Addiction Recovery

Intensive Outpatient and Mental Health: Program, Treatment Duration, And Other Differences Patients Should Know

October 18, 2021

Is IOP the best choice? Let’s look at intensive outpatient programs in mental health, how it differs from other programs, and how it can be beneficial for you.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental illness or roughly 51 million in 2019 alone. Unfortunately, less than 50% of them received treatment even though most people with mental illness who receive care usually recover and get better. 

Acknowledging the need for treatment for mental illness like substance use disorder or SUD can be scary and overwhelming. The good news is that various treatment plans are available and getting help early can make a huge difference. In this article, let’s look at intensive outpatient programs in mental health, its difference compared to other treatments available, and how it can be beneficial for your  recovery.

Source: Pexels

What is IOP in Mental Health?

An Intensive Outpatient Program is defined as a program in which patients benefit from psychotherapeutic services on a three-day-per-week, three-hour-per-day schedule. It is a comprehensive program for people struggling with drug abuse, co-occurring disorders, eating disorders, and other mental health problems that do not require medical detoxification or close 24-hour supervision. The role of an intensive outpatient program in mental health is that it establishes structure and psychosocial support for clients and equips them with the right coping strategies to facilitate relapse prevention and to aid their recovery process. 

An Intensive Outpatient Program or IOP can be used in combination with inpatient care, to facilitate a smooth transition process for clients. This is called continuum care, a treatment system in which patients enter treatment at a level appropriate to their needs and then step up to more intense treatment or down to less intense treatment as needed. There are five main levels according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine also known asASAM:

  • Level 0.5: Early intervention services
  • Level I: Outpatient services
  • Level II: Intensive Outpatient/Partial hospitalization services
  • Level III: Residential/Inpatient services
  • Level IV: Medically managed intensive inpatient services

The main principle is that each level should not be considered separate from the others. All levels should be considered as entry points to the same goal: recovery. Thus, they are all necessary parts of the continuing care to see through the healing process. 

Is Intensive Outpatient The Same As Partial Hospitalization?

Now that we have laid out the levels of care, you might be wondering how an intensive outpatient program in mental health differs from partial hospitalization services. Is it the same? The straight answer is no. 

Generally, a partial hospitalization program offers more time in treatment and provides medical monitoring without residing on location. Partial hospitalization services are often ideal for patients that need more structure for stabilization. Ideal candidates would be those transitioning from inpatient rehab and those who need assistance in preventing full hospitalization.

On the other hand, an IOP is designed for people seeking to begin recovery without entering full-time inpatient treatment. It is often a step down from partial hospitalization and even inpatient rehabilitation. Usually, an IOP requires less time and intensity compared to partial hospitalization, but it still offers enough structure and support to be able to restore or improve the quality of life of the patient.

Difference of IOP and Outpatient Program

Another question you might ask is, what is IOP vs OP or outpatient program? Generally speaking, Outpatient Program is an umbrella term used to refer to outpatient care or mental health and rehabilitation programs that do not require patients to reside on location. Intensive Outpatient Program and Partial Hospitalization are both under this category.

However, if we are looking at OP in terms of level in the continuum care, then it refers to the program wherein patients attend treatment services like group therapy and individual therapy sessions. It is a step down from IOP and the program requires only around 1-3 hours a week per session. Often, an OP is ideal for people who are relatively more stable and in the process of transitioning from a more demanding treatment option such as an IOP.

If you are still unsure what to expect in IOP, the next section will highlight its features, including the benefits of this type of program and its core services.

How Does an IOP Work?

In a standard IOP, patients attend groups and individual sessions to achieve abstinence for substance-related illness’s, fostering behavioral changes that support a new and healthier lifestyle, as well as  developing a good support network. 


One of the main benefits of an IOP is that after sessions, the patients can go back home. This is ideal for people who are breadwinners or those who might also be caring for family members. Another benefit is that an IOP costs less than partial hospitalization or inpatient care which is the most expensive among all treatment programs. If you are looking for a more affordable treatment program and wish to maintain work, school, and other commitments, an IOP is the optimal choice for you. Apart from these, you can expect to:

  • Set-up or re-establish psychosocial support system
  • Learn and develop the right coping mechanisms
  • Learn and develop relapse prevention and management
  • Address challenges related to social well-being, mental health, and emotional wellness
Source: Pexels

IMPORTANT NOTE: Since people in IOP can reside in their own homes, ideal clients for IOP treatment are those who have a good support system. Having encouraging family members and friends is vital in the recovery process. However, inpatient treatment is generally recommended for clients who live with other family members that consume alcohol and other substances. An intensive outpatient program is also not generally advised for those with critical cases of drug or alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders as they require the highest level of care and supervision possible.


An intensive outpatient program in mental health uses a variety of theoretical approaches to treatment. Here are the three commonly used and studied treatment approaches that form the core of IOP:

  • Individual-based Therapy. These sessions aim to modify behavior, emotions, and attitudes related to mental health illness, helping patients participate in their own recovery. Some of these are dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and motivational interviewing (MI). 
  • Group-based Therapy. These sessions are facilitated by at least one therapist. They serve as a safe space for patients to relate to others who are struggling with the same issues. Group-bases therapy also offers patients the chance to offer insights and help other patients, building supportive relationships.
  • Support Groups. This method sees the community as part of the recovery process. Some of these are mutual help groups such as the12-step programs, recovery high schools, and peer recovery support. 

How Long Does An Intensive Outpatient Treatment Last?

IOPs generally provide structured programs and services for at least 9 hours or more per week. This can be 3 hours of session, 3-5 days a week. The program can last from a month to 45 days, but this should be increased or decreased depending on the patient's clinical needs, support system, and recovery status. Often, a longer duration of care results in better treatment outcomes.

Source: Pexels

Whether you are looking for an intensive outpatient program in Oregon or just seeking professional advice, we at Another Chance are here to help. Our treatment center takes pride in providing high-quality addiction and mental health services to ensure the optimal level of care you and your loved one need.

Come visit us at 12670 NW Barnes Rd Suite 200, Portland. We believe that everyone deserves another chance. Let us help you find yours.