What is an Intensive Outpatient Program?

An IOP, or Intensive Outpatient Program, is a therapeutic program designed to combine the advantages of inpatient care while allowing patients to go home to their familiar environment at the end of the day. Patients can expect to devote 10 to 20 hours to their IOP each week and visit their care facility three to four times a week. The amount of time dedicated to an IOP is why it is “intensive”, but patients benefit from being able to be with family and loved ones during the rest of the week. IOPs are also ideal for people with work or school commitments who need an intensive program but cannot commit to a residential program. 

IOPs work best for patients that have stable and safe home environments that do not trigger their mental health issues in any way. If a patient, for example, is entering an IOP to deal with an addiction problem, but then goes to a home where their family is engaging in the same addictive behaviors, an IOP might not be the right answer for them. In those cases, residential treatment may be necessary so that the patient is not exposed to any triggers during the healing process. 

What IOP Treats

Participating in an Intensive Outpatient Program can be beneficial for certain mental health disorders, including:

  • Eating disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • And chemical/alcohol dependency 

An IOP can also address patients with co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression and substance abuse. IOP is most effective in cases where the patient does not require 24-hour monitoring or detoxification. While their mental health issues may be milder in some respects, these patients still need access to intensive therapeutic modalities. Patients may also need to maintain a regular daily schedule due to life’s contingencies. An IOP can also serve as a transition point for patients transitioning from a residential or inpatient program.

Participating in IOP is also a good fit for patient’s who are ready to begin their journey to health and wellness. This type of program involves a good deal of work from the patient, who must participate in individual and group therapy. If doctors monitoring a patient’s participation feels that he or she may need more supervision or support, they may recommend an inpatient alternative. 

What to Expect During Intensive Outpatient Treatment

When participating in an IOP, patients spend part of the day going through their usual routines of work, family, or school. The patient then arrives at their IOP care facility to participate in group and individual therapies, as well as education classes centered on issues related to their mental health disorder. IOPs for substance abuse may include 12-step style group meetings. Certain patients may also participate in family therapy sessions with their loved ones to ensure continuity and stability in their at-home support structure.

Supplemental activities might include group outings, exercise classes, meditation, and more. Some IOPs may also include career and life training. The overall goal in any IOP is to get a patient to a place where he or she is able to access and leverage better coping mechanisms when confronted with triggers. 

Patients can expect to commit several hours a day to an IOP. IOPs often offer day and evening sessions to make it easier for patients to fit a program into their daily schedule. As an example, a program might have one session running from 9am to 12pm, and a second running after hours from 5pm to 8pm. Finding a program that works best for a patient’s particular needs is important and can be done in consultation with a mental health professional.