-16.

By Michelle Pugle
Michelle Pugle, BA, MA, is an expert health writer with nearly a decade of contributing accurate and accessible health news and information to authority websites and print magazines. Her work focuses on lifestyle management, chronic illness, and mental health. Michelle is the author of Ana, Mia & Me: A Memoir From an Anorexic Teen Mind.