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How to Evaluate an Intensive Outpatient Program for Treating Addiction

IOP is a mainstream treatment option and one that is frequently covered by commercial insurance. There are many facilities offering programs and there is very little regulation about what should and shouldn’t be done within the treatment setting. It is in the best interest of the patient, then, to do the necessary evaluation of programs to identify a suitable service provider.

Evaluating IOP offerings should comprise the following considerations:

  • Therapist experience and specialty. Look for programs that are facilitated by qualified individuals with past experience in the particular area of treatment. Additionally, the IOP program, as a whole, should be supervised by a certified psychologist with PhD or PsyD credentials.
  • Testimonials from past clients. It is important to see client feedback, even if published anonymously.
  • Group meeting attendance levels. While there is no such thing as a perfect attendance number, it is best to find programs that have no more than ten participants in attendance. If the attendance is higher, there is not enough personalized attention and air time for each participant.
  • Availability of free consultation and initial group meeting participation. While most programs will do an initial consultation, some programs may even offer a participant the ability to attend a live group meeting prior to making a long-term commitment.
  • Program tenure per client. Patients get the most out of a program when they participate for the entire prescribed duration. While most programs will not publish drop-out rates, it is perfectly acceptable to ask other participants directly about how long they have been with the program.
  • Client selection. It is a good sign when a center asks pointed questions to assess client fit. This shows that the program administrators care about the impact that a new patient will have on their existing patient base.
  • Focus on treatment. Since there is no standard around what should be covered during IOP sessions, some programs choose to focus on one-directional rhetoric. Other programs take up group time by showing lengthy videos on a regular basis. A well-rounded program will create a collaborative problem solving environment and will incorporate a variety of services and activities.
  • Availability of therapists outside sessions. Some situations call for quick access to a therapist to discuss an urgent matter. It is advisable to look for programs that offer access to after-hours consultation on an as-needed basis.
  • Treatment planning rigor. Program administrators should take the time to create personalized treatment plans for all their participants.
  • Cost considerations. IOP programs are not inexpensive, given the intensity and long-term commitment of the approach. IOP programs will cost less than residential programs, and should be more aligned with corresponding hourly rates offered in individual therapy.
  • Availability of a pre-screened network of external resources. IOP administrators should offer external references to support services and other providers to maximize a patient’s chance of recovery in the long term.
  • Track record of clients showing improvement. Client records are confidential and it is hard to publish information relative to outcomes. However, the direction of the entire health care profession is moving towards outcomes-based care. In the coming years, this is going to become a reality and IOP programs will need to do their part in demonstrative efficacy of care.

Author: Seda Gragossian, PhD
Clinical Director
Talk Therapy Psychology Center
(858) 205-2490