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What Is PHP?

young woman sitting with a dog on a couch wondering what is php

PHP is a day treatment level of care, meaning treatment typically takes place five days a week for four hours a day and includes group therapy, medication management, and some level of family work. It is considered an intensive level of treatment due to the requirement of 20 hours per week of therapy along with medication management. PHP is a form of intensive outpatient therapy and stands for partial hospitalization program and is an intensive level of treatment, though not actually a hospital stay.

The word ‘hospitalization’ is used because the patient is under the care of a psychiatrist while in the program. PHP therapy can include medication management as well as various evidence-based counseling approaches. Patients at this level of care meet with a provider (psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner) twice weekly for medication management. While intensive, PHP is sometimes referred to as a “mid-level” level of care as it is more intensive than traditional individual therapy, which is typically a once-weekly session for 50 minutes, but less intensive than an inpatient hospitalization or a residential treatment center. Patients can attend therapy daily and are able to go home each day to spend the evening with their families. PHP programs are available for children, adolescents, and adults. Programs will often be geared toward mental health, eating disorders, substance abuse, or dual diagnoses (struggles with mental health and substance abuse simultaneously).

How Do I Know if I Need PHP Level of Care?

While criteria for a partial hospitalization program can vary from person to person, there are some common symptoms that could indicate the need for a higher level of care. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Homicidal thoughts
  • Self-harm
  • Persistent and severe depression that has led to the inability to function in normal life
  • Frequent panic attacks
  • Struggles with substance abuse
  • Struggles with eating disorders

It is important to note that, at times, these symptoms may be able to be treated through individual therapy and psychiatry or may be severe enough to warrant an inpatient level of care. PHP is often recommended following an inpatient hospitalization as a ‘step-down’ level of care, just as IOP (intensive outpatient program) is often recommended as a ‘step-down’ level of care after successfully completing PHP. If a patient has been seeing an individual therapist and meeting with a provider to manage medications without significant progress or is experiencing increased symptoms, they may need to seek a higher level of care, such as PHP. If you feel you may need a higher level of care, please reach out to a facility to complete an intake assessment. These assessments are conducted by licensed professionals and come with recommendations for the most appropriate level of care.

What Should I Expect from a PHP Program?

While each program may have its own unique structure, daily programming typically includes two hours of process group and two hours of skills/psychoeducation groups. The length of time a patient is in a partial hospitalization program can vary from 10-30 days, depending on the following:

  • What problems the patient is struggling with
  • The progress they are making toward their treatment goals
  • Changes in medications,
  • Insurance

The intake process can vary from program to program but typically includes an intake assessment, completing admission paperwork, communication with the billing department, meeting with nursing staff, and a biopsychosocial assessment. Patients should be seen by a provider (psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner) within 24 hours of admission into the program and be able to join a group on their first day.

Although some programs include individual therapy while enrolled, most consist primarily of group therapy. Therapy groups are led by licensed professionals who will work with patients on goal-setting, processing daily challenges, and teaching coping skills to help decrease/manage symptoms. Medication changes occur most often at PHP level, with the patient seeing the provider twice weekly so that they can be monitored for any side effects, and adjustments can be made accordingly. Treatment team meetings happen weekly; they include therapy, nursing, and psychiatry staff to ensure all staff involved in patient care are aware of any progress and are working as a team to help each patient. It is often recommended that an IOP level of care be completed following the successful completion of PHP, and facilities can often provide both levels of care.