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Transitioning to Intensive Outpatient Treatment: What to Expect

What to expect at IOP program

Intensive outpatient services (IOS), also known as intensive outpatient therapy (IOT), provide a program made up of structured psychological treatments. This treatment type is used to support those with addiction and mental health disorders.

If you are transitioning to intensive outpatient treatment for the first time, you might be curious about what this all involves. The following guide will detail what to expect.

Making the Transition to Intensive Outpatient Treatment

Patients enter intensive outpatient services from different situations. Some will go into it “dry”. This means that they can enter an IOS program without any prior treatment if they have a primary mental health diagnosis.

Others will transition from a more intensive form of treatment, which could be either inpatient residential treatment or partial hospitalization from other treatment centers.

Inpatient Treatment

An inpatient program involves the patient remaining within a controlled environment on a 24/7 basis. This sees a person stay within a hospital or specialist treatment center under constant supervision. Inpatient programs are deemed necessary for those living and suffering from severe addictions or mental health disorders.

Staying within residential treatment centers can also be beneficial for those fearful of negative outside interactions, particularly from family members or friends during the early recovery stages, and instead, let medical professionals handle every aspect and provide support.

Partial Hospitalization

A partial hospitalization program (PHP), as the name suggests, involves spending a significant amount of time at a rehab facility as part of treatment. This is usually for multiple hours a day for various days across the week. However, unlike with inpatient treatment, a partial hospitalization program allows patients to live within their standard home environment.


Outpatient treatment is seen as the next step down from either inpatient treatment or partial hospitalization. Although not as intensive overall compared to the other two, outpatient services are still a powerful tool for long-term success with mental health issues and addiction treatment.

Numerous hours need to be committed each week to IOS, and this treatment is intended to improve social skills, provide coping strategies, offer a strong support system, and more.

What Is IOS Treatment?

Intensive outpatient services are used for treating addiction, mental health, and other issues. IOS is known for its flexible approach, where you are able to live at home and maintain work, school, and any commitments to your family while receiving treatment. IOS is built for people to meet supportive peers, improve their vocational and social skills, and learn skills to maintain sobriety and mental well-being.

Intensive outpatient treatment typically involves a range of services. These services include group therapy, individual counseling, and family therapy. This combination supports everything from trauma education to self-discovery, giving patients the right knowledge and skills they need for relapse prevention and enabling them to take the next step in their recovery.

Patients attend a treatment facility for IOS. Due to the nature of the therapy, those attending must commit at least nine hours towards treatment – split across at least three different sessions – each week. Programs usually last for between 10 and 12 weeks in total.

What Happens in Intensive Outpatient Treatment?

Now you have a general idea about IOS treatment, let us delve deeper into the specific services provided. Here are the four main components covered in detail:

Individual Therapy

Individual therapy is an integral component of any IOS treatment. Each patient has their own unique issues, concerns, and circumstances. When they attend therapy and make the most of individual sessions, a therapist has the opportunity to explore these points in detail, which allows them to give more pertinent advice and guidance compared to group sessions.

Individual counseling is also key because it gives a patient a different environment to open up. While group therapy sessions are built for sharing experiences with others, some may decide to bottle up certain stories due to shame or fear of ridicule. They may feel greater comfort about discussing more personal issues and experiences with a trained therapist in a confidential setting, one-on-one.

Individual treatment is also a way for therapists to teach specific coping strategies and skills that would most benefit a certain person. As mentioned, everyone is different, and some will find certain techniques more advantageous than others. A therapist is able to analyze the patient and come up with a roadmap that best suits their needs and situation.

Sessions will usually take place on a weekly basis. Aside from offering advice and coming up with therapeutic task assignments, they are used for keeping track of the IOS treatment plan as a whole. Therapists will evaluate progress and see how patients are doing with their mental health conditions or addiction recovery.

By doing so, when certain treatments are not producing the desired results, they are able to change course and recommend different tactics, medications, and so on.

Group Therapy

Group therapy sessions play a big role in IOS treatment. When someone is able to attend support groups, this offers them a chance to meet, relate, and learn from those going through similar struggles. It immediately shows people that they’re not alone in their battles.

Group counseling is designed to create a community, one that avoids the loneliness and isolation that can come from fighting addictions and mental health conditions.

Group therapy with an IOS involves a therapist leading a small group of people. The therapist is there to provide structure to each session, as well as provide helpful advice when necessary. Groups are built around a shared issue. For instance, participants could be made up of those dealing with severe social anxiety.

It is important for a shared issue to be the basis of group therapy. Having similarities among members helps to cultivate that community aspect where, instead of isolation and stigma, members feel a sense of acceptance and support, knowing they aren’t alone in what they are going through or are feeling.

They are given a safe environment to open up and share their thoughts and feelings. Additionally, the diversity of experience found within the group can result in new ideas and approaches on how to handle different challenges.

