Female teenager sitting at a table on her computer. She is attending virtual Intensive Outpatient Programming from her computer.

How Do I Know if I Need an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)?

July 24, 2023

7 min.

Not sure if you need the level of care that an intensive outpatient program (IOP) provides? Read on to learn about the benefits of IOP and signs you might need this more than once-weekly care option.

By: Ashley Laderer

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

Learn more about our Clinical Review Process


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Table of Contents

Seeking care for a mental health condition can feel daunting. When you’re coping with troubling symptoms, emotional distress, and feeling down, it can be hard to know what kind of help you might need, including how intensive your treatment should be.

In some cases, once-weekly outpatient therapy may not provide the care needed to manage severe mental health symptoms. In these cases, an intensive outpatient program (IOP), can offer a more comprehensive approach to mental health treatment. 

By understanding the benefits and indications for an IOP, you can make an informed decision about the level of care that best supports your well-being and path to recovery.

Here’s what you need to know about different reasons why someone may need an IOP and some benefits of IOPs over other types of treatment. 

How do I know if I need IOP?

The general rule of thumb is: if you need more care than once-weekly therapy but don’t need 24/7 mental health monitoring in an inpatient program, IOP could be a fit for you.

But first, let’s dive into what exactly an IOP is, so you can determine if it might be your best course of action.

While typical outpatient treatment involves a single therapy session per week, IOP offers more support and structure, with multiple sessions conducted throughout the week in both group and individual formats. Different therapy modalities are used throughout these sessions, which will help you learn to cope with mental health conditions. Some IOPs, such as Charlie Health’s IOP, also include family therapy. This combination makes for a well-rounded treatment plan.

In Charlie Health’s intensive outpatient program, a typical schedule involves:

  • 1 hour of individual therapy every week
  • 1 to 2 hours of family therapy every week
  • 3 hours of group therapy sessions per day, held 3 days a week 
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4 signs you might need an IOP

While everyone’s mental health journey is unique, there are certain indicators that may suggest the need for IOP. If you identify with one or more of the following signs, it may be time to consider an IOP:

1. Weekly therapy isn’t bringing you relief

For many people who suffer from mental health conditions and have severe symptoms, traditional once-weekly therapy is not enough to manage the condition and its symptoms. If you’ve been in outpatient therapy for an extended amount of time and haven’t seen significant improvement, an IOP can provide longer, more frequent intensive treatment to address mental health conditions and promote long-term recovery.

When attending therapy more often and for longer durations of time, there are more chances to learn new coping skills, receive more therapy, and foster recovery. You will also have added social support and community while in groups. 

Here are some common signs that once-weekly therapy isn’t enough for your recovery:

  • You’re experiencing severe symptoms that are worsening over time
  • You have co-occurring mental health conditions (meaning more than one), and you’re having trouble getting one or more under control
  • Your mental health symptoms are significantly impacting your daily life, overall functioning, relationships, and performance at work or school 
  • You experience frequent “relapses” where your mental health condition flares up and symptoms worsen 

2. You’ve been discharged from an emergency department and need treatment

If you have recently been discharged from an emergency department for a mental health crisis or emergency, you likely need intensive care, even if the emergency department does not refer you to inpatient hospitalization. In this case, an IOP might be the right fit if you require ongoing support and monitoring but do not require full-time inpatient treatment.

An IOP can provide structured treatment and resources to help you get back on your feet and prevent further mental health crises. For example, after completing an IOP with Charlie Health, 94% of clients do not re-admit to a higher level of care, such as an emergency department. 

3. You’re transitioning out of inpatient care

If you’ve recently completed a residential or inpatient treatment program, an IOP can help you transition back into your everyday life while stablizing your mental health. Once-weekly therapy might not be sufficient care after an inpatient program, but an IOP offers a middle ground, allowing you to receive intensive treatment while you live at home. Unlike an inpatient program, you can attend work or school while in an IOP. Your therapists and facilitators in an IOP will help you work towards recovery while you transition from inpatient to outpatient life. 

