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Comparing Intensive Outpatient vs Outpatient Treatment: What You Should Know

In this informative article, we discuss the specifics of intensive outpatient vs outpatient treatment to determine which option best meets your healthcare needs.

Table of Contents

What is Outpatient Treatment?

Outpatient treatment takes place in a doctor’s office or in a rehab facility on a specific day for a set amount of time. Unlike inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment does not require that you live in the facility. 

Outpatient treatment sessions usually take place over a 90-minute period. Some programs offer one session per week while some offer one session per day.

In this article, we’ll detail intensive outpatient vs outpatient treatment to help you or your loved one determine which treatment opportunity is best suited for your unique needs and circumstances.

intensive outpatient vs outpatient treatment

Common Forms of Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment can come in different forms. One form of outpatient treatment is individual therapy. Individual therapy involves speaking one-on-one with a professional. 

Therapies Offered in Outpatient Treatment

Additional instances of outpatient treatment include:

  • Group therapy: Another form of outpatient treatment is group therapy. In group therapy, clients come together to share their individual experiences.
  • Family therapy: Outpatient treatment can also involve family therapy. In this setting, family members share their feelings and learn how to support the client.
  • Medication management: Medication management is often used in outpatient treatment. Providers use medications to manage symptoms or treat underlying mental health conditions.

Ideal Candidates for Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment can be a flexible and effective option for many people. Outpatient treatment is ideal for individuals who need support and monitoring but are not in crisis.

Individuals who have a strong support system may be appropriate for outpatient treatment. Having a support network to check in on you can help prevent the need for inpatient treatment. 

Outpatient treatment is also a good option for people with responsibilities at work or at home. For example, clients with children may prefer outpatient treatment for the flexible schedule.

What is an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)?

This section will discuss specific components of an intensive outpatient program.

Definition and Overview

Whereas an outpatient treatment program may require one 90-minute session per week, an intensive outpatient program offers a more intensive option.

Like outpatient treatment, intensive outpatient treatment does ask that you live in the facility. Clients of outpatient treatment live at home and commute to the treatment center.

The key difference between intensive outpatient and outpatient treatment is the structure of sessions. Intensive outpatient treatment occurs three to five times per week for two to four hours each day. 

Common Forms of Intensive Outpatient Treatment

Intensive outpatient treatment offers a wider variety of strategies to achieve recovery, compared to traditional outpatient treatment. These programs offer individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy.

You might also participate in workshops that teach coping mechanisms, resilience training, and stress management techniques. These programs provide a more robust toolkit to manage daily struggles.

Who Should Consider Intensive Outpatient Treatment?

Intensive outpatient treatment programs serve clients who need a higher level of care than traditional outpatient treatment but are not at the point of needing inpatient treatment.
If you need more substantial support but do not need 24-hour psychiatric care, intensive outpatient treatment might be a good fit. Intensive outpatient treatment is a “step up” from traditional outpatient treatment, providing more intensive treatment for those who need it.

Key Differences Between Intensive Outpatient vs Outpatient Treatment

The choice between intensive outpatient vs outpatient treatment depends on your specific needs and the advice of your healthcare provider. However, there are a few key differences to consider when choosing which setting best suits you. These will be detailed below.

Treatment Intensity and Duration

Intensive outpatient vs outpatient treatment programs vary in how intense they are and how long they last. In Intensive outpatient, you go to more treatment sessions each week.

Each intensive outpatient therapy session is longer than a traditional outpatient therapy session.
In outpatient treatment, the number of sessions and their length is less. In intensive outpatient vs outpatient treatment, you get more intensive treatment over a shorter period of time.

Flexibility and Scheduling

Outpatient treatment offers more flexibility than intensive outpatient treatment. Clients can often choose when to attend sessions. This makes it easier to fit treatment into your schedule.

Intensive outpatient treatment has a stricter schedule. Clients need to commit to more sessions each week, which can be hard to accommodate.

