Understanding Outpatient (IOP) Addiction Treatment

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For many people, the range of addiction treatments available can seem overwhelming and feel all but impossible to understand. Although residential care, inpatient care, and other intensive services can provide the initial care and support that a person needs to begin the initial stages of overcoming a substance use disorder, the goal of treatment is to allow a person to return to his or her life with the ability to maintain long-term sobriety. Therefore, there are a number of different treatment options available for individuals were seeking to overcome substance abuse.

Inpatient and residential treatment require the individual to live at the treatment center. While inpatient treatment is generally shorter than residential treatment, these forms of treatment are the most intensive forms available and are also the types of treatment that cause the greatest level of interruption in an individual’s life, for better and for worse. Living at the treatment center can allow individuals to have a respite from the temptations of the outside world so that they can begin to build a foundation for a sober life. However, a person cannon stay in residential treatment forever. The end goal of all treatment, including inpatient and residential care, is to return the individual to his or her outside life with the tools and skills to maintain long-term sobriety.

Partial hospitalization programming (PHP) is a step down from inpatient or residential care. During PHP, individuals begin to transition back into their everyday lives, sometimes while continuing to live at the treatment center. Individuals in PHP often benefit from many of the same interventions provided in inpatient and residential treatment, including individual therapy, groups, family therapy, experiential therapy, and other interventions.  However, in PHP, individuals begin to have more free time and can begin to structure that free time while still receiving ample support from their treatment center.

Intensive outpatient programming, or IOP, is often used as either a step-down level of care from PHP, residential, or inpatient treatment, or is used as a step-up level of care from traditional outpatient treatment. During IOP, individuals often participate in therapy and groups a few days per week for a few hours at a time. IOP programs are often structured so that individuals can maintain work and family commitments while also receiving services.

Traditional outpatient care involves an individual independently seeking out the support of therapists, counselors, groups, and other resources in his or her community in order to help maintain his or her sobriety.

Individuals in IOP care often benefit from the services and expertise of a range of treatment professionals, including the following:

  • Psychiatrists
  • Psychologists
  • Counselors
  • Therapists
  • Addiction specialists
  • Medical doctors
  • Nurses
  • Art therapists
  • Recreational therapist
  • Social workers

During IOP care, individuals can expect to benefit from a range of services, such as the following:

Medication management: Because individuals with substance use disorders often struggle with co-occurring mental health disorders, IOP treatment can often include some form of medication management to help individuals keep up with medications that will enable them to manage the symptoms of co-occurring mental health disorders. Because of its nature, this service is not available to all individuals, and a person’s need for these services will be determined at the beginning of treatment.

Individual therapy: Individual therapy allows a person to meet one-on-one with a counselor, therapist, or other mental health professional. These sessions allow individuals to process their experiences in treatment, discuss their progress on goals, and receive support and encouragement as they progress in treatment. Individual therapy sessions are often provided on a regular schedule and on a weekly basis.

Groups and group therapy: At many programs, groups are the cornerstone of treatment. These groups cover a range of topics and formats, but all of them are places where individuals can support and be supported by their peers, learn from each other, and practice recovery skills in a safe, clinician-led environment. Groups are often led by experienced clinicians who are specially trained in helping individuals receive the maximum benefit from groups while also ensuring that the groups remain a safe place to process personal matters.

Experiential therapy: Many IOP programs provide additional forms of therapy known as experiential therapy. These nontraditional interventions allow individuals to use both their minds and their bodies to aid the recovery effort. There are a wide range of experiential therapies, but some of the most common include recreational therapy, art therapy, equine therapy, and numerous others.

Family therapy: Given that the effects of substance use disorders often ripple out and affect entire family systems, many IOP programs provide family therapy options.  During the sessions, individuals and loved ones meet together to learn about the disease of addiction and receive support in healing family dynamics that may be perpetuating cycles of substance abuse within the family.

If you are someone you love might benefit from intensive outpatient care, it is a good idea to begin looking for treatment options. Search for treatment centers that may be a good fit, consider your or your loved ones needs, and work with treatment center staff to begin the admissions process. With the help of a professional IOP treatment program, a brighter future awaits.

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