What Is an Intensive Outpatient Program?

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  • Written By: Lynda Lampert
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2019
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An intensive outpatient program (IOP) is a mental health program that seeks to assist patients on a less-intense basis than in a hospital setting. It is often used as a step down from a hospital ward and can be used in conjunction with 12-step programs. An intensive outpatient program is not used only in chemical dependency treatment but is also used in a wide variety of psychiatric services. These programs focus on both group and individual therapy.

Although the treatment in this program is less intense than in a hospital, it is more intense than a patient could expect from a one-on-one therapist. The patient is subject to intense group discussions, weekly meetings with the psychiatrist and daily check-ins with the staff of the program. The mental health of the patient is consistently monitored in a way that is not possible with normal outpatient treatment modalities. If the patient were to have a mental health crisis, the supports are in place and ready to spring into action at once to help the person.


After completing a course in detoxification in the hospital setting, a patient can enter a long-term intensive outpatient program that will focus on overcoming addiction in his or her everyday life. Given that it is an outpatient program, he or she will be able to live and work while still receiving the support that addiction psychiatry provides by way of the intensive outpatient program. A patient might attend a few days a week for a few hours a day in addition to a 12-step program schedule. In this way, an IOP provides a bridge for detoxification and addiction recovery, giving a patient a well-rounded solution for recovery.

The intensive outpatient program idea has also been put to use in other areas of psychiatric services. There are programs available for those who have eating disorders, suffer from a specific mental illness or suffer from any long-term mental illness. Those who attend the intensive outpatient program get to see a psychiatrist, a licensed therapist and group leaders who facilitate group interactions. Meeting with peers in the group therapy setting also is a benefit to the intensive outpatient program paradigm. The program provides support and treatment for everyone in the group and provides a safe place where patients can pursue their treatment.


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