Treatment Approaches

Outpatient treatment often focuses on ongoing support and management of your mental health. It can help you maintain your recovery and prevent any relapse.

Intensive outpatient treatment often focuses on more immediate and intense support. It can help you manage a serious mental health issue that’s affecting your life right now.

Level of Support

Intensive outpatient treatment provides a higher level of support. You have more contact with health professionals. You also get more monitoring of your mental health.

In outpatient treatment, the level of support is lower. You have less contact with health professionals and less monitoring.

Transitioning from Inpatient Care

While there are many differences between intensive outpatient and outpatient care, there are also differences in how clients transition out of each program. After completing inpatient treatment, intensive outpatient treatment helps transition back into daily life.1

Similarities Between Intensive Outpatient Vs Outpatient Treatment

Intensive outpatient vs outpatient treatment shares many characteristics. These will be detailed below.

Cost Considerations

When considering intensive outpatient vs outpatient treatment, it is important to consider cost. If you have insurance it can help cover some costs of care. With or without insurance, you may be required to pay for some percentage of your treatment cost.

Program costs can vary, but both intensive outpatient treatment and outpatient treatment generally cost less than inpatient care. In part, this cost difference is a result of not paying for round-the-clock hospital care.

Treatment Goals and Outcomes

The goal of both intensive outpatient and outpatient treatment is to help you manage your symptoms and prevent relapse. Both programs aim to help you regain control of your symptoms and return to daily life.

The outcomes of intensive outpatient vs outpatient treatment are similar as well. These outcomes may include an increased understanding of symptoms, improved coping skills, better self-care habits, and enhanced relationships.

Intensive outpatient treatment teaches skills to sustain recovery while maintaining everyday  responsibilities.

Therapeutic Modalities Used

Practitioners use similar modalities in intensive outpatient vs outpatient treatment. Both options use different types of care to create a personalized treatment plan for you.

Individual Therapy

In individual therapy, experts use their knowledge and skills to help gain insight and learn effective coping skills. Individual therapy may include CBT, DBT, and other forms of psychotherapy.2

Group Therapy

Group therapy sessions can include psychoeducation, process groups, and relapse prevention groups. Other group therapy activities include mindfulness-based practices, yoga, meditation, art therapy, and more. 

Similarities Between Individual and Group Therapy

Individual and group treatment can include medication management, case management, and family services. These services help provide the support needed to maintain the progress made during treatment.

Continuity of Care

Continuity of care is standard in intensive outpatient vs outpatient treatments. In both settings, follow-up care is coordinated to help keep you on track after treatment. Having scheduled follow-up care in the community can help smooth your transition back into daily life.3

Community Integration

Both intensive outpatient and outpatient treatment programs can ease the transition back into everyday life. 

When considering intensive outpatient vs outpatient programs, intensive outpatient programs typically include activities that allow you to build community with peers who are also in recovery. 
Activities include recreational and social gatherings.

Deciding Between Intensive Outpatient Vs Outpatient Treatment

Choosing between intensive outpatient vs outpatient treatment can be a difficult decision. It is important to consider which treatment option best suits your individual needs.

The Severity of Mental Health Issues

If an individual needs support but isn’t in immediate danger, then intensive outpatient treatment may be a good fit. Intensive outpatient treatment offers intensive care to manage and stabilize symptoms. For less severe symptoms, outpatient treatment may be appropriate.

Personal Schedule and Commitments

Intensive outpatient treatment programs are more flexible than inpatient programs, but still require daily commitments that can interfere with one’s schedule. For individuals with busy home lives or demanding jobs, outpatient treatment may be a better fit.


Cost is often a deciding factor between intensive outpatient vs outpatient treatment. Intensive outpatient treatment can cost more than traditional outpatient programs. Intensive outpatient programs offer additional services and longer sessions.

