What Is IOP for Mental Health?

October 14, 2021

There are different levels of care available to a person dealing with mental illness. Many Americans struggle with mental health issues. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 U.S. adults struggles with it every year.

A person's psychological, emotional, and social well-being is heavily affected by mental health issues. It also has an impact on a person’s decision-making as well.

From childhood to adulthood, mental health is extremely important no matter what stage of life a person is in.

IOP stands for an intensive outpatient program, and there are different types of IOPs addressing different issues. IOP for mental health is designed to help people who have a mental health diagnosis.

When a person deals with things such as heavy demands at work, they get stressed. If they lack coping skills, this can make matters worse and can put them at risk for developing mental health issues.

Whether a person is born with a mental illness or develops mental health issues as they grow older, they can be helped significantly by attending an intensive outpatient program (IOP).

In fact, attending IOP can literally save lives as people struggling with mental health issues are at a higher risk for committing suicide.

Most IOPs are scheduled 3 days a week and can be attended in person at a psychiatric (mental health) facility. These facilities may also offer an IOP for mental health over a video conferencing software such as Zoom.

After an episode caused by mental illness, a person may have trouble resuming their everyday life. IOP can serve as a stepping stone that will make this process much easier, and more importantly, much safer.

IOP is different from inpatient because participants don’t live at the facility while attending programming.

More often than not, IOPs will occur on weekdays and occur in the mornings as well as evenings. Participants are usually given the option on whether they want to attend morning or evening sessions. 

These programs may also help participants find housing and get a job.

An IOP typically lasts anywhere from 60 to 90 days and includes regular visits with a psychiatrist.

IOP for Mental Health: What It Is and Why It’s Important

People can easily observe their mental state by assessing how they are feeling. “I’m angry. I’m depressed. I’m anxious.”

What isn’t easy is knowing what to do about these feelings. “Intensive outpatient program” is not a term that many are familiar with. Many may not even know that such a great form of treatment is readily available to them.

If a person has a therapist or psychiatrist that they regularly see, they may get referred to an IOP.                      

IOPs can be thought of as a transitional process between going inpatient and returning to everyday life. Whether or not a person should go inpatient before starting an IOP is a decision that needs to be assessed by a psychiatrist.

Once the assessment is made, the patient will be directed accordingly. It usually depends on the acute severity of a person's mental state at the time of the assessment. 

Whether a person is transitioning from inpatient or starting at the IOP level, this stage of their care is a life and death matter.

Returning home, going back to a job, dealing with kids and significant others; these are all challenging aspects of life. IOP can provide extremely helpful and critical coping strategies to help navigate these life challenges successfully.

An IOP for mental health will also provide medication management. Patients will be able to see how their medication is working and how it’s affecting everyday life. Since an IOP will have a psychiatrist on call, medication can easily be adjusted as the need for it arises.

One of the most important aspects of an IOP is group therapy. A therapist will facilitate this type of therapy.

In a group setting, patients will be able to interact with others who are dealing with the same things they are. This creates an environment where genuine communication (including insightful feedback from the group) can take place.   

Along with group therapy, IOPs usually include one-on-one counseling and educational lectures. 

Any IOP is about getting positive results during a short period of time. After an IOP ends, mental health maintenance can be overseen by a psychiatrist and a licensed therapist.

IOP and Individual Counseling

Another integral component of any IOP is one-on-one or individual counseling. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) are the typical approaches for one-on-one therapy.

These 2 approaches help patients to identify negative ways of thinking known as cognitive distortions. Once cognitive distortions are identified, patients will learn how to challenge these distortions and develop new positive ways of thinking.

One-on-one counseling (often called psychotherapy) is a joint effort between both the therapist and the patient. One of the main goals of this type of counseling is to reduce the symptoms of mental health disorders.

These mental health disorders include:

There is a stigma associated with mental illness. If you have a cough or are sick to your stomach, nobody bats an eye when you call in sick to work. However, when the subject of mental health or mental well-being comes up, people are not always as understanding.

