There are many different treatment approaches available for those struggling with their mental and physical health. The key is figuring out the level of care needed and finding a program best suited to an individual’s unique circumstances.

Two options include residential treatment centers and inpatient facilities. Both offer a range of medical and psychiatric approaches to treatment, but there are several differences between the two methods.

What is a Residential Treatment Center?

A residential treatment center, or RTC, offers therapeutic treatments in a residential setting for those struggling with behavioral issues, mental illness, or substance abuse.

Some, such as Elevations RTC, are geared toward adolescents, usually between 13 and 18 years old.

They are staffed by trained and certified professionals in psychiatric and medical care, as well as recreation therapy.

What is an Inpatient Program?

Those struggling with both physical and psychiatric health receive 24/7 assistance that’s carefully monitored at all times by professionals.

Inpatient rehabilitation offers immediate interventions to treat life-threatening drug and alcohol addictions; many start with medical detoxification.

The environment is closely controlled, and the schedule is tightly structured.

Differences between RTCs and Inpatient Programs

While RTCs and inpatient facilities have a lot in common, there are some significant differences to know when looking for the most effective treatment approach.

The Environment

While both RTCs and inpatient programs are live-in for those undergoing treatment, the environments are very different.

Inpatient centers are usually set up in a more hospital-like atmosphere (and sometimes within an actual hospital), designed to accommodate the priority of detox and initial medical treatment.

The environment is more home-like and relaxed at residential treatment centers like Elevations RTC.

Residential treatment centers do not have a clinical feel like inpatient programs; participants typically stay in camp-like accommodations or in an actual home.

Overall, there is more freedom, more personal space, and greater amenities.

For example, Elevations RTC calls their facility a campus in a “real-world setting,” dotted by dorm-like rooms, large common spaces, and relaxing landscaping.

Length of Stay

While how long a patient stays at an inpatient or RTC facility depends on their individual needs, inpatient programs are typically short-term, while RTCs are usually longer-term stays.

Inpatient programs can run anywhere from a few days to several weeks, with a good portion of the time devoted to comprehensive medical care.

At RTCs, the length of stay is more open-ended but is almost always longer than a stay at an inpatient facility.

The longer-term period at RTCs is guided by how an individual responds to treatment and the specific treatment plan developed for each participant.

Program Intensity

Because of the pressing medical need, inpatient programs are far more intense than what’s experienced at a residential treatment center.

The first part of an inpatient program is typically devoted to closely monitored detox, and the overall goal is medical stability.

RTCs spend more time on an all-encompassing approach to treatment, including individual and group therapy, social support, behavioral psychiatry, and activities that address underlying issues.

At Elevations RTC, participants take part in both mental and physical activities that help both the body and mind heal and establish a lasting foundation for resiliency.

Types of Therapies

Inpatient programs are primarily focused on establishing one’s physical wellbeing. Patients receive constant medical care to address a pressing crisis.

While there may be psychiatric care or outdoor activities, these are generally limited in inpatient programs, with the focus primarily on vital medical assistance.

As addressed earlier, RTCs are dedicated to lasting sobriety or behavioral improvement.

While there are many forms of treatment available at RTCs, the emphasis is more on developing lasting coping mechanisms and life skills.

A therapeutic medical team at an RTC is present and available for emergencies but does not dominate the care.

At Elevations RTC, medication in management, and there are regular meetings with a treatment team, but the program is highly focused on experiential and community-supportive care.

For example, the unique wellness activities offered as part of therapy at Elevations RTC, such as hiking, skiing, art, and social outings, are intentionally designed to encourage lasting healthy lifestyles, build teamwork capabilities, and discover new skills.

Peer Support

Social support is vital to mental and physical recovery; while both inpatient programs and RTCs integrate family and peer support, the support is less of a priority for inpatient programs.

They are, however, a vital hallmark of RTCs. Teenagers regularly interact with fellow teenagers in a co-ed environment at Elevations RTC. Many of the recreational and therapeutic treatments involve group activities.

While participants are primarily working on their own wellbeing, they also understand that a big part of their health means returning to healthy interactions with the people around them.

There is also an educational component to Elevations RTC, with participants learning together in settings that are similar to high school classes.

While inpatient programs plant the seed of recovery for those who need it the most, RTCs nurture the seed and make it grow.

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