8 Ways to Get Help for Substance Use and Mental Disorders

Author: IAFF Staff

November 15, 2017

Have you thought about seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress, depression or alcohol use? Maybe a well-intentioned crew member or spouse has said, “You really need to get some help.” As a fire fighter or paramedic, you work tirelessly every day to save lives and protect your community. For members in distress, navigating the sometimes confusing and ever-evolving world of behavioral healthcare can be an even greater challenge. As an IAFF member, you know there are resources out there, but you may feel confused or overwhelmed about how to get help. The following is a breakdown of eight of the most common resources:  

1. Support Groups

Although they’re the least intensive and most affordable (usually free), support groups are an invaluable resource for those in recovery, often with no commitment or obligation to attend. A support group is typically peer facilitated by an individual who is in recovery rather than a licensed healthcare provider. Support groups operate on the simple premise that uniting individuals around a common shared struggle can facilitate healing through empathic support, and can promote behavior change through peer accountability. Some examples of support groups include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and SMART Recovery.

2. Counseling/Psychotherapy

Counseling or psychotherapy is provided by a master’s- or doctorate-level licensed mental health care provider (psychotherapist) and can occur through an individual or group format. While treatment approaches and methods vary widely, the psychotherapist’s aim is to work with the client to establish treatment goals, gain insight into dysfunctional patterns of thinking and behavior, and develop coping skills to more effectively manage life’s problems. An average length of counseling could run once weekly for eight to 12 weeks, though sometimes individuals benefit from ongoing care.

Firefighters that went through treatment talking with one another

3. Medication Management

Offered alone or in conjunction with counseling, the goal of medication management is to treat symptoms of mental health problems with psychotropic medication. After starting a medication regimen (usually prescribed by a psychiatrist or nurse practitioner) a client will attend brief follow-up appointments to evaluate medication efficacy in treating problematic symptoms. In contrast to counseling, the practitioner’s primary focus is to treat and alleviate symptoms through medication changes, not talk therapy. While some individuals are helped with one course of medication, others find it helpful to remain on medication indefinitely.

4. Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP)

Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP) typically consists of approximately 10-12 hours of treatment per week, spread over three days. IOP can have a mental health, substance abuse or (combined) dual diagnosis treatment focus. IOP is designed for individuals who need a more intensive level of support than once weekly outpatient counseling or regular medication monitoring. IOP occurs during the day and typically combines group psychotherapy and psychoeducational sessions, provided by masters-level clinicians. Length of treatment can vary widely based on an individual’s clinical need, but an average time frame for IOP is four to six weeks.

5. Partial Hospitalization (PHP)

One level up from IOP, partial hospitalization programs (PHP) offers the most intensive level of outpatient care. PHP is designed for individuals who are coping with moderate to severe symptoms or significant daily functional impairments but don’t require overnight care. Sessions typically run five days per week for six hours a day, for one to three weeks, though the length of stay varies based on need. PHP can focus on mental health, substance abuse or dual diagnosis needs.

6. Inpatient Care

Inpatient behavioral health care typically consists of three to five days of treatment in a hospital or other acute treatment setting. Inpatient care is intended for individuals coping with severe symptoms, presenting imminent danger to themselves or others, or who are temporarily unable to care for themselves. The goal of inpatient care is to ensure a patient’s safety, provide 24-hour monitoring of behavior and vitals, assess a patient’s need for medication, and establish a discharge treatment plan for continued outpatient care. Patients are often discharged to PHP or IOP levels of care.  

7. Residential Care

Residential treatment is designed for individuals whose symptoms warrant a PHP level of care, but also benefit from living in a supportive therapeutic community while receiving such care. Sometimes referred to as rehab, residential treatment is intended for individuals who have not benefited from lower levels of outpatient care. Treatment can focus on substance abuse, mental health or other specialized clinical populations. The length of stay is typically 30 to 90 days.

8. Detoxification

Commonly misunderstood as rehab, a medically monitored inpatient detox is the process of removing toxic substances from the body while monitoring and treating any life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Once an individual is considered medically stable after a two- to five-day detox period, they can transition to psychotherapeutic- treatment (residential, PHP, IOP, etc.) to address their addiction and any co-occurring mental health issues.

If you’d like to learn more about the treatment programs available at the IAFF Center of Excellence, or if you’re ready to enroll, call today.

Medical Disclaimer: The IAFF Center of Excellence aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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