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How an Intensive Outpatient Program Helped My Teen

Intensive outpatient programs (IOP's) can be extremely beneficial for any young adult, especially those young adults who are experiencing mental health issues.

How an Intensive Outpatient Program Helped My Teen

Adolescence is an important period for teens' mental, social, and emotional well-being. Throughout their teenage years, adolescents' brains undergo significant changes, establishing behavioral patterns that will last into adulthood. As a result, existing mental disorders among children often become more intense during the transition to adolescence. In addition, untreated mental health disorders among adolescents could negatively impact academic performance, interpersonal relationships, and other long term aspects of their lives.


When teens' moods disrupt their ability to function on a day-to-day basis, it might indicate a serious mental health disorder that needs attention. In 2019, approximately one in seven adolescents experienced a mental disorder, amounting to 166 million adolescents globally. Moreover, in a 2020 survey, seven in 10 teens reported experiencing mental health issues during the pandemic.


Every teen is unique, and it's essential for your teenager to receive the level of care that is right for them. Although weekly therapy and counseling sessions can be extremely beneficial, some teens need a higher level of care to work toward their mental health goals. An extended treatment team offers a holistic, multifaceted approach that many teens and families need to start thriving instead of just coping. Here's how to take action and find your teen the support they need so they can live a healthy, happy life.


Benefits of Intensive Outpatient Programs for Teens

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Intensive outpatient programs are similar to inpatient programs, which focus on active participation and engagement. However, if your teen is unable to set aside academic commitments or other responsibilities to be fully immersed in an inpatient program, IOPs offer a middle ground. And in many cases, IOPs offer a more affordable alternative to traditional residential treatment programs while providing high-quality, comprehensive care.


Throughout their treatment, teenagers can use their coping strategies in real life to navigate their mental health concerns and cope with stressful situations. In addition, research shows that many intensive outpatient programs have a higher success rate than other outpatient approaches. Some of the top benefits of IOPs for adolescents and young adults include:


  • Preventing isolation and loneliness. Social support, especially parental support, can play a significant role in your teen's recovery. However, inpatient programs can lead to isolation and loneliness after teenagers are separated from their close friends and family members. In contrast, an IOP makes it easy for your teen to access high-quality, comprehensive treatment without leaving home or living in a residential treatment facility. Although teenagers need to dedicate a few hours to treatment on a weekly basis, they'll be able to hang out with friends, spend time with family members, and maintain their academic commitments. Intensive outpatient programs allow parents to actively participate in their teen's treatment, providing parents with valuable opportunities to listen to, acknowledge, and validate their teenagers throughout the recovery process.
  • Meeting new people. Group therapy can provide another important source of support for teens during their treatment. Group therapy sessions are led by a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or counselor, and typically include 5–15 members. During group sessions, teenagers can connect with people in similar situations, share their experiences, and learn healthy coping strategies to navigate life's challenges. Group members can also hold each other accountable and keep your teen motivated throughout their IOP.
  • Privacy and confidentiality. Many teenagers are hesitant to seek treatment because they feel ashamed of or embarrassed by their mental illness. Whether your teen is experiencing substance use problems, depression, or anxiety, remote intensive outpatient treatment offers a more private solution than inpatient treatment while delivering the higher level of care your teen needs. Many IOPs also offer flexible scheduling options, including evening and weekend appointments, so your teenager won't have to miss school or extracurricular activities to attend therapy appointments. This way, your teen won't have to worry about explaining absences to their friends, family members, or teachers. Plus, teens can reach out to their treatment team anytime without going through their parents or visiting a treatment center.
  • Structured, flexible treatment options. An intensive outpatient program will give your teen the structure they need without interfering with their daily routine. Even if you don't live near a treatment center, remote IOPs make it easy for your teen to connect with expert clinicians, addiction professionals, and mental health providers from the comfort and privacy of home. IOP treatment typically occurs in regularly scheduled sessions, with many programs including some combination of individual, group, and family therapy.
  • Comprehensive, individualized treatment. Intensive outpatient programs are designed to help even the most vulnerable teenagers, including those who haven't had access to high-quality treatment. During your teen's treatment program, they'll be able to work with a team of experienced clinicians to create an individualized treatment plan based on their specific needs and preferences. At Charlie Health, we focus on personalized, empathy- and compassion-based treatment plans to ensure successful, sustainable healing.


