Treatment Models: Sequential, Parallel, Or Integrated

As the mental health and AOD abuse treatment fields have become increasingly aware of the existence of patients with dual disorders, various attempts have been made to adapt treatment to the special needs of these patients (Baker, 1991; Lehman et al., 1989; Minkoff, 1989; Minkoff and Drake, 1991; Ries, 1993a). These attempts have reflected philosophical differences about the nature of dual disorders, as well as differing opinions regarding the best way to treat them. These attempts also reflect the limitations of available resources, as well as differences in treatment responses for different types and severities of dual disorders. Three approaches have been taken to treatment.

Sequential Treatment

The first and historically most common model of dual disorder treatment is sequential treatment. In this model of treatment, the patient is treated by one system (addiction or mental health) and then by the other. Indeed, some clinicians believe that addiction treatment must always be initiated first, and that the individual must be in a stage of abstinent recovery from addiction before treatment for the psychiatric disorder can begin. On the other hand, other clinicians believe that treatment for the psychiatric disorder should begin prior to the initiation of abstinence and addiction treatment. Still other clinicians believe that symptom severity at the time of entry to treatment should dictate whether the individual is treated in a mental health setting or an addiction treatment setting or that the disorder that emerged first should be treated first.

The term sequential treatment describes the serial or nonsimultaneous participation in both mental health and addiction treatment settings. For example, a person with dual disorders may receive treatment at a community mental health center program during occasional periods of depression and attend a local AOD treatment program following infrequent alcoholic binges. Systems that have developed serial treatment approaches generally incorporate one of the above orientations toward the treatment of patients with dual disorders.

Parallel Treatment

A related approach involves parallel treatment: the simultaneous involvement of the patient in both mental health and addiction treatment settings. For example, an individual may participate in AOD education and drug refusal classes at an addiction treatment program, participate in a 12-step group such as AA, and attend group therapy and medication education classes at a mental health center. Both parallel and sequential treatment involve the utilization of existing treatment programs and settings. Thus, mental health treatment is provided by mental health clinicians, and addiction treatment is provided by addiction treatment clinicians. Coordination between settings is quite variable.

Integrated Treatment

A third model, called integrated treatment, is an approach that combines elements of both mental health and addiction treatment into a unified and comprehensive treatment program for patients with dual disorders. Ideally, integrated treatment involves clinicians cross-trained in both mental health and addiction, as well as a unified case management approach, making it possible to monitor and treat patients through various psychiatric and AOD crises.

There are advantages and disadvantages in sequential, parallel, and integrated treatment approaches. Differences in dual disorder combinations, symptom severity, and degree of impairment greatly affect the appropriateness of a treatment model for a specific individual. For example, sequential and parallel treatment may be most appropriate for patients who have a very severe problem with one disorder, but a mild problem with the other. However, patients with dual disorders who obtain treatment from two separate systems frequently receive conflicting therapeutic messages; in addition, financial coverage and even confidentiality laws vary between the two systems.

Treatment Models

  • Sequential: The patient participates in one system, then the other.
  • Parallel: The patient participates in two systems simultaneously.
  • Integrated: The patient participates in a single unified and comprehensive treatment program for dual disorders.

In contrast, integrated treatment places the burden of treatment continuity on a case manager who is expert in both psychiatric and AOD use disorders. Further, integrated treatment involves simultaneous treatment of both disorders in a setting designed to accommodate both problems.