Unpacking Levels of Care: Consistent Support From Admission to Aftercare

By Kyle Hardner

For many people, moving between levels of care on their path to recovery comes with roadblocks. Often, they must get to know a new care team. They may need new authorizations from their insurance company. Or they may need to travel to a different location for care.

“Each one of these hurdles can slow down patients’ healing and raise the risk for regression or relapse,” explains Elizabeth Easton, PsyD, CEDS (she/her/hers), national director of psychotherapy at ERC Pathlight.

To remove these roadblocks, Eating Recovery Center and Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center (ERC Pathlight) embraces a continuum of care model with support that starts at admission and extends long after discharge. Let’s unpack what our continuum of care is, why it creates a better chance at lasting recovery and how providers can support their clients along the way.

What is a continuum of care model?

The continuum of care is a collaborative, integrated and comprehensive approach designed to ensure people get the right support at the right time, without disruptions in care or changes in approach.

Providers who refer their clients to ERC Pathlight recognize the value of this approach right from the start. Your client will receive an assessment from a master's-level clinician who will get to know your client and determine the most appropriate level of care.

During treatment, your client will experience the same clinical model, approach and interventions at each level of care they need. They’ll stay with the same specialized care team, including a physician, psychiatrist, therapist and, at ERC, a dietitian. This consistent model helps clients make optimal progress toward recovery without interruptions.

Our continuum of care then extends all the way to aftercare. Patients can access a variety of resources, from access to free support groups and healing communities to educational resources like blogs, articles and podcasts.

ERC Pathlight’s full spectrum of care includes:

  • Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP): Three hours of specialized care three days per week, with on-site and virtual options available. 
  • Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) or Day Treatment: Daytime programming, including psychiatric support, with evenings at home or in a peer-supported apartment. 
  • Residential (RES): Daily programming with 24-hour medical and psychiatric support in a comfortable residential setting. 
  • Inpatient (IP): Medical and psychiatric stabilization in a specialized 24-hour hospital setting with the introduction of group meals and sessions. ERC only.
  • Intensive Treatment Unit (ITU): Medical and psychiatric stabilization in a highly specialized 24-hour hospital setting. ERC only.

No matter which level of care your client enters, we will keep you updated on your client’s progress every step of the way. And, through continuing education events and resources, you’ll gain tools and knowledge to best support them when they are ready to return to your care.

Four benefits of the continuum of care

A continuum of care approach creates better outcomes, reduces confusion and stress, and reduces the risk of relapses during transitions of care. Four benefits to this approach include:

  1. A consistent care model. The continuum of care offers a consistent clinical approach and best practices across all levels of care. Your client will benefit from the same evidence-based therapies as they progress, building on the skills they are learning each day. 
  2. Same care team that knows your client. Patients tell their story once and, whenever possible, stay connected with the same care team as they progress. This eliminates unnecessary trauma they may experience from constantly retelling their story to brand new providers (and peers) when they transition between levels of care.
  3. Family involvement throughout treatment. We strongly believe that family and support systems play a vital role in creating a successful recovery from eating disorders and mood and anxiety disorders. Patients in our program benefit from two evidence-based approaches—family-based treatment and emotion-focused family therapy (EFFT)—that empower families to be active participants in their loved one’s recovery.
  4. Uninterrupted connection to school for students. Families sometimes put off treatment due to worries that their child may fall behind in school or fail to advance to the next grade. Our continuum of care approach includes a full suite of educational support resources. These include dedicated school time and an education specialist who partners with patients and their schools to keep coursework on track and make assignments manageable.

Meet Rachel, one of our education specialists, here.

How to talk with your clients about levels of care

Your clients will likely have questions as they step into treatment. Here are some tips for navigating the conversation before they do.

  • Acknowledge that healing is a journey. Explain why it’s important to get the support they need when they need it.
  • Set expectations. “You can help them know what to expect across the full continuum of care so they feel more comfortable moving forward,” explains Dr. Easton.
  • Unpack levels of care. A good way to explain it to your clients: “Inpatient is moment-by-moment support, residential is day-by-day, PHP is week-by-week, and IOP is integrating your newfound skills into your life,” Dr. Easton says.
  • Navigate mixed feelings. If a patient expresses mixed emotions or doesn’t agree that they need a certain level of care, acknowledge what they are feeling while staying firm in your clinical recommendation.

Read more about navigating ambivalence with your clients here.

Words matter: Insights from former patients

We asked some of our ERC Pathlight alumni to share what words of encouragement helped them when stepping into higher levels of care.


For Mackenzie Carmichael, an ERC alum and member of our Recovery Ambassador Council (RAC), entering eating disorder treatment was literally a choice between life and death. “As hard as it was to hear, the solemnness of being told that treatment was the only thing that could keep me alive was the most chilling and motivating truth that led me to seeking a full recovery, once and for all,” she says.

Even so, it took a slight change in perspective for her to step up into treatment. “When [treatment] was described to me as a gift, an opportunity, a blessing, is when it hit me that I must take advantage of this lifesaving experience.”


For Joanna Nolen, an ERC alum and RAC member, the desire to seek help came from within.

“It wasn’t anything anyone said to me, but what I said to myself,” Nolen explains. “I told myself that there had to be a life outside of calorie counting, restrictive eating and obsessive exercise … where I truly knew in my core my value and worth, and that I was worthy of having a life full of love, connection and adventure. So I took that first step onto my road to recovery.”


Sydney Fitzgibbons, an ERC alum and RAC member, had mixed feelings before starting treatment, so she tackled it by taking action. She realized that “you don’t have to commit to recovery for life in order to take the first step. The willingness to try something different is the only requirement.”

After attaining recovery, she reflected on another valuable lesson. “Everything in life that is keeping you from seeking treatment will still be there after you’re done,” Fitzgibbons says. “If you are living a life trapped in an eating disorder, what kind of life is that, anyway?”

Our free support groups also help people find connection and healing. Learn more about our support groups here.

Help your clients get the right support at the right time

When you were reading this, did a client come to mind who could use additional support? If so, let’s partner in helping them get the right care at the right time. Get started online to begin a complimentary care consultation. Any provider can refer a patient.

Refer a patient to ERC Pathlight.

At Eating Recovery Center and Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center, we’re dedicated to making your experience - and your clients’ - with us as streamlined, helpful and accessible as possible by connecting and sharing resources for eating, mood, anxiety and trauma-related conditions.

Have any questions? There are multiple ways to reach us via email, social media channels, newsletters and more.

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Written by

Kyle Hardner

Kyle Hardner is a writer and content strategist based in Pennsylvania. He's led content development and creation for leading health systems and has extensive expertise writing about healthcare,…