Intensive Outpatient Program (I. O. P.) Pt. 3: What IOP Taught me

If you have not read part one or part two of this blog series, I highly encourage you to check those out before continuing on through this post. Those two posts give a lot of context to what I’ll be talking about here.

My time in IOP was not only very much needed, but it taught me so much about myself and the world around me. Below I have explained eleven lessons I learned in IOP.

#11 My Emotions are There to Help Me

One of the main exercises we did in IOP were “emotional sculpts.” This is where you assign one of the “Inside Out” emotion characters to each member in the group, you stand in the center of the room and you place the emotions in proximity to you based on how you feel them. The emotions act out or say whatever it is they have been saying to you in your mind, and then you get to rearrange them to how you need them to be. You change their actions and words to become positive so they are now on your side.

This exercise changed the way I view my emotions of fear, anger, disgust, joy, sadness and even my distraction methods. By seeing them as a team, there to help me, it makes it easier to ride the waves of these feelings when they arise. It taught me to sit back and process each emotion and what they could be helping me with. It taught me not to fear my emotions anymore, but to lean into them.

#10: Rest is Essential

While going through my Intensive Outpatient Program, I was also on a leave from work. I was intentional about using my time off to rest my body and my mind. I got into a healthier sleep routine. I got on medicine to help me get restful sleep because prior to my time off I was waking up every hour in the night. I allowed myself to nap when needed and to have days of staying in bed a little longer. I began to understand how rest can impact not only my mental health but my physical health too. I learned how much rest my body needs to thrive. Giving my body rest taught me how to listen to my body and to better care for myself.

#9: It’s okay to Reach out for Help

I am a type A personality. I have rigid expectations for myself, and I often feel as though I need to push myself to reach those. Asking for help has always been a huge struggle for me. Asking for help involves taking a risk, making yourself vulnerable, and it often feels defeating. When I was offered the chance to do IOP my pride and ego screamed, “NO!” My mind kept telling me that if I were to take this step it would mean that my mental health was unfixable, I was hopeless, and I must be “crazy”. I knew in my heart it was what I needed, but my pride got in the way for far too long.

By being humbled into the position of having to do IOP, I learned that not only is it OKAY to reach out for help, but when I do reach out for help, I will be able to see how much people love and care about me. I learned and finally realized that it takes strength and courage to reach out for help.

I’m living proof that reaching out for help very well could be the best thing you ever do. Reaching out for help could be God’s way of blessing you with relationships and things you never even knew you needed. Reaching out for help could be a way for God to show you how much He loves you.

#8: It’s Okay to Take Care of Myself

Nobody can care for you the way you can care for yourself.

Let that sink in for a moment. Nobody can take care of you the way you can care for yourself because they are not you. This was a huge revelation for me. Again, this wasn’t something I had never heard before, but it was something that I never allowed to take hold within me.

Prior to my time off, I had already begun to care for myself in the food I ate and getting more exercise; however, I wasn’t actually listening to my body. When I would go on diets and exercise in the past it was because I wanted to look better or I thought others would like me more if I lost weight. Unhealthy, right?

By taking time off of work, resting, going through IOP, and learning to love myself, I began to WANT to take care of myself. When you love yourself as you are, you begin to want the best for yourself. I began to learn how to listen to my body. Thus, I learned not only that it is OKAY to take care of myself and put myself first in certain situations, but I learned that I feel better when I do and can give more of myself to others. Now, I am more in tune with my body and I know what my body needs. I love and care about myself now, thus I desire to be healthy and care for myself. It’s amazing what self-love and compassion can do for all areas of your life.

#7: Vulnerability opens doors

“There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.”
M. Scott Peck

Like many people, vulnerability is a scary thing for me. It’s scary to risk your reputation, your heart and your relationships. I kept so many things bottled up inside for so many years. I feared that I would no longer be loved if I shared the dark parts of me with those I love so dearly. I was so very wrong. By sharing those very things with those around me, it allowed me to be loved more deeply than I could have ever imagined. It allowed me to have true community with those around me. To be fully seen and to be loved despite my faults, my sins, and the things I thought made me unlovable, is so powerful.

