What to Expect From an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

Posted on Nov. 29, 2023, 3:48 p.m.

A Focused Tool For Recovery

No, it isn’t a group of friends hanging out by a camp fire, but it arguably is more beneficial.

It is also not IHOP, so if you clicked this post expecting pancakes sorry to disappoint 🙂

What is IOP in general?

My IOP program required a referral from my psychiatrist, which he eagerly gave me (a clue, a clue [inside joke for those of you with young kids]). With the referral I was able to attend the Mon-Wed-Fri sessions that ran from 9am – noon. Other IOP programs in my area had longer hours (8 hours – 4 days a week), so I consider myself lucky to live in the area I do. Regardless of the IOP that is available to you, my impression is that you are assumed to be on short-term disability so that you can attend without having work conflicts.

The three hour class was broken up into 3 one hour blocks. The first session was an opportunity for the group to “check-in”. Checking in means sharing with the group and the two therapists in the room how you have been feeling since the previous session and any difficulties you are having. Checking in also gives the staff the opportunity to see your progress towards stability/recovery and they can decide to extend your disability claim.

The next block of time involved going over Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy handouts on different subjects. I have taken with me a wide range of handout subjects including: signs of mania and depression, handling depression, social skills, time management skills, and many others. Usually these handouts have worksheets that you are given time to fill in, and an opportunity to share what you have written. One problem with the handouts was that my classmates came from diverse backgrounds (chemical dependency and mental health) so the handouts were not always relevant.

The final session of my IOP classes taught of different ways of reducing stress. We would listen to affirmative CDs, learn stress relief techniques, and mindfulness measures to use outside of class.

These are just my experiences, your IOP structure and experiences will undoubtedly vary greatly.

First Impressions

I went to IOP soon after receiving my diagnosis. For that reason, I had prejudices against IOP from the get-go.Suffice to say that I had too much pride to open myself to what the program offers. I felt above group therapy and remiss to admit that something was wrong with me.

With the first session being a group check in, and my shy nature, IOP and I were not off to a good start. After letting everyone go first I decided to have the courage to share why I was there. That did not go horribly (Read: I managed not to cry through it – Barely) and I felt good about being able to share with strangers in a sort of anonymous way.

I am a sucker for handouts so I really latched on to sessions 2 and 3, leaving with a generally positive first experience.

Evolving Opinions

While I was sometimes bored going to IOP, or felt I was better enough to stop going, it turned out that those around me noticed a positive bump in my disposition after each IOP session.

It also turned out that the group check-in became my favorite part of IOP. I really did like the chance to get things off my chest, and to hear the difficulties others with my diagnosis were going through. As bad as that sounds, I felt less isolated and less lonely in my diagnosis.

IOP Graduate Program

While I sometimes wish (could use) continued time in IOP, alas it is too much of a time commitment with a full time job. Luckily my health care provider has a (far less advertised) program called IOP Graduate Program. This class meets one evening a week and targets people who found recovery in IOP, and want a slimmed down version of IOP.

I breathe in calmness and breathe out nervousness.

Have you participated in an IOP program? What were your experiences like?

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