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What Is Rehab?

Hannah Friedman
 May 3rd, 2022|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

When you’re ready to heal from addiction, you might consider going to rehab. The term “rehab,” short for “rehabilitation,” usually refers to a program or treatment center in which people heal from substance use disorders and mental health conditions. Many patients find that attending rehab, and especially inpatient treatment, is the best way to begin recovery.

Rehab isn’t just for the financially elite, or just for people with legal struggles. And it can help you heal from a variety of mental health concerns, and not only addiction. People from all walks of life choose to attend rehab voluntarily, in order to get professional support during recovery. Every treatment program is unique, and you can choose which rehab to attend based on which services best meet your needs.

Types of Rehab Programs

Different centers offer different levels of care, including inpatient treatment, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient therapy. Depending on a few factors—such as your insurance coverage and the severity of your condition—1 of these programs may be a better fit for you.

Residential (Inpatient) Rehab

During inpatient addiction treatment, patients live on-site at a rehab center. When you first arrive at rehab, you’ll likely go through an intake process, in which a group of experts will assess your physical and mental health, and create a plan for next steps. You may be in residence for days, weeks, or longer. In that time, you’ll follow a treatment plan defined by your healthcare team. Some programs offer individualized care, which lets patients collaborate with providers to decide which services will be the most helpful. In other programs, residents adhere to a more clearly defined plan of care.

At any residential rehab, you’ll likely engage in a number of healing modalities. Most programs offer some combination 1:1 talk therapy, group therapy, and recreational or experiential therapies. And because each rehab has its own philosophy of healing, different programs offer a wide variety of options. For example, some programs focus on mindfulness, and invite patients to meditate and do yoga. Other treatment centers focus more on physical fitness, and may offer experiential therapies like hiking or surfing.

Your eligibility for certain programs will depend on both your physical and mental health. For example, if you need to go through detox, it’s unlikely that you’ll engage in strenuous physical activity right away. And if you can safely begin recovery without the 24/7 supervision of residential rehab, you may find that a different type of program is a better fit.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

Most partial hospitalization programs, or PHPs, begin after you’re discharged from inpatient rehab. Patients usually attend treatment full-time (35+ hours a week), while living at home and going about their lives. These programs are a good fit for people who need intensive but not round-the-clock care, and for those with evening family commitments.

PHPs are a middle ground between residential and fully outpatient treatment. If your condition is less severe, or if you and your providers agree you’re ready for more independence, you may consider an outpatient program instead.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP)

In an intensive outpatient program, or IOP, patients receive more focused care than they would in weekly therapy sessions, but less than they would in a PHP or residential rehab. These programs work best for people with time-consuming work and family commitments, who nevertheless need to engage in a treatment program.

During an IOP, you can expect to spend 10-15 hours a week in treatment. Most patients attend a combination of individual and group therapy sessions, and you may also receive other types of care.


Rehab is just one component of a much longer recovery process. After you complete initial treatment—whether or not you stay at a residential rehab—it’s important to have a plan for what comes next. Many residential rehabs offer continuing care programs, which may or may not be included in the cost of inpatient treatment. Patients who want to step down their level of care while still receiving structured support might spend time in an outpatient program or sober living facility as part of their transition back to daily life. If you’re ready for more independence, you may choose to see a therapist, attend regular A.A. meetings, or join a local support group. Relapse prevention planning is a key part of any quality treatment program, and your provider should be able to advise on which aftercare avenue is best for you.

Treatment Methods in Rehab

Every rehab takes a unique approach to the recovery process. Some facilities require all their patients to go through the same treatment protocols, while others will give you more freedom in choosing between types of therapy. However, the following healing modalities and philosophies are especially common.

12-Step Treatment

12-Step groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.), and others, share a similar framework. These faith-based groups encourage members to live substance-free lives, trusting in a higher power as they hold each other accountable during addiction recovery. Participants follow versions of the 12 Steps﹘the fellowship’s guiding principles1﹘ tailored to meet the specific needs of each group. For example, the 12 Steps in A.A. are slightly different from the 12 Steps of N.A. Meetings are free, and open to anyone who wants to heal from substance abuse.