#6: Acceptance

The activities and experiences I did in IOP helped me to learn to accept where I am at in life, the things that have happened in my life, and who I am. It gave me such an appreciation and different perspective on the experiences I have had and how they have shaped me into the person I am today. I learned to accept myself as I am, so that I can love myself, but also so that I can move forward and continue to grow. If we do not accept who we are and where we are at in life, we get stuck. Accepting where you are in life is the first step in moving forward because you know you’re starting point. By accepting yourself, you learn to also accept others.

Not only that, but I saw first hand that by being vulnerable about my struggles, it opened the doors for others to feel comfortable enough to share in their own struggles with me. It created bonds and connections with others who were experiencing the very same thing that I was. It encouraged trust and community. I now know that vulnerability is the only way to have true community because it allows others to see and love all parts of you.

#5: It’s Okay to Let Go

One of the most memorable experiences in IOP was the experience of letting go. We had to make a collage using words and pictures from magazines that represented things we were holding onto that we needed to let go of. Once we all finished our collages, we sat in a circle and shared what each thing in our collage represented.

We all stood around a trash can. One at a time we would hold our collage out over the trash can, share with the group the negative impacts that holding onto those things had in our lives. Each time we shared a negative impact, a member in the group would place a hand on top of our hand. This was to represent the weight we feel when we hold on to things we shouldn’t. Finally, when everyone’s hands were pressing down, we had to answer the dreaded question… “Are you ready to let these things go?”. When we were ready, the weights came off of the hand as we dropped the collage into the trash.

This experience will forever stay in my heart. It taught me that it is not only okay to let go of things in our lives, but that it is necessary in order to move on and make progress. When I am weighed down by things, I get stuck. By giving up control to God and letting go of those things, I am lighter and free to move forward.

#4: Self Forgiveness

Forgiveness is such a challenging thing to do for many people, myself included; however, in IOP I learned that it is much easier for me to forgive others when they hurt me or do not meet my expectations. The person I rarely offer forgiveness and compassion to is myself. I learned that in order to be able to offer true forgiveness and compassion to others, we have to first be able to offer compassion and forgiveness to ourselves. How can we love others deeply if we cannot first love the person we spend the most amount of time with?

I learned that self forgiveness is something I have to continually practice. As a type A personality, I hold myself to such high, unobtainable expectations and when I don’t meet them, I beat myself to a pulp. My self talk used to be awful, and it’s definitely something I still struggle with; however, I’m more aware of the way it impacts me and am able to reframe my thinking. Just take a moment and think about what message you tell yourself when you make a mistake? Is it, “that’s okay, you’re human.” or do you say something like, “you’re so stupid, why did you do that?”.

Reframing the way I talk to and treat myself, has made a way for me to be able to not only love myself but it has opened the door for me to see myself the way God sees me. It has shown me a small glimpse of the kind of love He has for me.

#3: I Am Not Alone

IOP taught me that I am not alone in my struggles. No matter how many forums, facebook groups, or chats you have online with those who are struggling with similar issues, it cannot replace the connection of face to face interaction. I knew I wasn’t alone in my struggles with anxiety and depression before going into IOP, but connecting with people face to face who were in similar circumstances as me, was invaluable. Being surrounded and embraced by people who get it, have been there, and thus have nothing but love and acceptance for you is something you can never replace with online communication. I am not alone, and YOU are not alone in whatever it is you are facing.

#2: I Can Love Myself

Like most people, I have gone my entire life being my own worst critic. I offer so much compassion, empathy, and forgiveness to others, but I beat myself up.

I learned to forgive myself for not meeting my own unrealistic expectations, my part in things that have happened in life, and most importantly I learned that it is okay to have compassion for myself. In order for us to love others, we first have to learn to love ourselves. I now know to listen to my body, care for my body and mind, and to treat myself with the compassion and respect I give to others. When I view myself the way God sees me and I look back on how far I have come, I can’t help but appreciate who I am and who He made me to be.

