Choosing the Right Mental Health Facility

Professional guidance for comparing residential treatment programs.

1. Introduction: Making the Best Match

You seek a residential treatment community that will give an adult with mental illness a brighter future. But the task you face is a complex endeavor – with high stakes. How do you use our Directory to find the best fit between person and program, a fit that can turn a life around?

The ARTA Directory of Residential Treatment Programs lists more than 30 long-term mental health facilities and links you to each treatment program’s web site for detailed information.  All ARTA residential programs meet specific criteria for membership, and each one has been operating for a minimum of two years.

To help you make the best choice of residential treatment program, we’ve created this guide to the program selection process. The guide has been created for people who are not mental health professionals, and who need help understanding the differences between programs and how those differences will affect the course of psychiatric treatment.

On this page the mental health professionals of ARTA walk you through the process. You will find answers to the following questions and more:

  • What is the goal of the treatment facility selection process?
  • When is the “right” time to consider a mental health treatment facility?
  • How long should someone keep trying on their own to improve their mental health?
  • What type of residential treatment community should I choose?
  • How important is a residential treatment center’s geographic location?
  • What physical attributes and psychiatric services should I be looking for?
  • I’ve heard that a certain residential treatment community is “the best.” Should I put that treatment center at the top of my list?
  • How important is the composition of the treatment center’s peer community?
  • To what extent should the person with mental illness be involved in the search and the decision?

Just follow the steps on this page, and you’ll be on your way to choosing a residential mental health facility.

3. Finding a Residential Community

Patient Needs and Treatment Options

As you make your way through our Directory of Residential Treatment Programs, you will discover many differences among communities. How do you know which psychiatric treatment approach is best? Which residential structure will work best? For example, how do you know if a same-sex community is best – or not a good idea? How do you know whether more independence is a good idea – or a recipe for back-sliding?

To find the answer, you can take the following approach:

  • Carefully consider psychiatric needs and the facility’s offerings.
  • For the person going to the program, experience is the best guide. They should outline the conditions in which their psychiatric condition has improved.
  • Family members might reflect on their experience as well. Under what circumstances has the person done better?
  • Discuss all of these issues with facility administration and staff.

Questions to Ask

Besides the style of a program, what other key aspects should you research and compare? Here is a checklist of questions to use as you learn about the mental health care offered by ARTA’s resident long term mental health treatment centers:

Demographics of Residents

  • What is the age range of residents?
  • What is the gender make-up?
  • What is their range of psychiatric disorders?

Psychiatric Rehabilitation Staff

  • What is the ratio of staff members to residents?
  • What are the qualifications of the staff?
  • What is the level of supervision and client independence?
  • How much interaction is there between staff and residents?
  • What kind of relationships do staff form with residents?
  • What do administrators look for in staff?
  • What qualities are valued?

Therapeutic Treatment Approaches

  • Is inpatient psychiatric care offered on-premises?
  • What kind of mental health treatment (for example, individual or group psychotherapy, vocational development, treatment for co-occurring addictions) offered?
  • How often is treatment offered?
  • What clinical treatment if any, takes place off-premises?
  • Is psychiatric treatment mandatory or optional?

For some people, this might mean a more intensive approach, including frequent treatment sessions using a variety of techniques, conducted both on and off site. However, for a person who cannot benefit from intensive mental health care, it may make sense to attend a program that works vigorously to connect residents with mental health resources in the surrounding community, to the extent that the person can benefit from them.

Expectations for Residents

  • On a daily basis, how much participation in the program is expected of a resident?
  • Are residents required to take part in structured activities for a certain number of hours a week, or, can they choose to not participate in much?
  • What are the behavior guidelines regarding such things as expression of anger, relationships with peers, and smoking?
  • How does the facility respond to violations of these guidelines?

Medication Monitoring

  • What is the level of supervision regarding psychiatric and other medications?
  • Is there a procedure by which residents move (at their own pace) toward independent taking of medications?
  • Do mental health caregivers provide clients with information they are taking for their mental health condition?


  • What kind of activities are in the residential treatment facility? Artistic? Vocational? Educational? Nutritional support? Exercise?
  • What activities are mandatory, and what are optional?
  • Are residents made aware of special interest activities in the general community?
  • Are they given practical help (such as transportation) in taking advantage of community resources?
  • To what extent are residents helped to find volunteer positions or paying jobs in the community?

Family Support Services

  • How easy are family meetings to arrange?
  • Are treatment decisions made in collaboration with the family?
  • Is there ongoing communication between the residential facility and the family?
  • What is the balance between respect for the confidentiality of the adult participating in the program and respect for the need for mental health progress updates on the part of the family who is paying?

We advise you to ask directly about these communication issues, in particular, pinpointing the process of communication among facility, resident and family.

4. Ensuring Family Support

Family members of a person needing treatment for mental illness can contribute something to this search no one else can: they have had the longest and most intimate contact with the person in psychiatric distress. This gives them a unique and valid perspective on their loved one’s ups and downs over the long haul. Here are some ways in which they can make their knowledge pay off.

Share Patient History

It is important that you share your observations and insight with people from the residential programs you are considering. It is also important that you share your perspective with the person who will participate in the program.

Don’t Push Too Hard

Resist the temptation to “sell” your family member to a program you have decided is the right one. Instead, let one place’s rightness emerge over time, as you offer forthright information.

In the same vein, we want to caution you against forcing a fit into a program you’ve heard is “the best.” No residential treatment community is best in absolute terms. The best mental health facility is the one that best meets the needs of the person who needs help.

If, after conversations with people at a treatment residence, it turns out the place is not right for your family member, they will probably suggest other residential communities. You can rest assured that recommendations from ARTA members come from real knowledge of other ARTA residential programs.

Collaborate with the Patient

Residential treatment works best when the adult with mental illness participated voluntarily in selection of the program and the treatment that follows. Inviting the person needing treatment to participate in the discussion is a generally a good place to start.

Collaboration should start with the selection process. We encourage family members to support each other as you research and compare residential treatment communities. For the person in need, this can be that all-important first, concrete step in pulling their life together.

How does this partnership work? After you have narrowed the choice down to two or three likely facilities, review those web sites. Jot down questions or concerns about any aspect of the programs. Participating in the selection process means the person needing care is already buying into making a positive change in his or her life.

5. Conclusion: Choosing from Many Possible Paths

There is no one right path to finding a good match between a person with mental illness and a residential program. There are infinite paths. What you have read here are suggestions from people who hold key positions in residential treatment communities and who have been dealing with families and prospective residents for many years.

You are now ready to use ARTA’s Directory of Residential Treatment Programs for mental illness. We wish you good luck in finding a residential treatment solution that serves you well. And we are confident that if you use the resources we have provided as you do your search, you will experience a better outcome