Group therapy is a way for participants to build a supportive environment away from home. With a support system made up of people in “the same boat”, they can lean on and help others while going through the recovery process together. Friendships can be forged with peers, and this can result in support years later after IOS treatment.

There is also value to group therapy for the therapist leading the session. Aside from learning new information from those opening up about their experiences, they gain a window into how participants function within social situations. This type of feedback can then be used for future therapy sessions.

Medication Management

For those with mental health or substance use disorders, their recovery is often supported by medication. This medication can take different forms and require different dosage levels. As part of IOS treatment, medication consumption is both assessed and managed.

With medication management, we first begin by closely analyzing the patient. It’s not just about looking at the mental health issue or substance abuse disorder that has brought them to therapy. It also involves an assessment of the patient’s stressors, lifestyle, diet, physical activity, physical condition, and symptoms. Everyone is unique, and it is essential all aspects are covered when deciding on which medication to use.

Medication management is vital for long-term recovery. If a patient isn’t responding as expected from medication, it is key this is picked up early. The quicker a more suitable form of medication is used, the better it will be for their recovery. It’s not only about the form of medication. Dosage levels also have to be closely monitored.

As time goes on, medication requirements can change. While enrolled on an IOS, patients will have their medication tracked on a continual basis. If it is felt that changes are necessary for a better outcome, these changes will be made and monitored to see if they produce effective results.

Family Therapy

Family therapy can be another useful addition to IOS treatment. This form of therapy sees family members attend sessions alongside the patient. This family unit can be made up of various different loved ones. Parents, children, siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents, close friends, etc. can all be considered as part of a family support system.

Again, a trained therapist, counselor, or psychologist will lead the session. While there are various forms of family therapy, the goal is generally the same: to foster healthy relationships and help everyone better understand what the patient is going through. This could be substance abuse or addiction recovery  

This is supported by therapists going over basic information pertaining to the patient’s condition, including information such as causes and prognosis, so they can come up with an effective treatment plan.  

When the family unit is able to come together as part of therapy, it can be an effective method to improve a patient’s support network. Family members are able to better understand the patient’s condition, sticking points can be hashed out, and valuable advice is given by the therapist.

Continuing Care

With any standard outpatient treatment program, the work isn’t done once a patient has finished their intensive outpatient services. This is why a continuing care treatment plan is put together once the program is finished. This plan further assists a patient when they move down to a less intense level of treatment.

Moving away from IOS can be difficult. Withdrawal symptoms can become more prominent. The lack of structure and routine could be damaging to someone’s mental state. As a result, continuing care helps a patient to successfully make the transition from IOS to another level of service. This preparation discusses the best treatment option for them, ensuring they are best set up for the future to continue achieving their recovery goals.

The Difference Between Inpatient and Outpatient Facilities

If a patient is transitioning from inpatient care to our treatment option, for example, it is likely they are curious how these differ from one another.

Remain at Home

In general, the main difference is that, with inpatient therapy, a patient has to remain at a facility overnight. Outpatient programs allow the patient to remain at home while they receive treatment.

Maintain Home Life

This level of flexibility and freedom offered by remaining at home is one of the major advantages of outpatient care. A patient is able to maintain their everyday life, including going to work and sticking to their family commitments, while attending therapy sessions.

Image: Don’t stop your commitments to family with outpatient care.

Treatment Time

With inpatient care, the patient must remain within the treatment center on a 24-hour basis. However, the length of time for treatment is noticeably different. With inpatient care, stays are usually short. A patient typically won’t remain within an inpatient facility for longer than a week. The aim of this treatment is to stabilize individuals and ensure they remain safe in the short term. The aim is then to move patients onto a different therapy solution – such as outpatient programs.

Compared to a residential program that may only last a week or less, outpatient care is conducted over a number of weeks, typically 10 or more. Rather than round-the-clock care and support, those attending outpatient therapy do so on a more structured schedule across a week. This is usually with three separate three-hour sessions on a weekly basis.

Level of Support

The level of treatment and support also differs between the two. Treatment is more hands-on with an inpatient treatment program, where a greater number of medical professionals get involved in providing care. Treatment programs for outpatient services naturally don’t involve the same level of support due to patients not living at the treatment center.


Whether it is dealing with behavioral health issues like eating disorders or substance abuse disorders, there are different treatment options available to help. While making the transition to outpatient treatment – whether as a new patient or stepping down from inpatient care – can be tricky, it provides the additional support and care required for long-term recovery.

The combination of support groups, one-on-one treatment programs, family support, and medication management gives patients a foundation to build on. By spending a few hours at an IOS treatment center each week, patients are able to do everything from learning coping strategies to promoting a more supportive home environment.

Interested in Speaking with someone from our team?

Call us today to learn more about our IOS Psychiatric Day Treatment program and how we may be able to help you or a loved one dealing with mental health concerns. 

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