Understanding Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)


intensive outpatient programsAll addiction treatment programs are intense in some ways. Changing destructive behaviors that have been in place for months or even years isn’t easy, so it’s not surprising that therapies would be a little strenuous and demanding. There are times, however, when the care a person needs in order to handle an addiction issue goes above and beyond the treatments that are typically provided in a treatment program for addiction. For these people, Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) may provide real help.

While the care provided in a standard program might put them on the right path toward healing, in an intensive program, they might have just a bit more assistance in a slightly more comprehensive fashion, and this could provide them with the boost they’ll need to change their lives for the better.

Time Spent+

Intensive Outpatient Programs, or IOPs, differ from standard programs in one major way: Where standard outpatient programs might require people to spend an hour or two in treatment each week, IOPs require a much more significant time commitment. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, at least nine hours of treatment per week is a requirement, although when those sessions are scheduled might vary. For example, some programs may hold two sessions on two back-to-back weekend nights, while other programs may scatter appointments throughout the week. This differing approach allows people the flexibility to maintain their life commitments while they’re in therapy. People with office jobs, for example, might love a program that requires only a weekend commitment, while people with children might like programs that hold sessions during the hours in which little ones are in school.

While there is no hard-and-fast rule regarding weeks spent in treatment, in general, it’s accepted that addictions cause behavioral changes that take time to amend. Quick bursts of therapy might not provide the intensive help that can really allow people to make changes that can stick, no matter what might happen. For this reason, IOPs often require clients to stay engaged in therapy for several months, and then, the intensity of the care might step down slowly until the person isn’t utilizing the help of an expert at all. It’s not unusual for people to stay in treatment for about a year, and even then, they might need to utilize support groups and other forms of touchup care in order to leave an addiction in the past.

Ideal Candidates

Almost anyone could utilize the care provided in an IOP, but according to a study in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, people who enter a program like this tend to have intensive problems due to addiction, including:

  • Medical issues
  • Employment concerns

At the assessment phase, when professionals are trying to determine what kind of care people might need for an addiction, people like this might have very high scores of addiction severity and very high scores of distress. However, these same people might have tight and loving families that are willing to provide their support and love while the person gets better. Addicted people may be able to lean on these families, and perhaps gather support from being close to the people they love, so they may not need to enter an inpatient treatment program for addiction and move out of the home in order to get well. In an IOP, they can get the help they need without leaving their families behind.

Addiction Therapies

Any form of addiction treatment relies on therapy in order to help people to change their behavior. IOPs may provide this help in one-on-one sessions, in which a person works with a designated therapist in order to find solutions to the specific problems the person faces, or some IOPs may ask clients to participate in group sessions.

In these meetings, addicted people might work on:

  • Assertiveness
  • Interpersonal skills

therapyEach week, the person might be asked to join a different group and go to a different meeting, depending on the needs the person is displaying at the time. Homework assignments are common, allowing people to continue to learn even when they’re not in the formal treatment environment, and people might be asked to practice one or two new skills on friends and family members, as they see fit.

Some therapists pull together plans in a somewhat loose fashion, allowing clients to provide input on the help they need and the aspects of care they enjoy. Other therapists use more rigid formats that provide specific guidance on when interventions should be provided and how they should work. For example, some clients use the Matrix Model: an IOP that was specifically designed to help people addicted to drugs like cocaine. Here, individual counseling is combined with group work, educational sessions, and urine and breath testing (to check for relapse).

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the model takes about 16 weeks to complete, and it’s associated with very good results in a variety of different kinds of addicted people.

Lifestyle Support

lifestylePeople with addictions often need help with other areas of life that have nothing to do with substance use and abuse. They might need to complete their educations and get good jobs, for example, or they might need to find secure housing in communities in which addiction doesn’t play a major role. These details might seem small, but they play a huge role in day-to-day stress, and they can act as triggers that spur people to use and abuse drugs. Some IOPs help with this issue by connecting their clients with community programs that can help. They might pair people with low-cost retraining classes, for example, or they might help people to fill out the paperwork that would enable them to accept assistance with food costs. These kinds of interventions can make a big difference in the quality of life of a person who abuses substances, and they can make a return to substance use a bit less likely.

Some IOPs do even more to make their clients’ lives a bit easier, by pairing financial rewards with completion of portions of the addiction treatment program. This voucher-based system makes participating in addiction beneficial in the here and now, which might be helpful for people who have a lack of impulse control due to drug use. When vouchers make compliance seem rewarding, the urge to use might fade just a bit. In a study of the effectiveness of this kind of program, in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, people were required to participate in standard care for addiction as well as community programs to enhance quality of life. Those who did so got vouchers for rent. At the end of this study, 61 percent of people who got vouchers were still enrolled, compared to only 17 percent of people who were in outpatient care with no vouchers. For some people, this can be an amazing help.

Getting Started

IOPs may advertise their approach, and their websites may include the words “intensive,” “advanced” or “rigorous.” Some IOPs don’t utilize these words, however, and it can be hard for families to ensure that the program they’re choosing provides the kind of help their loved one needs in order to get better. They key lies in understanding how much care is provided on a weekly basis, and what kind of therapies are included in those treatment hours. Those programs that keep people in treatment for long hours each week, attacking an addiction on all fronts, might be considered an IOP, while programs that have low hourly requirements and few treatment options may not quite fit the bill.

Foundations Recovery Network programs often provide IOP care, and we’re happy to explain how our programs work and how we customize the care we provide to meet the needs of the people in our care. Please call us to find out more, and to get started on your path to healing.

Further Reading About Understanding Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)