One-on-one counseling provides a safe space to talk. In this safe space, a counselor can offer practical advice and give support to a patient. 

Understanding and putting words to feelings is something many people struggle with. Learning how to navigate these feelings is an important part of therapy for an individual struggling with mental health issues.

Many times, there are life events that can trigger things such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, etc. 

These events can include:

Many times, counselors will have special training in certain areas, such as sexual abuse or chemical dependency.

An IOP will usually include lectures on mental health and substance abuse issues. These lectures are taught by licensed counselors and usually include educating participants about the effects drugs and alcohol have on the brain.

Lectures may include the following topics:

Attending IOP in conjunction with sober living, attending 12 step meetings, and finding stable employment is a recipe for success for anyone starting their journey in recovery from substance abuse disorder.

IOP for Mental Health and Group Therapy

One of the main benefits of group therapy is that it helps patients know that they aren’t the only ones struggling with mental health. This can be a huge relief for many. More often than not mental health issues isolate people.

When emerging from isolation, patients can find that they lack communication skills. Group therapy can be a safe training ground for developing communication skills.

These communication skills can then be taken into the outside world and mend and enhance a patient's relationships.

Getting constructive feedback from a counselor and peers is a huge part of group therapy. The counselor and/or other patients will have helpful feedback to offer from their own experiences. This will make dealing with specific problems a little less intimidating.

Any good IOP will have patients sign a treatment plan that lays out exactly what is expected of them. Treatment plans state the problem and give attainable goals for the patient. Group therapy can assess a person's progress towards achieving their goals.

Group therapy is a way for patients to check-in, identify their feelings, and talk about them. As with anything, you only get what you put into group therapy. Participation is essential to get the maximum benefit out of group therapy.

Mental Health Education

Another component that is common for most IOPs is mental health lectures. A licensed therapist runs a class where all participants can be educated on mental health.

Much of the information covered in these lectures is about neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that the brain releases when a nerve impulse gets to the end of a nerve fiber.

At this point, these chemicals make their way across a gap to another nerve — this is called a synapse. There are many different neurotransmitters:

Mental Health lectures will also often cover cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are erroneous ways of thinking that negatively affect someones’ perception. This can lead to self-sabotaging behaviors.

Common Cognitive distortions include:

Learning how to identify and challenge cognitive distortions is one of the most important goals of any IOP for mental health.

Outpatient IOP VS. Inpatient IOP

When a person goes inpatient, they are required to live at a facility. This stay can last anywhere from a week to months.

Some programs are even longer than that, but typically are anywhere from 10 to 30 days. As part of inpatient care, patients will receive housing, meals, medical doctor visits, psychiatric doctor visits, visitation with family and friends, and recreation.

Whether to go inpatient or straight to outpatient care will depend on the severity of a person’s mental illness symptoms at the time of a mental health assessment.

Both inpatient and outpatient programs alike will offer these assessments. If a person is a danger to themselves or others, then they probably need to go to inpatient before attending an IOP.

However, if a patient's condition is not as severe, they can go straight to outpatient care. The benefits of an IOP include a flexible schedule, lower cost than inpatient care, and the ability to live at their home while receiving treatment.

However, a disadvantage of IOP for mental health is that it doesn’t give participants a complete shield of separation between them and the outside world. Life’s responsibilities can become overwhelming, and some people need more structure.

As always, the right thing to do is consult a professional when trying to make the decision whether you or someone you know should go to inpatient for IOP.

Life After IOP

Attending an IOP is really just one step in the right direction toward recovery from mental illness.

Mental illness is something that can be managed quite successfully; however, it must continue to be treated throughout a person's lifetime. There are many self-help groups available to people once they finish an IOP. 

At these self-help groups, a person can meet other people that are going through the exact same thing as they are. A person can grow their support network exponentially and have a list of people to call.

Recovery from mental illness depends on structure and discipline, and an IOP for mental health will provide just that. 

IOP at ASIC Recovery

At ASIC Recovery, our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is dedicated to helping individuals develop healthier coping skills and build a recovery supportive network in all aspects.

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