What Can IOPs Help Treat?

Intensive outpatient programs provide comprehensive treatment for a wide range of mental health conditions. These personalized treatment programs include several evidence-based modalities, including group and individual therapy, family therapy and support, and mindfulness practices, to ensure a successful recovery and provide a high level of care throughout treatment.


At Charlie Health, our experienced, compassionate team of clinicians will work with your teen and family throughout the treatment process to create an individualized treatment plan based on your teen's unique needs, preferences, and experiences. Our IOP program can help treat the following conditions in adolescents and young adults:


  • Depressive disorders, including major depression, melancholic depression, atypical depression, and dysthymia
  • Trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorder, and relational trauma
  • Mood disorders, including mood dysregulation, persistent depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and dissociative identity disorder
  • Self-harm, including suicidal ideation
  • Self-addiction and substance use problems, including alcohol addiction, prescription drug addiction, and drug abuse
  • Behavioral addiction, including sex addiction, codependency, and relationship addiction
  • Technology addiction, including social media addiction and gaming addiction
  • Other disorders, including borderline personality disorder, gender identity issues, and ADHD


Many mental disorders first emerge during adolescence, including depression, anxiety, and ADHD. Although mental illnesses typically have a genetic factor, environmental factors can also contribute to their onset. For example, ADHD may not manifest until puberty, and forms of depression may not become apparent until early adolescence.


Is Intensive Outpatient Treatment Right for Your Teen?

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Intensive outpatient programs are best for adolescents and young adults who experience mental health concerns that disrupt their daily functioning. If your teen needs a higher level of care than once-a-week individual therapy sessions offer, or they don't meet the necessary criteria for inpatient treatment, an IOP offers a convenient, flexible solution. Some signs that an IOP program might help your teen include:


  • Poor academic performance, constantly handing in late assignments, or missing days in school
  • Withdrawing from close friends and family members
  • Losing interest in activities and previously enjoyed hobbies
  • Sleeping problems, such as insomnia and nightmares
  • Inability to sit still or focus on tasks
  • Fatigue, lack of concentration, or oversleeping
  • Constant mood swings, i.e., shifting between moods of low energy and hyperactivity
  • Seeming constantly anxious or worried
  • Engaging in self-harm, such as cutting, picking, or biting
  • Having suicidal thoughts
  • Risky behavior, such as unsafe driving, unprotected sex, or binge drinking
  • Smoking, taking drugs, or drinking

Although experimenting with drugs or alcohol is not encouraged, it does not necessarily suggest a substance use disorder. With that said, if your teen engages in drug or alcohol use and also engages in the other behaviors listed above, this combination of behaviors indicates a red flag, and it's worth seeking professional help.


Even if your teen doesn't openly express their feelings, it's important to keep an eye on their behavior. Talking about mental health concerns with teenagers can be a touchy subject. Teenagers might not be willing to express their feelings if they don't think that you will greet them with unconditional support. To talk to your teen about their mental health, keep an open, honest line of communication to show your teen that they can talk to you about anything. Often, the best way to start the conversation is to talk about your own experiences.


Remember: adolescence is a time of transition and change. However, severe and dramatic changes in behavior may be red flags of mental health issues. These behaviors don't always indicate a psychiatric diagnosis, such as major depression, but could still signal something going on in their life. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple conversation to help you decide if your teen's behavior warrants individual counseling or a clinical treatment program.


Contact Us

If your teen is struggling with their mental health, it's essential to give them the support they deserve. Left unchecked, mental health disorders can be incredibly damaging. To provide a safe, supportive environment at home, parents should keep an eye on their teen's moods and behaviors to watch out for any signs of mental illness.


At Charlie Health, our accessible, personalized treatment programs are designed to help clients and families meet their goals. With our telehealth platform, you can connect with an experienced, licensed therapist from the comfort of your own home using your laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Contact us today to learn more about treatment options for your teen.


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