IOP is an intensive outpatient program, a level of care in treating substance use and co-occurring disorders. Virtual IOP offers the same function but just through virtual meetings.
Intensive outpatient programs are where some people begin the recovery process. Others enter IOP as a step-down from a higher level of care, like inpatient rehab. IOPs provide structured support and learning to improve your ability to maintain recovery long-term.
IOPs typically provide nine or more hours of group therapy and one to two hours of individual therapy weekly. Individual and group intensive outpatient therapy consists of behavioral therapies and education to teach relapse prevention skills.
Behavioral therapies include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, contingency management, motivational enhancement, behavioral couples therapy, and family behavior therapy.
IOPs occur at set days and times at a local treatment facility.
The Virtual Difference
Virtual is another word for online or with the use of technology. For most, virtual therapy means using the computer to participate in treatment, but it can also involve using a telephone, app, email, or another electronic device.
Virtual IOP is the same as an in-person IOP, except that all the services are provided online. You log into group and individual therapy sessions for ten or more hours each week to participate in the same behavioral therapies.
The main difference is that with virtual IOP, you can attend therapy from the comfort of your home or anywhere you can access technology.
Research on Virtual Therapy
There is a growing number of people entering treatment through online therapy. There are also many people transitioning from in-person therapy to virtual therapy. In a survey of virtual therapy participants, 92% say they are satisfied with the program.
When examining participant satisfaction, researchers found the following factors correlate with higher satisfaction with online therapy:
- 92% say the program is easy to use
- 91% say they have privacy
- 91% say the time it takes to receive a response is quick
- 90% say the therapies are high quality
- 86% say they feel safe, secure, and protected
- 82% say the cost is better
In another study of over 200 participants, it was reported that nearly half of patients prefer online therapy over in-person therapy. Researchers also found that only 1.2% of the participants chose to stop treatment until they could be seen in person again. Also, video sessions were more popular than telephone meetings.
The Butler Center for Research conducted a comparison study of IOPs. Their study took place at the Hazelden Betty Ford treatment facility. The IOP groups included an in-person group and a transition group in which people started in an in-person group and transitioned to a virtual group. The third group was a virtual IOP.
The preliminary findings showed virtual IOP is just as effective as in-person IOP. Also, people in the transition group had the most extended stay in an IOP. This group, interviewed at the three-month mark, was more likely to report a higher quality of life, but the virtual group members attended the most sessions. Finally, virtual and transition group participants had the lowest number of participants leaving the programs against medical advice.
Weigh the Pros and Cons
When making any decision, weighing the pros and cons, the advantages and disadvantages are helpful. Below are some of the pros and cons to help you decide if virtual therapy or online therapy is right for you.
Pros of Virtual IOP
The benefits you receive by participating in an online IOP program versus attending an in-person IOP. According to many different reports, the pros of virtual counseling include being able to participate in an environment you find familiar and comfortable. Other pros include being able to:
- Work and maintain employment
- Keep up with home and family responsibilities
- Continue going to school without interruption
- Stay protected from COVID or other infections
- Create a structured program for recovery
- Practice what you learn in real-time
- Save time and money due to less traveling
- Include loved ones in the recovery process
- Move to a higher level of care quickly if needed
- Receive peer feedback and support
- Make new, sober friends
Virtual IOP makes it easier for you to access treatment outside your area. For example, if the virtual IOPs are filled when you need help, you can participate in virtual IOPs in other towns, cities, or states. Also, insurance companies are making the transition and paying claims for virtual therapies.
Cons of Virtual IOP
The advantages far outweigh virtual IOP’s disadvantages, including technological interruptions or breakdowns. You can be quickly interrupted by what is going on in your home. For example, your children may burst into the room and interrupt your session. Or they can stand just outside the room to distract you.
Other cons include not being able to pick up nonverbal cues and communication. Holding family sessions may make it easier to get off track, and depending on how therapist, some people may feel they are not as personal.
Therapists discuss the importance of self-care in recovery. One self-care suggestion is to spend less time on computers, cell phones, television, etc. Virtual IOP will add nine or more hours of screen time to your weekly schedule.
Questions to Answer Before Choosing Virtual IOP
One way to know if virtual IOP is the right treatment program is to ask and answer questions about how participating will affect your life. You can start with the questions below:
- Are you good with working on computers and technology?
- Do you have high-speed internet?
- Does your insurance cover virtual IOP?
- Does it fit your work, home, school, and social schedules?
- What virtual services do you prefer (video, telephone, email, etc.)?
- Is your home environment appropriate for virtual IOP?
- Does it break down former barriers to treatment (e.g., transportation, stigma)?
Contact a treatment facility to start the process of joining an IOP, either in person or virtually. Also, use this initial contact to gather more information to help you make a final decision. The more information you have, the more confident you will make the right choice. Go ahead, call today.