#1: I Am Loved and Accepted

This wasn’t the first time I had ever heard or felt that I am loved and can be accepted, but it was the first time in a long time that I truly felt it within my soul. My IOP group became a little family. Everyone was there for similar reasons, so there was no judgement, just pure acceptance. It was the first time in a long time that I felt like I wasn’t alone and felt like other people truly understood what I was experiencing. I was able to be vulnerable with them and I got nothing but love and acceptance in return.

Even though it wasn’t the first time I had heard these lessons, it was the first time in a long time that I felt God reaching His arms around me and loving me via strangers. After finishing my last IOP session, I was filled with so many emotions. I wept the entire 45 minute drive home because I was filled with so much gratitude that God chose to love me in such a tangible way. I just kept thanking Him for using IOP to show me a glimpse of how loved I am. It’s a moment and feeling I hope to never forget. It’s a feeling I hope every person can experience.

Conclusion

If there is anything I want my readers to take away from this three part series, it is this: reaching out for help does not mean you are weak, it means you are strong and courageous. Taking time to process life, who you are, and what God is trying to show you is worth more than you can imagine. This life is but a glimpse in terms of eternity. Don’t get so caught up in work and life that you cannot take time to process and acknowledge the work of God in your life. Don’t keep pushing yourself until you are forced to stop and rest from illness or injury, begin resting and being present now.

If IOP is something you think you need, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for it. If you think community and vulnerability is something you need, share that with a trusted person in your life. I don’t think God wants us to just be busy bodies, He wants us to be present and in deep community with Him and others. Please take care of yourself. You are the only you in this world, and you have one life. Live it well and know you are loved more than you could ever imagine.

Thank you so much for reading my rambles and supporting my work. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

As always, I am not a licensed therapist and these thoughts are all my own. If you are in crisis or feel hopeless, please call 911 or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Edited by Morgan Rice

Intensive Outpatient Program (I.O.P.) Part 2: What led me to I.O.P?

I am honored and humbled to say that I had the privilege to be a part of a mental health I.O.P. group for eight weeks. During those eight weeks, I was also off of work. It was some of the hardest, but best weeks of my life. If you haven’t read my previous blog post, part one titled, What is IOP? You can read it here.

What Led Me To I.O.P.

This post is going to be a bit vulnerable. Please bear with me.

For those who don’t know me or my journey with mental health, I want to give just a little backstory before jumping right into this year. I have I struggled with anxiety since as far back as I can remember, but we never knew that what I was experiencing was a diagnosable illness. I didn’t get treatment until I was a sophomore in high school, but didn’t officially get diagnosed until going into my sophomore year of college. The anxiety also brought its trusty sidekick, depression.

Before I began I.O.P I was in a very tough place mentally, physically, emotionally and even spiritually. 2019 has been a very challenging year. I ended 2018 feeling on top of the world. I thought things were going great, and thus I hoped and expected 2019 to be great too; However, I was in for quite the wake up call.

Towards the end of January 2019, while at work, I experienced one of the worst panic attacks of my life that landed me an ambulance ride to the ER. Many hours and tests later, I left the hospital with a diagnoses of palpitations due to panic attack. In other words, they couldn’t find a single thing wrong with me. I felt completely and utterly defeated. This incident began a long strand of panic attacks, obsessions and compulsions, and ultimately depression.

Despite my attempts to try to convince myself I was doing okay, I ended up completely breaking down by the time August rolled around. I spent six months of the year pushing myself, ignoring my mind and body, and desperately trying to convince myself and those around me that everything was okay.

By the end of summer, my body was beyond exhausted to the point that I now had physical health concerns. I would lay in bed and cry some mornings because I didn’t know how I was going to be able to make it through another day. Because of commitments, I continued to push through until I couldn’t push myself any longer.

I had pushed myself so much and for so long that my nerves and immune system were shot. I got sick with the typical back to school cold, but because my mind and body were so worn down, it wiped me out. Not only was my anxiety through the roof and I was sick with a cold, but I was in physical pain as well. This landed me back in the ER for the second time this year.

I was released again with nothing to show for the symptoms that I was experiencing. I found myself feeling defeated and frustrated all over again. This was ultimately my breaking point. By this time I had planned two weeks off of work after my commitments were done. One week for vacation, and another week to rest and focus on myself. Much to my surprise, God had other plans for me.

