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IOP Treatment for Eating Disorders: Everything You Need to Know

Written by: Nancy Graham, LCSW
Professional Relations Representative, The Renfrew Center of Northern New Jersey

IOP, or Intensive Outpatient Program, is a treatment option designed for those who need more support than standard outpatient therapies offer, but not quite a full Residential experience. Here’s everything you need to know.

An IOP creates a therapeutic community, where relationships are developed based on mutual sharing and support.

Who Can Benefit from IOP?

IOP can be an ideal option for those with busy school or work schedules in need of increased support, emotional tools, and some supervised meals. The IOP option, which meets three times per week, is an excellent “step down” for those transitioning from Day Treatment or a “step up” from outpatient services, such as individual therapy or group therapy.

What Are the Criteria for an IOP Level of Care?

Every level of care has specific criteria for admission to ensure that patients are getting the care that is best for them depending on symptoms and severity of their eating disorder and any co-occurring diagnoses. Some of the conditions that are considered include:

  1. Medical stability – daily medical monitoring is not necessary
  2. Psychiatric stability – symptoms are controlled, and the client is making progress while functioning in school or at work
  3. Physical safety – client is able to keep themselves safe
  4. Willingness and ability to participate and comply with program rules and expectations such as attendance, timeliness, and ancillary therapies
  5. Family and/or social support resources

What Does IOP Typically Include?

In an intensive outpatient program, patients will work with their treatment team to develop a unique treatment plan that meets their therapeutic needs. Individualized treatment goals are developed in collaboration with the patient, their multidisciplinary treatment team and their referring professionals. Specialized treatment tracks for co-occurring disorders might include Trauma and Substance Use for patients of all ages. Participants might meet multiple times per week at times that allow them to continue to work and go to school.

For example, as one of two innovative “transition” programs, Renfrew’s IOP enables participants to get the support they need while maintaining normal aspects of their lives as much as possible. The IOP at Renfrew includes:

  1. Evidence-based, emotion-focus treatment
  2. Individual Therapy
  3. Group therapy
  4. One staff supported meal per day
  5. Nutrition consultation
  6. Psychiatric services as needed
  7. Psychoeducation
  8. Expressive therapies
  9. Multi-family group and support system services

Therapists encourage participants to use the support of the therapeutic community to develop and practice their newfound skills.

How Long Does IOP Treatment Last?

The length of stay in an IOP can vary depending on the medical and emotional goals developed by the patient and their team. Every patient progresses at a different pace and treatment can last for a few weeks to a few months depending on many factors. These include:

  1. Improvement of eating disorder symptoms
  2. Ability and willingness to use learned skills outside of program and engagement in relapse prevention strategies
  3. Awareness of eating disorder behaviors, triggers and associated emotions
  4. Availability of supportive family or friends when needed
  5. Access to an experienced outpatient treatment team to further their emotional growth and recovery

Virtual IOP

If in-person treatment cannot be arranged, some providers offer virtual outpatient therapy supported by clinical staff trained in telehealth best practices. Virtual programs are HIPAA-compliant and provide the same skills and support found in in-person programs.

How Do I Know If I Need IOP Treatment?

Eating disorder thoughts frequently convince individuals that they are not sick enough for treatment, so it can be exceedingly difficult for many to recognize when a higher level of support is needed. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) developed specific guidelines for medical and mental health providers to use when recommending the appropriate level of care.

A qualified eating disorder specialist can provide a thorough assessment to identify which level of care would best fit your needs. Recovery can be difficult, but it is much less difficult when you have the structure, supervision, and the support you deserve.

Renfrew’s Intensive Outpatient Program

At The Renfrew Center, we provide a comprehensive continuum of care that includes Residential, Day Treatment and IOP where patients are able to transition to the appropriate level of care in order to successfully reach their treatment goals. Each patient is assessed and evaluated individually to be sure their specific needs are met in the most appropriate level of care for them depending on the severity of their eating disorder symptoms, medical status and any other mental health diagnoses. An eating disorder can be treated at any age and at any stage, however it is ideal to catch it and treat it as early as possible.

Renfrew’s IOP is designed to increase and inspire patients’ sense of strength, commitment and emotional resiliency, while decreasing the shame, secrecy and isolation that so often perpetuate symptoms.

Conclusion

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is a treatment option designed for those who need more support than standard outpatient therapies offer, but not quite a full Residential experience. As with any program, the goal of IOP is to create a therapeutic community where relationships are developed based on mutual sharing and support.

Recovery is a gradual process that takes time and patience. For some, this begins by gently exploring our patterns examining them through new perspectives. By choosing recovery, you are beginning the process of courageously letting go of the eating disorder behaviors in exchange for a more connected, authentic and deeply fulfilling life.

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