Menu Close

Intensive Outpatient Program: Seven Reasons to Love It

therapist with clipboard leading small group of adults outdoors

The Intensive Outpatient Program, called IOP for short, is a 3-4 hour daily therapeutic program for patients suffering from mental illness. It is the step-down of the step-down. Whereas patients with the most severe symptoms are admitted to the Inpatient Program (24-hour supervision) and then downgraded to the Partial Hospitalization Program (a full-day program, generally), IOP is the least restrictive, demanding, and time-consuming. It is for patients with significant but not severe symptoms. And it has numerous benefits. There are good things about every program, from the therapy to the relationships with other patients. Here are seven reasons to love the Intensive Outpatient Program, starting with…

1. You Get to Go Home at Night

This is something only patients who have been in the Inpatient Program will understand: With IOP, a patient gets to go home at night. After days (and sometimes weeks) of being cooped up in a single hall, sharing a room with someone, dealing with the drudgery of sitting in the common room sipping decaf coffee and playing cards, you finally get to go home. That means your own comfortable bed, your own bathroom (with a door), video games to play with, and delicious meals you can cook, rather than the cafeteria food from the hospital. You’ll never have wanted those things so bad.

2. Group Therapy

The main course within the Intensive Outpatient Program is group therapy, a situation similar to that in Inpatient and support groups in the community. The patients sit in a circle, introduce themselves, share how they’re feeling (usually with a word that is not “good” or “fine”) and then share or not share about their personal problems. There are perks. Group therapy is useful for those suffering from trauma, as it can allow them to connect to others who have experienced the same or similar things. Group therapy is good for connection between those suffering from the same disorders, who may have shared experiences they might want to talk about.

3. Early Morning Breakfast

While the main course of IOP is group therapy, there is an actual second course, which is, well, food. There’s fewer things better than being fed and many IOP programs do just that. Sometimes, it’s just a piece of fruit or a bagel or something like toast with jam, but it helps to have little things to motivate yourself to go to the IOP, sometimes as early as 8:30 am. The early morning breakfast is also a good opportunity for patients to meet fellow patients. Relationships always help protect against flare ups with mental illness symptoms, and even if you meet in an IOP program, you can take those relationships outside of the program. Speaking of…

4. Relationships with Fellow Patients

It can be difficult that first day in Intensive Outpatient Therapy, as a patient on his or her first day will be forced to interact in ways maybe they never have before. Group therapy, with its openness, and general conversations about mental health may be a little foreign. This can cause anxiety, initially. But often, as time goes by, it’s easy to get to know the different patients and form relationships with them, relationships that may be tough to replicate outside of the program. Everyone in the room has some sort of mental health program, from mood disorders to alcohol and substance use disorders, and the commonalities in the experiences of these issues can lead to quick relationships, where it’s easy to relate to another patient. These relationships can carry over outside of the program, leading to lasting friendships.

5. More Structure

This goes without saying: Structure helps alleviate mental health symptoms. Several studies show this. Having more structure creates a pattern in which you can get better sleep, focus more, and be more goal-oriented, all things that reduce symptoms and generally provide a better way of life. The Intensive Outpatient Program does this. Each morning, a patient needs to wake up and get to the facility by 8-8:30 am (typically) and then the classes and groups start. These last a specific amount of time and then switch, creating a rhythm. This carries over to the rest of the day and is helpful when a patient wants to set goals for the afternoon. It helps sleep and alleviates symptoms.

6. Relationships with Practitioners

For many mental health patients, having contacts in the general community is useful for finding the right therapist or right psychiatrist. There is little place to do this better than in an IOP setting, where a patient is exposed to nurses, therapists, and other clinicians who can help them find the right mental health team for them in the community. It is even possible for a patient to see a therapist from the facility outside of it if they have a private practice. This could lead to a lasting relationship where the patient receives the help they need, and he or she gets better.

7. Flexibility

After a stint in an Inpatient Program and some time in the Partial Hospitalization Program, a patient may be frustrated at the lack of personal time they have. Or, worse, they’re losing time and money away from work and their employer is growing impatient. With the Intensive Outpatient Program, that worry is relieved: The patient has freedom. Because IOP generally lasts between 3-4 hours, a patient has the whole afternoon and night in which to pursue goals, work a job, see friends, and generally recover. This freedom allows a patient to resume their life outside of the hospitalization programs, which eases the transition from the structure of the programs into their day-to-day lives. One example of this is called the Connections Wellness Group in Denton, TX. (contact us) They have an IOP program that lasts two-three weeks, with three days required between Monday and Friday. Patients receive three hours of therapy and continue their schooling. Those are seven reasons to love IOP but the biggest of all: A patient has almost made it home.