How Do Intensive Outpatient Programs Work?

By: Editorial Staff of Desert Hope



In general, there are two main types of addiction treatment: inpatient and outpatient.


With an inpatient or residential program, clients enter into a specialized facility and stay on site for the duration of the treatment. In an outpatient program, the person attends sessions, meetings, workshops, and meetings, and then goes home each night.


An IOP is often very similar to a residential program in its structure and intensity, with the main difference being that the individual returns home to sleep each night.


Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) Overview


An intensive outpatient program can be the first line of treatment, a step up from a less structured outpatient program when needed, or a step down from a residential program after a certain amount of progress is made.


Difference Between Outpatient and Intensive Outpatient


There are varying levels of intensity when it comes to outpatient programs, but often when people say “outpatient,” they’re referring to the lowest-intensity version. Standard outpatient programs tend to involve about 1-2 hours of therapy per week.


Intensive outpatient programs, however, represent a higher level of care with more hours of treatment per week.


Who Should Participate in an IOP?


IOPs are suitable for those who feel ready to live at home but still need a somewhat intensive therapy schedule to support their recovery.


Often, people who have completed a more intensive program, such as a course of residential treatment or a partial hospitalization program, are good candidates for intensive outpatient programs.


IOP Services


While IOPs can vary as to what is included, in general, there are several core services typically offered. These include:

  • Group and individual counseling sessions

  • Behavioral therapy sessions (both individual and in a group setting)

  • Monitoring of alcohol and drug use

  • Case management

  • Medical and mental health treatment

  • Pharmacological tools

  • Life skills trainings

  • Educational opportunities

  • Support group meetings

  • Access to 24-hour crisis management

Therapy and counseling sessions are used to teach new and effective ways to communicate, manage stress, improve problem-solving and coping skills, and modify negative thoughts and behaviors into more positive ones. Group sessions can provide clients with insight from others who are also struggling with addiction.


One of the benefits of an outpatient program is that individuals can try out new methods in the “real world” almost immediately as they return home each night.

Intensive Outpatient Program Curriculum


An intensive outpatient program generally works the same way that residential programs do. Clients usually go through an assessment prior to admission to give treatment providers the information needed to design a personalized treatment plan. Medical, physical, and mental health are evaluated, and co-occurring disorders can be treated in many IOPs. Treatment providers work closely with the individual and their loved ones to plan and implement a viable care plan.


With an IOP, classes, sessions, meetings, and workshops are scheduled throughout the day, and individuals are expected to adhere to the strict structure of the program.


IOP sessions typically begin with a general check-in around the group to see how everyone is doing and if anyone has anything to report. Personal stories are encouraged to be shared, and concerns are addressed. Trained professionals lead these group sessions, and after the initial discussion, they usually dive into a specific topic chosen for that particular group on that day. Topics may include methods of handling stress, coping with potential triggers, conflict management and resolution, what to expect emotionally and physically during recovery, and more. The group setting provides a supportive and encouraging environment.


An IOP will also provide individual services, and trained professionals are able to provide referrals for additional care if needed.


Cost and Payment Options


Any form of outpatient treatment tends to be more affordable than an inpatient or residential program. However, you can expect that an intensive outpatient program will likely cost a little more than a standard outpatient program. Costs will vary based on factors such as:

  • The specific treatment provider.

  • Your insurance coverage.

  • Whether the program is state-funded or private.

While you may be worried at first about paying for treatment, remember that there are usually ways to get the lifesaving help you need. This may come in the form of flexible payment options, including financing, loans, sliding scales (adjustment of cost based on income and financial need), and scholarships.


Benefits of an IOP


An outpatient program may be more cost-effective than a residential one, offering families a more budget-friendly option for care. Insurance may also cover outpatient services or require individuals to try outpatient care before providing coverage for a residential program.


IOPs are generally best suited to individuals who have a strong support system at home. Families and loved ones should be on board with the treatment plan, and willing and able to foster an encouraging environment that is conducive for recovery. Highly trained professionals work closely with families and individuals to make sure that the care plan continues to be beneficial throughout the entirety of an IOP, making changes to services and programming when needed.


Article has substance abuse specific information redacted (The Timothy Center does not offer treatment for a primary diagnosis of substance abuse).

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© 2019 The Timothy Center | Austin, Texas512-331-2700 | support@timothycenter.com

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