What is Intensive Outpatient Treatment for Eating DisordersEver Wondered What is Intensive Outpatient Treatment for Eating Disorders?

Different levels of care exist to treat eating disorders.  The most intense treatment is hospital based Inpatient Treatment followed by Residential Treatment. A Partial Hospitalization Program, otherwise known as Day Treatment, involves spending the day in treatment, and then going home in the evening to spend the night. One meal and/or snack is eaten at home. The next lowest level of care, the one which this article focuses on, is Intensive Outpatient Treatment, otherwise known as IOP.

A typical IOP program runs three to five days a week for three to five hours per day, depending on the program. The IOP program consists of therapeutic groups, meals, and nutrition education.  There may be offsite outings to practice skills of daily living. In addition, the individual participating in the IOP program meets with the therapist and nutritionist at least once a week for individual sessions. There may also be a psychiatrist or medical doctor involved, but often these professionals are outside providers, and not part of the IOP program.

IOP Programs Offer Flexibility

People who attend IOP programs are functioning adequately in their lives but need more support and structure than what outpatient therapy provides to assist them with recovery. Seeing a provider for therapy or nutrition counseling once or twice a week may not be enough to help them.  Or, the individual may be transitioning from a higher level of care, such as a hospital, residential, or partial hospitalization or day program. The IOP program allows individuals to continue their life activities, such as working and going to school, and also attend treatment. Thus, an individual in an IOP program has the opportunity to live his/her life and get a good level of support at the same time.

Those who benefit most from an IOP program are able to handle the lower level of structure that treatment provides.  They are able to follow their meal plans and have better control over eating disorder behaviors such as binging, purging, restricting, and over-exercising.  Triggers, psychological issues resulting from the eating disorder, and/or lapses in behavior may still occur, which is why they continue to need the structure and support that an IOP program provides.  For others, there may be a lack of support at home.  Participants in an IOP program are medically stable and do not have medical complications that need intense monitoring or supervision.  Sometimes people who participate in this level of care may actually need a higher level of care.  Due to life circumstances, geographical limitations, or obligations involving family or work, they may be unable to participate in such programs.  An IOP program may be the only program they are able to attend.

Individuals may enroll in an IOP program at any time. The program consists of a group of individuals who are at different stages in their recovery.  Group members are often able to relate to each other, may have experienced or be at similar stages of life, and provide additional support and guidance to each other.  If a person who needs support and structure from a program does not receive it, it is more than likely that the individual will deteriorate and a higher level of care may be required. Thus, the support and structure of an IOP program often helps to prevent people from further decompensating.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment Guidelines

The following guidelines should be used when considering the appropriateness of an IOP program:

  1. Symptoms or difficulties related to the eating disorder are continuing to have an impact on the individual’s life.
  2. The individual would benefit from having some support and structure to learn how to manage and cope with their illness.
  3. Additional medical or mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, substance use, if present, can be safely managed at this level of care.
  4. The individual is not at imminent risk of serious harm to self or others.
  5. The family and/or individual are able to comply with the requirements of the program.

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