Many rehabs, including inpatient programs, use this framework as the basis of their approach to recovery. Patients may attend 12-Step groups within the facility itself, or may travel to meetings nearby. These gatherings are normally peer-led, but may be facilitated by a therapist in residential facilities. The 12 Steps can also inform the conversations a patient has with their individual therapist and other healthcare providers.

Non-12-Step Treatment

Non-12-Step treatment is a broad category, referring to any treatment approach that doesn’t incorporate the tenets of 12-Step groups. However, this term most often refers to peer-led groups that are not faith-based (unlike A.A.).

For example, Self-Management And Recovery Training (SMART Recovery) groups do not encourage members to have faith in a higher power. Instead, they honor each individual’s unique ability to self-determine what recovery means to them. You may be able to join one of these groups during rehab, or you may simply choose to attend a free meeting in your area.

Group Therapy

While most 12-Step and non-12-Step meetings are peer-led, there are other groups available for people in recovery. Many rehabs offer some form of group counseling, in which you and your cohort will be guided through a therapeutic process by a trained therapist. These groups allow patients to share their experiences with peers, while trusting that an expert will help them navigate difficult emotions. Patients can also practice their interpersonal skills in a safe, protected setting.

Talk Therapy

The vast majority of rehab programs will assign you an individual therapist. You’ll probably have daily, biweekly, or weekly sessions with that counselor throughout the program. Some rehabs may allow you to keep seeing the same provider after you complete inpatient treatment, and others may help you find a new therapist outside the facility. Make sure you talk to your team before completing rehab to make a plan for this transition, and understand what kind of support they can provide.

You and your team can choose between various styles of talk therapy, depending on your exact diagnosis. If you have a co-occurring disorder—that is, another diagnosis in addition to a substance use disorder—you may need a more specialized approach. For example, some patients benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), motivational interviewing (MI), and/or various other modalities.

Holistic Treatment

Holistic addiction recovery focuses on the connection between mind, body, and spirit. In holistic rehabs, patients might do yoga, meditate, and work with a nutritionist to improve their eating habits. Some of these programs offer massage therapy, energy healing, and even sound baths. This type of treatment is often a good fit for people who would prefer not to take prescribed medication during recovery.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

During recovery, some patients benefit from the use of prescribed medications. Many of these medications are non-addictive, and alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal or other mental health diagnoses. Others provide similar effects as drugs of abuse, and may be helpful despite that risk—for example, methadone helps some patients in recovery from opioid addiction.2 Other medications may be used to treat withdrawal symptoms, or underlying mental health concerns that contributed to the development of a substance use disorder.

If you have a history of addiction, it’s especially important to stay in close communication with your medical team during any use of medications. If you have an ongoing prescription, make sure you schedule regular check-ins with your doctor or therapist to ensure that you’re only taking it as prescribed.

For more information on this therapy, see our article on the risks and benefits of medication-assisted therapy (MAT).

Choosing the Right Rehab for You

There are countless ways to approach healing. Depending on your personal history of addiction, your physical health, and your mental health concerns, you may benefit from any of these modalities, in any combination. When you’re ready to choose a rehab, it’s important to find a program that can accommodate your unique goals for recovery.

The very act of choosing a treatment center can teach you a lot about your own needs. As you start to consider which program is right for you, try to stay present with your emotional reactions. You know better than anyone else which treatment approach will be most effective for your personal healing process.

When you’re ready to begin treatment, you can find and connect with a rehab program here.

Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod

  1. The twelve steps | alcoholics anonymous. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aa.org/the-twelve-steps []
  2. Mental health medications | nami: National alliance on mental illness. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Treatments/Mental-Health-Medications/Types-of-Medication/Methadone%C2%AE []

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