Partial Hospitalization Programs for Bulimia

A partial hospitalization program (PHP) is a type of treatment for bulimia nervosa (BN) and other eating disorders.

This level of care is essentially a middle-ground, falling between residential or inpatient treatment and a typical outpatient treatment program.

Partial hospitalization programs

PHPs can be helpful for people who have had favorable treatment outcomes in a residential program and are ready to take on more personal responsibility, but who still need more intensive care and regimented guidance than is available through a standard outpatient program.

What is Partial Hospitalization?

Many people who struggle with serious mental health conditions, including eating disorders, experience different levels of care throughout their recovery process. The level of care depends on several factors, including the severity of their symptoms and how much autonomy they’re ready to handle.

These levels of care span from inpatient hospitalization or residential treatment, which is the most restrictive, to outpatient treatment, during which a patient lives at home and maintains their social responsibilities while attending regular meetings with their treatment team or mental health therapist.

Partial hospitalization is about halfway through the typical ladder of care. It’s most frequently offered for people who have met the eating disorder treatment outcomes of an inpatient program, and who are ready to transition to a more autonomous situation.

Partial Hospitalization vs. Outpatient Treatment

PHPs can technically be considered a heavily structured version of outpatient eating disorder treatment since participants live and sleep at home while receiving care. But there is much more to these programs than typical outpatient treatment.

While attending a PHP, eating disorder patients are expected to show up for treatments anywhere from 5-6 days per week. These programs are also typically lengthy, as patients attend treatment for 6-7 hours a day. [1]

There are different types of programs for adolescent and adult patients, however, the aim of both is to help someone practice the skills they’ve learned to deal with eating disorder behaviors.

In many ways, schedules are modeled after those of inpatient treatment settings and include a number of different treatments throughout the day, such as:

Many facilities also offer patients food or snacks to bring home with them. Still, as the program goes on, hours, schedules, and types of treatment may be adjusted to reflect the progress of the patient.

How Long is Partial Hospitalization Treatment?

When it comes to bulimia nervosa treatment planning, the details depend on a patient’s needs and the recommendations of their medical team. This includes the length of time someone is recommended to stay at a partial hospitalization program.

Some patients may be further along or progress faster through their plan, while others may require specialized treatment, which can take longer to achieve results. There may also be a difference between adult partial hospitalization programs and PHP treatment designed for adolescents.

With that said, the length of a typical partial hospitalization treatment usually lasts between one to four weeks. [2]

What to Expect at a PHP

If you or a loved one will be attending a partial hospitalization program, you may be curious about what to expect from the experience.

After an initial intake process to check your physical and mental health and make sure you’re a good fit for a partial hospitalization program, you will begin a fairly scheduled treatment process. 

It’s important not to miss scheduled appointments, as this can affect your insurance coverage and potentially result in getting discharged from the program, depending on the circumstances. Rare absences due to illness or family emergencies are typically fine if you can call ahead of time and alert the relevant parties that you will be absent.

Still, despite its rigorous nature, partial hospitalization is typically voluntary.

Different PHP Treatments

While the specifics of a program vary, you will likely be scheduled to talk with a mental health professional and a case manager on a one-on-one basis at least once a week, or even more frequently. You will also regularly talk to a doctor about any medications you’re taking, and continue to receive medication management and nutritional counseling. 

Group therapy sessions are also common. During these meetings, you’ll talk with a group of individuals who are also dealing with mental health issues, or, more likely, eating disorders.

Sessions are led by mental health professionals who direct the discussion and keep things on topic. In group therapy, you can learn from other people’s experiences and exchange advice and support, as the therapist guides discussions.

Online Partial Hospitalization Programs

Telehealth is a relatively new field in medicine, in which some healthcare services are provided digitally to help patients achieve recovery. But while the technique is still developing, some early studies say the quality of care offered through telehealth is comparable to in-person treatment in many cases. [3]

Common forms of telehealth include talking to a mental health professional via smartphone or having a medication consultation with a doctor via personal computer.

These online platforms have the potential to make treating eating disorders much easier and more accessible for patients.

Online Eating Disorder Treatment

Virtual meetings allow a patient to talk to a mental health professional from the comfort of their home, or even talk with professionals who may not live in their area, increasing the odds of a favorable treatment response. Telehealth can also make it much easier to receive treatment for patients who may have difficulty walking or traveling, and for those who live in areas with limited access to healthcare resources.

Other Treatment Options for Eating Disorders

Partial hospitalization is typically viewed as a middle ground between the more intense, regimented care provided by inpatient and residential treatment and the much smaller commitment required from typical outpatient care, which generally includes one or two check-ins with a mental health therapist every week but otherwise allows a patient to live their life normally. 

One of the biggest factors determining the level of care you receive is the severity of your condition. If your bulimia nervosa symptoms are considered severe, it may be recommended for you to start out in an inpatient program. If your symptoms are considered more manageable, you may begin with outpatient therapy.

At any of these stages, you may follow certain therapeutic programs that are commonly recommended for people struggling with bulimia nervosa, including:

  • Cognitive behavior treatment
  • Dialectical behavior therapy
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment

If you’re considering seeking treatment for an eating disorder, the ideal level of care—and best types of treatment—for you will depend on your medical history, your genetics, and other specifications. A medical professional will be able to evaluate you more closely and thoroughly, in order to help determine the best course of action.

Finding Help for Bulimia Nervosa

If you or a loved one are struggling with bulimia nervosa, it’s important to seek help.

Speaking with a doctor or mental health therapist is a great first step on the road to recovery, as these professionals can offer advice on which types of programs may work best for you.

Whichever type of care you utilize, the key is to stay focused on your recovery and engaged in treatment. This helps you not just learn but truly internalize the new skills and coping mechanisms intended to help you overcome your disordered eating behaviors, and guard against relapse.

Therapy benefits virtually every area of life, promoting overall well-being. But it can still be a scary or difficult first step to make. The most important thing to remember is that it’s a step that’s always available, and that help is always out there if you seek it.


  1. What is Partial Hospitalization Eating Disorder Treatment? Centers for Discovery Eating Disorder Treatment. Retrieved December 2022. 
  2. What to Expect From PHP. HRI Hospital. Retrieved December 2022.
  3. Bilimoria, K. Y., Zhan, T., Durst, D. A., Merkow, R. P., Sama, P. R., Bahaveolos, S. A., & Chrisman, H. B. (2021). Comparison of Patient Experience with Telehealth vs. In-Person Visits Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Joint Commission journal on quality and patient safety; 47(8):533–536.

Last Update | 02 - 9 - 2023

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