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Psychiatric Rehabilitation Specialists
Established in 1977

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What Are Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs)?

Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) for mental health provide comprehensive, multidisciplinary mental health treatment while allowing patients to live at home and continue working or attending school. IOPs typically meet for 3-5 hours per day, 3-5 days per week, and include both group and individual therapy and medication management, if needed. Treatment is focused on helping patients learn skills to manage their mental health symptoms and cope with stressors in their daily lives.

IOPs are often used as a step-down from inpatient treatment or as an alternative to inpatient treatment for patients who cannot take time away from work or school. IOPs can be short-term (6-8 weeks) or long-term (several months to a year), depending on the patient’s needs.

How Do IOPs Work?

IOPs typically begin with an assessment to determine the level of care needed. IOP patients usually suffer from moderate to severe symptoms of mental illness but are still capable of functioning daily. IOPs are not appropriate for patients who are actively suicidal or homicidal or who are experiencing severe psychotic symptoms.

Group therapy is the cornerstone of IOP treatment and includes process-oriented and skills-based groups. Process-oriented groups provide a space for patients to share experiences and feelings related to mental illness and to receive support from counselors and others. Skills-based groups teach patients specific skills to manage symptoms and cope with stressors.

Individual therapy is also typically part of IOP treatment and provides a space for patients to work on specific issues they may be struggling with. Individual therapy may focus on identity, relationships, grief, and trauma.

IOP treatment often includes medication management, which is provided by a psychiatrist or other prescribing provider. Medication management may consist of education, monitoring, and adjusting medications as needed.

How IOPs Are Different

Unlike traditional approaches, IOPs tend to include a family component, which may include family therapy, education, and support. Family therapy aims to help family members understand and support their loved ones as they recover from mental illness. Family education provides information about mental illness and treatment. Family support helps family members cope with stressors and supports the patient.

IOPs typically also include a discharge planning component, which helps ensure that patients have a plan for continued growth, accountability, and care after leaving the IOP. This may include referrals to community resources, such as support groups or therapists, and follow-up appointments with the IOP team.

Benefits of Group Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Group therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are two of the most common and effective forms of treatment for mental health disorders used in intensive outpatient programs. Both approaches have proven effective in treating various disorders, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, and more. 

A group therapy session involves a group of patients meeting to discuss and work through their problems, better understand their symptoms, and find ways to progress in treatment through shared experiences. The group may be composed of people with similar issues or a general group that meets to provide support and encouragement. Group therapy is led by a trained therapist who facilitates discussion and helps group members to work through their issues together.

The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to assist people in changing negative thinking patterns and behaviors to achieve a more positive mindset and cope with their symptoms in healthy ways. This therapy can effectively treat various disorders, including bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, OCD, and more. There are several types of cognitive behavioral therapy, including individual sessions and group sessions.

Contact LAT today

IOPs are an incredibly valuable treatment option for people living with a mental illness and can be extremely helpful in helping patients to manage their symptoms and improve their overall functioning. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional about whether an IOP might be right for you, and contact our Team here at LAT to learn more.