Just a little over a week before my vacation, everything caught up to me and I had an emotional breakdown. I was struggling with intrusive thoughts that would send me into downward spirals. I had so much anxiety, adrenaline, cortisol running through my body 24/7 that I couldn’t sleep, I could barely eat, and even just breathing was a struggle. I was exhausted down to my bones and I ended up feeling hopeless.

It was a different kind of hopeless than I had felt before. It was anxiety based as opposed to depression based. It was the fear of, “what if I am like this forever, there is no way I can keep going for years feeling like this”. I cried to God for healing, peace and rest, and to my surprise, He answered that prayer through I.O.P.

Upon having my emotional breakdown, I made an appointment to see my doctor. I told her I felt like I just needed a break, whether that be going on partial disability or something else. I just felt like I needed a break from work and life obligations. I was desperate for rest. Her suggestion was I.O.P.

She briefly explained that I.O.P was group therapy, 3 days a week for 3 hours a day. She explained that I would have to drive 45 minutes to get there from where I live. She also broke the news to me that this was the only option for taking an extended amount of time off of work. Terrified, I turned to my dad, who encouraged me to go for it, and I hesitantly agreed. Little did I know I would become apart of something that would change my life for the better.

I can’t wait to share with you the lessons I learned from I.O.P and my time away of rest. I’m eager to share them, as I know that this type of treatment could greatly help others. With little information out there about the benefits and experiences of I.O.P, it is my hope that by writing my experience I can help others who are desperately longing for more in their treatment. I also hope that by sharing my experiences, providers and mental health professionals can get a sense of what it is like from the client’s perspective. Of course nothing confidential will be shared, simply just my own experience and things I learned.

If you like my content, feel free to click the follow button to get notified when I make new posts! Thanks for taking time out of your day to hear my thoughts. If you’ve had any experience with an Intensive Outpatient Program, I’d love to hear about it! Feel free to leave a comment below! Thank you for reading my rambles.

As always, I am not a licensed therapist and these thoughts are all my own. If you are in crisis or feel hopeless, please call 911 or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Intensive Outpatient Program (I.O.P.) Part One: What is I.O.P?

Intensive Outpatient Programs or IOP’s are programs designed to help individuals who need more treatment than just individual counseling but less treatment than inpatient or partial hospitalization. IOP’s are typically designed to be in a group therapy format and often meet anywhere from 3-5 days a week, typically averaging 9 hours of treatment per week anywhere from 5 weeks to a year (Mee-Lee et al. 2001).

When I was given the opportunity to be apart of an Intensive Outpatient Program, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I was told the logistics of it: when we would meet, what time, and where, but I had no clue what it actually entailed. The only experience I had with group therapy prior to treatment, was my mock group counseling class in college, and that was not a great time. Even having studied counseling in college, I had never heard of IOP before. I was terrified upon making the decision to join one, and that led me to do some research.

While doing my research to help me understand what it was that I would be walking into, I was surprised by the lack of information out there. I mostly just found information from treatment centers, addictions/recovery centers, and healthcare websites. For the life of me, I could not find any information from someone who had actually been apart of one. I longed to hear that IOP helped someone and wanted to learn what I had to look forward to. I found none of that. That is why I have decided to share my own personal experiences.

Going into IOP I felt defeated, ashamed and just beaten down. I felt like my pride had been shattered by having to take that step to join IOP. I felt ashamed that my mental health had gotten to a point that I needed more treatment. I was scared that I was unfixable. But Intensive Outpatient Program has forever changed my life for the better. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make, but has been one of the best. I have made lasting relationships with people from all walks of life, and I no longer feel stuck.

I went into IOP hoping that it would help me get better, but I still had nagging thoughts in the back of my head that it wouldn’t. Like I said, I had no idea what to expect walking into my first day of IOP. I thought it would just be everyone sitting in a circle talking about their problems, and maybe some intensive outpatient programs are that way, but I’m glad mine was not. IOP was so much more than that.

