Questions to Ask When Looking for a PHP/IOP Program for Your Teen

By Gaan Akers, LPC, NCC | January 30, 2024

Your child’s mental health is extremely important. Do not be shy about asking questions about any treatment program you are considering for your teen. Any reputable program should be happy to take the time to ensure that you have all the information you need and that you feel comfortable trusting them with your child’s mental health treatment.

Below are some questions to ask when looking for higher levels of care mental health treatment for your teen:

What is the Program Structure and Time Commitment?

Here are some key things to know:

  • Programs vary in the length of stay and frequency of meetings. For example, some are two weeks long and some may require a 6-week commitment. The number of hours per treatment day and how many days per week will also be specific to each program.
  • The difference in time commitment is often related to the clinical need based on the acuity of symptoms and the potential outcome of treatment.
  • While you want to choose a program that will work best with your schedule, you also want to take into consideration the clinical effectiveness of the program.
  • Understanding how the program is designed will help you take into consideration the clinical intentions of the program and determine how they fit with your treatment goals.

Who Will Be Seeing My Teen for Treatment?

  • Each program will offer different treatment options.
  • Most PHP/IOP will have groups. You will want to ask what kind of groups your child will be in and who will be leading these groups.
  • Groups can be led by clinicians, or nurses, or paraprofessionals. You will want to know how many hours your child will be spending with clinicians.
  • In addition to groups, you will want to know if individual therapy or family therapy will be included or required.
  • You will also want to ask if your child will see a psychiatric provider, such as a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner, who can also address treatment from a psychopharmacological perspective. If so, how often?
group of teens in circle reading

Outpatient vs. Inpatient Hospitalization vs. Residential Therapy

Learn about the levels of Outpatient Care compared to Inpatient Acute Care or Crisis Stabilization Units (CSU) and Residential Treatment Centers (RTC) or Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities (PRTF). Also, learn how to evaluate the appropriate level of care and the cost of treatment for children and teens.

Read more

What is the Approximate Makeup of the Group Milieu?

  • Your child will be spending a lot of time with the other kids in their treatment groups. You will want to know how many other kids are in the group, the age range of the kids in the group, and the typical clinical presentation for the kids in this program.
  •  Some programs will have specific separation by gender or symptoms. Some programs will have a wider range of ages and treatment concerns in the same group. Be sure to ask so that you can determine if the make-up of the group is right for your teen.
  • Group work can be a powerful therapeutic experience for teens, but being in a group of teens where the clinical fit is not right can be counterproductive. In addition to asking about the make-up of the groups, you will also want to ask how the staff manages the group to maintain safety and ensure that the clients are getting the support and guidance that they need each day.

Is There a Set Curriculum?

Some programs have a very specific curriculum to treat a specific set of symptoms and some do not. You will want to make sure that the program is well thought-out, and that the staff is fully prepared and equipped to help your family meet its treatment goals.

How Much Will Parents or Caregivers Be Involved in the Treatment?

  • One of the most important treatment components for kids/teens is the family aspect. This is because children do not exist apart from the family, and the treatment period will be relatively short.
  • While the professionals may be the experts at providing treatment, you are the expert on your child. You will want to find a program that will involve you in treatment planning and help you feel supported and empowered to help your child manage their mental and behavioral health concerns.

 Remember – after the program ends, you and your family will be the ones supporting your child as they continue to manage their mental and behavioral health.

Do You Have Outcomes From Your Program?

Not all programs have published outcomes. If they do, ask to see it!

Some may be able to offer satisfaction survey results from previous clients/families, or you may be able to read reviews online.

Treatment outcomes or survey results can offer great information in helping you choose a program that is effective for your family. For example, Hillside publishes our patient statistics, treatment outcomes and successes.

How Does School Fit Into Treatment?

  • It is always difficult to try to balance the academic demands and the clinical treatment’s demand on time. Most programs for kids/teens will have some structure to help your child keep up with school while in treatment.
  • Keep in mind that when a child is struggling with their mental health, especially when their symptoms are meeting criteria for a higher level of care such as an intensive outpatient or partial hospitalization program, treatment should take priority.

Remember that the treatment period is relatively brief and that school and/or extracurricular activities will still be there for your child after they have completed treatment.

contact Hillside


  • Hillside Clinical Education & Referral Relations Manager - Gaan has been working with children, adolescents, and families for over 10 years in various settings. In her current role, she provides education and training for mental health professionals, parents, and the community. She lives in Atlanta with her husband. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking, climbing, and cooking. She is a donut aficionado and a national park enthusiast!