4. You need intensive care, but a partial hospitalization program isn’t the right fit

A partial hospitalization program (PHP) is similar to an intensive outpatient program, however it is much more of a time commitment. An IOP typically involves 10 to 15 hours a week, while a PHP can be upwards of 25 hours or more per week. On top of the additional time, a PHP involves more clinical supervision than an IOP. 

PHPs and IOPs are both effective treatments. For more high acuity, or severe cases, a PHP might be a better fit –– but if your condition is moderate to severe and you want intensive treatment with slightly less time commitment, you might opt for an IOP. 

Alternatively, just like an IOP can help someone transition from inpatient care to outpatient care, it can provide the same option for those completing a PHP but still need more structure than once-weekly therapy. 

Male teenager in a blue shirt at weekly therapy with a female therapist in a green shirt. He is stepping up in care from weekly therapy to Intensive Outpatient Programming (IOP)>

The benefits of an IOP

If you’ve determined that you might need an IOP, you may be wondering about the unique upsides to these programs. Here are five benefits of an IOP, which also hold true for Charlie Health’s virtual IOP. 

1. They treat a wide array of conditions

IOPs can help treat a variety of mental health conditions. For example, Charlie Health’s IOP addresses:

  • Anxiety disorders 
  • Behavioral issues
  • Depression
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Self-harm
  • Substance use disorder
  • Technology and online addiction
  • Trauma

Furthermore, your care team will be well-equipped to treat co-occurring conditions if you have multiple diagnoses. Frequent, intensive therapy allows you and your providers ample time and resources to address all of your mental health concerns.  

2. IOP combines many treatment modalities

On top of incorporating both individual therapy and group sessions, many different types of therapy modalities are used in IOPs.

Charlie Health’s IOP includes the following kinds of therapies: 

  • Art and music therapy
  • Attachment-based family therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Compassion-focused therapy (CFT)
  • Dance and movement therapy
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills
  • Drama therapy
  • Experiential therapy
  • Exposure therapy
  • Family support groups
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Relational therapy
  • Yoga, mindfulness, and meditation

In once weekly therapy a therapist might incorporate one or two types of therapy, but an IOP offers a well-rounded, holistic approach to mental health, focusing on different aspects of your emotional and mental health to promote recovery. 

3. IOP provides peer support

Group sessions in IOP are a main component of healing. Groups create a sense of community, providing opportunities to connect with other people facing similar challenges. These shared experiences foster empathy, understanding, and a supportive environment where IOP participants can feel heard and validated. You can share your struggles, offer advice, learn new skills, and realize that you are never alone in your struggle. The feeling of solidarity and camaraderie that develops within an IOP can be a powerful source of encouragement and motivation in your recovery.

4. IOP allows you to continue with your daily life

IOPs give you the best of both worlds –– you can receive structured, frequent care while continuing life as usual. Many IOPs, including Charlie Health’s virtual IOP, occur in the evening. This way, clients can go to work or school during the day and then focus on their recovery in the evenings, making this an ideal solution for those who don’t need the constant supervision of inpatient treatment. 

5. They set you up for success after the IOP is complete

An IOP will set you up for success in multiple ways. First, the work you put in during your individual and group sessions will allow you to make great strides in your recovery by addressing the underlying causes of your mental health struggles, unpacking trauma, identifying and restructuring unhealthy thought patterns, building confidence, learning to regulate emotions, and more. After IOP, you’ll be equipped with new coping skills that you can carry into your daily life and use for years to come. 

Second, at Charlie Health, you will have a discharge plan when you are ready to step down to a lower level of care. A dedicated discharge team helps clients find resources and options for outpatient treatment that work for their location and insurance.

Additionally, there’s an alumni network that provides services for clients who have been discharged.

How Charlie Health can help

To sum it all up, IOP provides a middle ground between traditional outpatient therapy and inpatient treatment. So if you or someone you know is a young adult or teen struggling with their mental health and could benefit from intensive treatment, Charlie Health may be able to help. 

To be sure if Charlie Health’s IOP is the right fit for you or your loved one, contact us to learn more today.

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