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.

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.