IOP or PHP: Similarities & Differences You Should Know About


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You may have heard of intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) and even partial hospitalization programs (PHPs). Do you know the difference between the two? These programs have a lot in common. They may often be referred to interchangeably. However, there are some subtle yet important differences that are worth keeping in mind. You can learn more about each level of care by reading here. We’ll mark some of the key similarities and differences. We’ll also cover how you can tell which outpatient program might be the next step in your mental health journey.

How are IOP and PHP similar?

IOP and PHP (also referred to as “day treatment program”) both provide structured and intensive mental health support for people who can thrive in an outpatient treatment setting. They also both aim to equip people with skills, tools, and strategies they’ll need as they continue to work through their mental health challenges. Some other IOP/PHP similarities include:

  • They’re both intended to provide Intensive mental health support without 24/7 hospitalization or overnight stays at a treatment facility.
  • They offer a combination of therapeutic modalities, including group therapy, individual therapy, and psychoeducation.
  • They may both include medication management.
  • They provide a structured routine.
  • They both emphasize building coping mechanisms, resilience, and relapse prevention skills. 
  • They’re programs where you’ll work with a multidisciplinary treatment team.
  • They both work to help you find peer support and a sense of community.
  • They encourage family involvement.
  • They’re designed to prepare clients for standard outpatient care.
  • They’re both well-suited to provide early intervention support.
  • They’re designed to help you have continued mental health care by supporting a step-down approach to treatment.

What’s the difference between IOP and PHP?

Both IOPs and PHPs share similarities in terms of structure and multidisciplinary treatment approach. But they also differ in several important ways. Their main differences are in each program’s intensity, duration and how appropriate they are for someone’s severity of symptoms. Both programs offer unique benefits.

  • IOPs — IOPs are often a step down from PHPs. They may also be a starting point for people whose symptoms can be managed within a less-structured treatment environment. Individuals in an IOP attend sessions several times a week. Often, sessions will last a few hours each. This allows for more flexibility and autonomy and allows people to continue with work, school, or other responsibilities while receiving mental health care. The goal of an IOP is to help individuals rejoin their communities, work and social activities while maintaining a focus on their mental health and well-being.

Treatment during an IOP usually involves: 

  • Individual psychotherapy sessions
  • Group psychotherapy sessions
  • Family counseling sessions
  • Medication management
  • Three to six hours of programming per day. 
  • PHPs — PHPs can also be referred to as day treatment programs and involve daily sessions that last for most of the day. Think of a PHP as being structured like full-time jobs you’ve had. This daily, all-day structure allows people to have a more comprehensive and immersive treatment experience. Like IOPs, this program doesn’t require overnight visits to the treatment facility. The types of treatment used in PHPs are often similar to those used in IOPs. 

A PHP is often a step-down on the continuum of care for individuals who have been in an inpatient or residential program. The goal of PHP is to provide intensive and comprehensive therapeutic support for individuals who need more structured care than traditional outpatient therapy but don’t need 24-hour supervision in an inpatient setting.

Which level of mental health care may be appropriate for you?

Ideally, level-of-care decisions are based on a combination of clinical assessments, safety considerations, individual preferences, and collaborative discussions. Mental health professionals aim to provide recommendations that optimize each individual’s chances of recovery. But they also consider their unique needs and circumstances. 

While symptom complexity and severity are critical factors when considering which level of care may be appropriate for you, other factors include:

  • Your current or recently-completed level of care — Whether an IOP or PHP works best for you is partially determined by the level of care you’re currently in or recently completed. Say you recently completed a residential treatment program. The next step your mental health care provider may recommend could be a PHP. Those who have just completed a PHP might be encouraged to step down to an IOP.
  • Your risk of self-harm or harming others — Recovery is not a race. If you have your heart set on IOP but struggle with potential safety concerns, such as the risk of self-harm or harm to others, stay open to other treatment options. Risk assessment findings are critical in figuring out the most appropriate level of mental health care for you. There’s nothing wrong with beginning your treatment journey in a PHP or residential program.
  • Your support networkOutpatient programs tend to be more effective for people with a solid support system and a healthy home environment. The quality of relationships matters more than the quantity. A few meaningful and supportive people in your corner can do more for your recovery than an army of superficial connections. People who lack this level of support may benefit from the comprehensive structure of PHP over the flexibility of IOP.

Find supportive, evidence-based IOP, PHP, and more at Lightfully

Lightfully offers a soft landing and whole-person support for teens and adults struggling with mental health conditions. If you or a loved one are considering treatment options, have questions about programs or need help navigating any other steps on the road to recovery, contact our caring Admissions Concierge Team today. 

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