3 Essential Elements of an Intensive Outpatient Program

3 Essential Elements of an Intensive Outpatient Program

An intensive outpatient program must be a fully-involved experience

Intensive outpatient programs are a mid-level intervention option for individuals battling an addiction and finding at least a moderate level of failure. An intensive outpatient program sits in between community-based outpatient programs and residential rehabilitation programs. These programs have some diversity, but each maintains certain characteristics with one another. Understanding what an intensive outpatient program is and its essential elements are a vital part of its success for an individual.

What is an Intensive Outpatient Program?

The American Society of Addiction Medicine has identified five primary levels in a continuum of care related to addiction recovery or treatment including the following:

  • 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

It is important to note that these levels are not necessarily distinct levels, but rather they are generally descriptive of different degrees of intervention. Intensive outpatient programs are an intermediary level of care, which typically serves as a step-up or step-down in intensity. These programs will often include individual and group therapy sessions along with skills training related to family relations, mental health issues and a myriad of other topics.

Individuals are referred to an intensive outpatient program as a step-up in service when community-based or outpatient services are not sufficient for him to maintain abstinence or as an opportunity to further develop relapse prevention tactics. A person can be transitioned to an intensive outpatient program after she has been stabilized in a residential rehabilitation environment. She will gain additional stability in a slightly less structured environment as well as beginning to address transitional challenges associated with reentry into a life outside of a rehabilitation center.

Three Key Elements of an Effective Intensive Outpatient Program

No two intensive outpatient programs are structured the same. Characteristics that vary include a rural or urban setting, the length of services provided and the intensity of the program. However, all effective intensive outpatient programs should include the following three components:

  1. A strong basis of consistent principles – The National Institute on Drug Abuse has established a series of 14 principles that should guide all substance abuse treatment programs including intensive outpatient programs. Included in these principles are the following:
  • Readily available treatment
  • Ease of entry
  • A priority on retention
  • Abstinence monitoring
  • Use of medications as necessary
  • Education about abuse, relapse and prevention
  • Inclusion of family members, friends and coworkers in the recovery process
  1. The inclusion of the full complement of core services on site – An intensive outpatient program must be a fully-orbed experience that supports and engages individuals in recovery in a variety of ways. Core services are typically considered to include the following:
  • Group counseling and therapy
  • Individual counseling
  • Psychoeducational programming
  • Vocational training and employment services
  • 24-hour crisis coverage
  • Community-based support groups
  • Psychiatric evaluation and treatment

Note that other services are often included in core services at a given intensive outpatient program. However, the services listed would generally be considered the bare minimum to qualify as an intensive outpatient program.

  1. Establishing an environment of health, healing and encouragement – While philosophies and core services somewhat address the environmental factors, this component is vital enough to mention on its own merit. An individual participating in an intensive outpatient program has experienced at least a moderate level of failure in overcoming his addiction on his own. It would not be uncommon for him to presume failure, to doubt his own abilities to conquer his addictions and to quickly give up after a single setback. The role of the intensive outpatient program is to provide encouragement, hope, support and practical strategies to overcome these setbacks and to step toward sobriety.

An Intensive Outpatient Program Does Not Equal Failure

Perhaps you find yourself looking at an intensive outpatient program to battle your addiction, and your emotional response is one of shame and guilt. This is a very common response, but it is not grounded in truth. The reality is that addiction can steal an individual’s independence to the degree that lower levels of intervention are insufficient.

The key to approaching an intensive outpatient program in a healthy manner is to keep the end goal—freedom from addiction—in mind at all times. The bottom line is that any intervention is worth the goal of sobriety.

The risks and the cost of continued addiction are too high. If this is where you are right now, the most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. We can help you. We can answer your questions. The admission counselors at our toll0free, 24 hour helpline can help you learn more about addiction. They can help you or your loved one find his or her way.