An IOP must meet specific requirements to be labeled as such. The program must provide at least nine hours of treatment per week. For most programs, treatment is delivered three days per week in three-hour sessions. Some treatment facilities offer IOPs that feature up to 15 hours of weekly treatment.
Differences Between an IOP, OP, and PHP
Not all outpatient programs are created equal. Some may only offer educational workshops, while others are more intensive. Others offer a level of care that is comparable to that of an inpatient center.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) outlines various options that are available in addiction treatment.
Besides inpatient rehab, there are three basic types of outpatient treatment programs.
- Outpatient program (OP): These are treatment programs that offer therapy, education, and social support groups. Clients can continue to work, stay at home, and tend to other responsibilities while undergoing addiction treatment.This is the lowest level of outpatient care, generally requiring three to six hours of treatment per week.
- Intensive outpatient program (IOP): An IOP is a step up from a standard outpatient program, generally requiring a minimum of nine hours of treatment per week.A June 2014 paper on Psychiatry Services defines IOPs as alternatives to inpatient and residential programs. They aggressively focus on preventing relapse, creating social support networks, and teaching clients to effectively deal with triggers for drug or alcohol misuse.You can begin addiction treatment in an IOP, or you may transition to this level of care after finishing a residential program or a PHP.
- Partial hospitalization program (PHP): A PHP is a step higher than an IOP, requiring up to 30 hours of treatment per week. It is the most concentrated level of outpatient addiction treatment.Medicare defines a partial hospitalization program as an intense program that allows clients to get treatment during the day but does not require them to live at the facility. The level of care provided in a PHP is similar to that given in an inpatient treatment program.
The level of outpatient treatment that is best for you depends on many specifics of your situation. You and your treatment team will determine the right starting place for you after your initial assessment.
Available Staff and Resources in an IOP
IOPs do not have 24/7 services, but you should expect to have access to the same services as an inpatient treatment program, just in a more limited scope.
Psychiatry Services states that many IOPs provide an average of nine hours of sessions per week, and again, these are often divided into three-hour segments three times per week. Some programs expand upon this offering, providing clients with three-hour sessions five days a week.
IOPs are staffed with physicians, psychiatrists, therapists, other clinicians, and support staff. You can expect to work with all these professionals throughout your program.
In an IOP, you can expect to participate in:
- Individual therapy. You’ll work on personal issues that led to your initial substance abuse.
- Group therapy. A therapist will lead a group of clients in discussion, providing a safe space for everyone to share their experiences and learn new behaviors.
- Complementary treatments. Many IOPs offer alternative treatments, such as art therapy, music therapy, or ecotherapy, to augment the results of traditional therapy.
- Drug testing. Per a case 2011 case study from the Journal of Adolescent Health, drug testing is considered an important part of the recovery process. Most IOPs require client drug testing to ensure treatment compliance.
- Support groups. You’ll meet with peers in recovery to gain from your shared experiences and build your support network. Common 12-step programs include Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. There are also non-12-step social support groups available. Therapists do not lead these meetings; they are run by peers.
Each IOP will offer somewhat different services. Check with prospective programs regarding their specific offerings.
Types of Therapies You Can Expect at an IOP
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) outlines the many therapies you may encounter in an IOP, depending on the program. Individual, family, and group therapies are common, but the therapy method used may vary.
Your therapist may use any combination of the following types of therapies in both individual and group sessions:
- Contingency management: Also known as motivational incentives, this type of therapy uses positive reinforcement to ensure you stay on track with your recovery. In some programs, vouchers are given for every negative drug test. Other programs provide chances to win prizes at raffles. These may be worth anywhere from $1 to $100.The goal is to encourage positive steps in recovery.
- The Matrix Model: This common therapy is mostly used for clients who struggle with methamphetamine and other stimulant abuse. Under this model, clients receive education, support, and assistance through self-help programs.The goal is to abstain from substances and live a productive, drug-free life. Therapists foster a balanced relationship with clients, guiding them to solutions. You can expect homework with this method of treatment.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT assumes that clients can change their learning patterns in order to unlearn the behaviors that cause them to abuse substances. Clients identify problematic thinking patterns and change them. In doing so, they change their destructive behaviors.
The Importance of Participation
IOPs are quite intensive, and they require that you continuously participate in the program. In fact, SAMHSA’s Client’s Handbook for patients who use The Matrix Model says that if you do not fully participate, the program may not be as effective.
Like most things in life, you’ll get out of treatment what you put into it. Don’t be discouraged if your initial motivation is low when you begin an IOP. As you progress in recovery, you’ll find your motivation grows.
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