Intro to IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program)

A woman holding a Starbucks cup and Mead composition book, sitting on the ground outside her garage with a backpack next to her. The graphic is done in a Back-to-School style and says, "Katie's first day of intensive outpatient program. I am 35. I love hot baths, travel, concerts, food. When I grow up I want to be healthy & emotionally intelligent. My favorite subject is acceptance and commitment therapy."

I just wrapped up my first week in IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) and I want to share my experience. Before recently I didn’t really understand what an IOP was and based on the feedback of my community, it seems a lot of you don’t either. People go into IOPs for all kinds of different reasons, from eating disorders to substance abuse, and really any reason you would seek mental health care. An IOP is for people who need more intensive care than weekly therapy but not quite inpatient. I am lucky to have a lot of friends who work in mental health, who helped guide me in deciding an IOP would be what I needed right now. I am going to share more about what an IOP is and how I decided it was the best route for me. Here is my personal experience as an intro to IOP.

Disclaimer: Always seek the advice of a mental health professional or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding your situation, to provide a diagnosis, or render other medical advice to you. If you are in crisis or you think you may have an emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. If you’re having suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area at any time (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). If you are located outside the United States, call your local emergency line immediately. ADAA.org

How I Found and Got Started with an IOP

A woman's hand on a bed that's covered with tissues, with one in her hand.

Prior to deciding on this particular program, I was still going to therapy once a week, and I have a psychiatrist that’s been following me for years. Things in my personal life have been compounding for the last year and I got to a place where I wasn’t sure my medications were right for me anymore. The grief and trauma triggers I was experiencing became too much for me to handle with what I had in place.

My friend, Lisa, runs a maternal mental health facility in New Jersey. She called me when I was in a particularly low place and offered to call around for programs I could participate in. I also looked in a local Atlanta Facebook group of women to see if anyone had started a thread about this kind of thing before, and was able to find great reviews about local programs. Lisa found out that one of the highest reviewed locations was doing assessments, and they happened to be close to where I live. A small miracle when you live in a metropolis like Atlanta.

I went in the next day for a two-hour assessment. It was probably the most thorough mental health assessment I’ve ever had. I felt very good about it. They told me pricing and how insurance works with them. They anticipated having a spot opening in the next week or two.

My First Week of an Intensive Outpatient Program

It’s been five days, today. The difference between how I felt after the program on Monday and how I feel today is so interesting to me. My IOP is 3 hours a day for three days of group therapy then 1 hour of individual appointments the other two week days.

Benefits of Group Therapy

At first I didn’t think I would benefit from the group sessions and the first day was nerve-wracking. I definitely could see benefits of group therapy that I didn’t expect. For instance, other people’s perspectives. It’s therapeutic just to hear about other people’s walks of life. It makes you feel less alone. It inspires gratitude. Spiritually, I feel like there are people in my group that I’m meant to connect with, to help teach me more about people I have relationships with. There are people in similar experiences as me. Group therapy allows me to process situations together and see through a different lens.

What is the ACT Model?

The ACT model stands for Acceptance Commitment Therapy. This is my first experience with ACT and I am really into it. It isn’t like therapy models where you stay stuck in your past and in your trauma. It acknowledges that we all have trauma but it’s more of a forward motion treatment. You learn the tools that will help get you to your values and end game. It honors the thoughts you’re having but gives you tools for what to do with those thoughts. Even though it’s only been a few days, I’ve already been able to put some of that into practice!

Read More of My Mental Health Journey and Get Resources

Check Out My Video Intro to IOP

I’m answering all your questions and sharing my complete thoughts on my first week of my Intensive Outpatient Program in this intro to IOP video.

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