Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) treat a variety of addiction disorders while allowing the patient to continue to live at home and participate in normal day-to-day activities while in recovery. Because IOPs are not residential treatment programs, they are recommended most often to those with less severe disorders and little to no history of mental health issues who are not in need of detoxification and live in a stable, supportive home environment. Typically, these guidelines are met by adolescents or those with children or jobs that keep them from being able to attend residential treatment.
That being said, IOPs are still intensive and highly effective in treating those struggling with less severe addiction. While living at home, patients will receive treatment at least three times a week for a minimum of three hours per visit depending on the specific program.
IOPs offer many of the same services as residential programs but may emphasize some forms of treatment over others. Usually, these programs serve as a step down from residential programs in the process of recovery, but many who do not need monitoring around the clock in the first place will also participate. Because there is no 24-hour supervision in IOPs, there is less focus on medical rehabilitation and rather more focus on behavioral therapy.
Group therapy is extremely common in IOPs — in fact, it is often at the center of most outpatient programs. From family counseling to relapse prevention groups to emotional support groups, group therapy is beneficial in helping the patient reclaim the skills used in socialization with those who do not trigger or encourage addiction.
Besides providing a supportive environment with others who are going through the same struggles, group therapy also facilitates relationships between those further along in the process and those new to it. The presence of someone who has been through an IOP encourages those just beginning to push forward as they see someone who is making progress.
Additionally, therapists and those leading recovery sessions are able to teach new skills to a larger group of people who can then help each other along the way. The sense of community that is built with group therapy is essential to productive recovery and a return to civil society.
While there are different types of group therapies (skills-development, psychoeducation, refusal training, relapse prevention, family, etc.), groups can also be specialized to any affinity group the patient may identify with. There are LGBTQ+ groups, gender specific groups, addiction specific groups and more.
Rather than focus on the community aspect of recovery, individual treatment delves more into the cause for the behavior driving addiction and preventing rehabilitation. One-on-one conversations often allow the patient to open up more than in group sessions where the pressure of being faced by many might be too large.
While most IOPs place most of their focus on group therapy, individual therapy is still present in most IOPs weekly.
Despite IOPs acting primarily as a step down from residential programs, medical treatment is still offered as an option in the recovery process. The use of medications will not play as large of a part in an IOP as it may have in detoxification or inpatient programs, but medication management is still a service offered in outpatient treatment, especially if it is intensive.
Like residential treatment centers, IOPs offer other forms of treatment than group and individual therapy. Less common treatments such as music therapy, art-focused therapy, and outdoor therapy are often complementary. But, because therapists must be trained specifically for each of these alternative methods, not every IOP will have access to them.
Additionally, support groups such as Anonymous groups are recommended by IOPs and often meet in the very same facilities that group and individual therapy takes place. This way, access to these groups is offered and therefore encouraged for those in recovery.
Benefits of Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)
IOPs are a great way for those who have experienced residential treatment to begin re-entering society. Patients regain their autonomy—they are able to live at home, spend time with family and begin to participate in social activities once again. IOPs allow patients to enjoy outside life once more while still partaking in a structured daily schedule that continues to treat their addiction.
It is dangerous for many to completely re-enter society directly after inpatient treatment because of the risks of relapse, so IOPs are often a part of the recovery process. In contrast to inpatient programs, IOPs are less expensive while still maintaining effectiveness. While outpatient treatment must be sustained, in some cases, for months, the hours are much less demanding than inpatient rehabilitation and allow for the individual to regain control of their life independently.
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