Access to Support Networks

An individual’s support networks can play a major role in treatment success. Access to supportive family and friends is helpful when making positive lifestyle changes.4

Both intensive outpatient vs outpatient programs are more successful when the individual has access to a support network that encourages recovery

Intensive outpatient programs provide greater access to support networks. Longer, more frequent sessions allow clients to build relationships with peers and providers.

Level of Independence and Responsibility

By choosing an intensive outpatient vs outpatient treatment program, clients have more support but less independence in making their day-to-day schedules.

Intensive outpatient treatment programs are designed to help the client maintain structure in their daily lives. Structure helps individuals remain focused on recovery. To accomplish this goal, clients must be willing to accept responsibility for following the program’s rules.

How Insurance Covers Intensive Outpatient Vs Outpatient Treatment

Different insurance providers may have different coverage options for intensive outpatient vs outpatient treatment. 

Coverage Levels for Intensive Outpatient Vs Outpatient Treatment

Insurance usually provides different levels of coverage for intensive outpatient vs outpatient treatment. Treatment in both settings is generally covered by insurance, but the extent may vary. Each individual insurance plan offers different coverage.

Some insurance plans cover more intensive outpatient treatment vs outpatient, while others may provide better coverage for outpatient care. In general, the cost of care will depend on the intensity and length of treatment.

Another factor affecting insurance coverage is whether the treatment provider is in-network or out-of-network for your insurance provider. In-network providers usually have higher coverage levels than out-of-network providers.

The Role of Insurance Deductibles and Copayments

Insurance plans often involve deductibles and copayments. A deductible is the percentage of care clients pay out-of-pocket before insurance assists. A copayment is a fixed amount paid for a covered health service after having paid the deductible.

In both intensive outpatient vs outpatient treatment, a deductible and copayment need to be paid before receiving assistance from insurance. The payment amount differs depending on the treatment provided and the specific insurance plan.

What If I Can't Afford Treatment Even With Insurance?

If insurance coverage isn’t enough to cover treatment, other options may be available. Select providers use sliding scale fees to accommodate individuals with low income.

Some treatment programs offer financial assistance for those who qualify. Others may provide referrals to nonprofits that offer financial aid or grants to help pay for mental health treatment. There may also be mental health services provided through state-funded programs.

How Can Boardwalk Recovery Help Me Decide Between Intensive Outpatient vs Outpatient Treatment?

Boardwalk Recovery Center, located in San Diego, CA, is a premier mental health service provider. We offer comprehensive treatment, medication management, and ongoing support to every individual.

Boardwalk Recovery Center provides excellent clinical care by master’s-level counselors. These professionals have the knowledge and skills to guide individuals into recovery.

Our goal is to help individuals build a strong foundation of recovery and sobriety. We provide individualized treatment plans tailored to each person’s needs. We provide accessible, evidence-based therapies to help individuals manage their mental health issues.

Does Boardwalk Recovery Offer Intensive Outpatient and Outpatient Treatment?

Yes, Boardwalk Recovery Center offers both intensive outpatient and outpatient treatment services.
These services provide a continuum of clinical care through evidence-based treatment modalities. This includes therapy, meditation, and substance abuse addiction treatment services.

We know that sobriety requires ongoing treatment and continued support, and we’re here to walk alongside you on your journey to recovery.

Community and Personal Growth at Boardwalk Recovery

At Boardwalk Recovery, individuals connect with the local recovery community. Connection fosters a sense of belonging and provides extra support during the recovery journey.

Additionally, Boardwalk Recovery assists individuals in finding or rediscovering their dreams and passions. Personal growth is an integral part of the recovery process. We help individuals regain independence and find employment, to help achieve a fulfilling and substance-free life.

Reach Out to Boardwalk and Begin Healing

It’s never too late to start the journey into recovery. With supportive peers and staff, clients can learn tools to sustain recovery over their lifetime. To find a recovery community for you, call Boardwalk Recovery today.
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