IOP is about working together as a group to retrain your brain. It’s about experiences and doing activities together to bring you closer and to create movement within you. It’s about vulnerability in a group setting, acceptance, forgiveness, shame, and so much more. IOP is about community and being apart of something bigger than yourself to help you understand that you are not alone. IOP is about experiencing your emotions and your pain and learning how to move past it. IOP is so much more than just sitting in a circle, sharing about your issues, or doing worksheets. It’s about experiences.

The activities and experiences in IOP are there to help clients and are highly encouraged by the therapist to participate; however, it is ultimately the client’s decision whether or not they join in. It takes courage to be vulnerable in a group setting, to share their heart, and to participate in many of the activities. But ultimately whether or not a client experiences growth by the end of IOP depends upon their participation and willingness to jump in. It is not a cure-all, but it is a great tool to help promote growth and movement when a client feels stuck.

Obviously this is all from my own personal experience and every Intensive Outpatient Program or group is different. I want to share my experiences so that those who are about to attend an IOP can get a glimpse into what to expect. It was also brought to my attention during this journey that many therapists and medical providers don’t know what IOP is either, and thus aren’t able to offer these programs as a treatment option. It is my hope that by sharing my experience and being vulnerable, more people will be able to receive the care that they need or want. As I mentioned before, I studied counseling and I had never heard of IOP. So many people could really benefit from this type of help, if it was just talked about more.

Being vulnerable online is not easy for me, it’s scary. But if sharing my story can help just ONE person out there, then it is worth it. I have been SO blessed to have the support that I have had. I have seen God’s hand in every aspect of my journey, especially in relation to IOP. God has been there in every detail, from the therapist leading the group, to the members in the group, to every activity we have done, He has been there. I am so grateful. God loves us, and He created us to experience emotions, and I firmly believe that He too wants mental health to be a priority in each of our lives. If IOP is the way He wants to do that, then let Him.

I’m going to be sharing even more of myself and my journey through IOP in the coming days, weeks or months. If you’re interested in that content, feel free to follow this blog. If you have any questions or you have your own experiences with IOP I’d love to hear them in the comments below! Thank you for reading my rambles.

As always, I am not a licensed therapist and these thoughts/opinions are all my own. If you are in crisis or feel hopeless, please call 911 or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

References
Mee-Lee, D.; Shulman, G.D.; Callahan, J.F.; Fishman, M.; Gastfriend, D.; Hartman, R.; and Hunsicker, R.J., eds. Patient Placement Criteria for the Treatment of Substance-Related Disorders: Second Edition-Revised (PPC-2R). Chevy Chase, MD: American Society of Addiction Medicine, 2001. 

The Journey Begins

Welcome! Thanks for taking time out of your day to check out my new blog! Allow me to briefly  introduce myself. My name is Sarah and I am in my early Twenties. I graduated with a B.S. in Counseling in 2018, and I am passionate about my faith and mental health. Now that you know a little bit about me, I’d like for you to get to know a little about my journey to this blog. 

 For several months now I have felt God nudging me to write. Throughout the past several months God has placed certain topics and points of interest on my heart to write about. Whenever these topics come up, I open the notepad app on my phone and write it down. Those topics have been sitting there for months now, but I have been too afraid to take the time to write them out. It’s scary to be vulnerable to the world and to put your writing out there for everyone to see. But more than that, it’s scary to be vulnerable and share my life stories and experiences with the world. 

However, After much consideration and prayer, I am finally making this blog. I didn’t want to ignore the nudges from God too long, and seeing as I am currently in a place of wondering what is next for me, it feels like the perfect time. I am so excited to share with you the things I am experiencing and learning throughout my journey. 

  It is my hope that those who read my blog can get a deeper insight into who I am. I am sharing my heart and my experiences to hopefully help others to know they are not alone and to shed some light on mental health topics. I also hope to educate readers on mental health issues and give practical ways to support those struggling. I plan to also integrate faith, with mental health. I truly believe that I have endured anxiety disorders and depression, so that I can help others. It is my hope and prayer that those who read this, will read it with an open mind, heart of compassion, and thoughtful insight. Thank you again for stopping by. I welcome any feedback you may have. Welcome to my rambles…

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton