The Mighty Logo

Why We Need to Talk About Intensive Outpatient Programs

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) are programs designed to help individuals who need more treatment than just individual counseling, but less treatment than an inpatient or partial hospitalization program. IOPs are typically designed to be in a group therapy format and often meet anywhere from three to five days a week, typically averaging nine hours of treatment per week anywhere from five weeks to a year.

When I was given the opportunity to be part of an IOP, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I was told the logistics of it: when we would meet, what time and where, but I had no clue what it actually entailed. The only experience I had with group therapy prior to treatment was my mock group counseling class in college, and that was not a great time. Even having studied counseling in college, I had never heard of an IOP before. I was terrified upon making the decision to join one, and that led me to do some research.

While researching what it was that I would be walking into, I was surprised by the lack of information out there. I mostly just found information from treatment centers, addiction or recovery centers and health care websites. For the life of me, I could not find any information from someone who had actually been a part of one. I longed to hear that an IOP helped someone and wanted to learn what I had to look forward to. I found none of that. That is why I have decided to share my own personal experiences.

My IOP has forever changed my life for the better. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make, but has been one of the best. Going into the IOP I felt defeated, ashamed and just beaten down. I felt like my pride had been shattered by having to take that step to join the program. I felt ashamed my mental health had gotten to a point I needed more treatment. I was scared I was unfixable.

I went into the IOP hoping that it would help me get better, but I still had nagging thoughts in the back of my head it wouldn’t. I’m glad I was wrong. Like I said, I had no idea what to expect walking in on my first day. I thought it would just be everyone sitting in a circle, talking about their problems — and maybe some intensive outpatient programs are that way, but I’m glad mine was not. My IOP was so much more than that.

An IOP is about working together as a group to retrain your brain. It’s about experiences and doing activities together as a group to bring you closer. It’s about vulnerability in a group setting, acceptance, forgiveness, shame and so much more. An IOP is about community and being part of something bigger than yourself to help you understand you are not alone. An IOP is about experiencing your emotions and your pain and learning how to move past them. An IOP is so much more than just sitting in a circle, sharing your issues or doing worksheets. It’s about experiences.

The activities and experiences in an IOP are there to help clients and are highly encouraged by the therapist to participate in. However, it is ultimately the client’s decision whether or not they join in. It takes courage to be vulnerable in a group setting, to share your heart and to participate in many of the activities. But ultimately whether or not a client experiences growth by the end of an IOP depends on their participation and willingness to jump in. It is not a cure-all, but it is a great tool to help promote growth and movement when a client feels stuck.

Obviously, this is all from my own personal experience and every IOP is different. I want to share my experiences so those who are about to attend an IOP can get a glimpse into what to expect. It was also brought to my attention during this journey that many therapists and medical providers don’t know what an IOP is either, and thus aren’t able to offer these programs as a treatment option. It is my hope that by sharing my experience and being vulnerable, more people will be able to receive the care that they need or want. As I mentioned before, I studied counseling and I had never heard of an IOP. So many people could really benefit from this type of help if it was just talked about more.

As always, I am not a licensed therapist and these thoughts and opinions are all my own.

You can follow my journey on Ramble Life.

Getty image by Softulka

Originally published: November 5, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home