Is Intensive Outpatient Treatment A Viable Treatment for Anorexia?

Contributed by: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC. Founder & President of Eating Disorder Hope.

For some of us, the one to two appointments a week with our therapist and/or nutritionist are not enough to stop our eating disordered behaviors and begin healthier patterns of eating, exercise and coping with life.

This was certainly my situation! I was benefiting from the support of my therapist, but definitely continuing to slide downhill into disordered eating and dysfunction.

If this is the case for you, here are some key questions to determine what is the next best level of care? What will offer you more support and interrupt your life the least?

  1. Is my health stable enough to avoid hospitalization?
  2. Does my treatment team recommend a higher level of care than outpatient treatment?
  3. Would attending intensive outpatient (IOP) allow me to better maintain my schooling, career or family obligations?
  4. Does it make sense for me to pursue this level of care, first, rather than choosing inpatient care?

What Intensive Outpatient Looks Like

Intensive outpatient treatment is designed to provide a one stop location where eating disorder sufferers can find multiple levels of treatment bundled together in one program. It often looks something like this:

  • Meet 3 times a week for 3 hour sessions each time.
  • Engage in nutrition, individual and group therapy. Supervised meal with staff and other participants. Other experiential therapies such as equine therapy, yoga, mindfulness training, art, etc. may be included.
  • Program lasts about 12 – 16 weeks duration.
  • Aftercare therapy and support are strongly encouraged.

This Is a Newer Option

This form of treatment is ideal for the individual who is not engaging in life threatening behaviors and does not need supervision for all meals. This would have been a great fit for me, back in the day, when I went through eating disorder treatment.

But, 20 years ago, I was not aware of this option. I just knew there was outpatient therapy or inpatient care. So, I chose the latter given the therapy I was engaged in was not enough to empower me to stop the disordered eating behaviors.

Still a Huge Time and Financial Commitment

energy-259725_640Inpatient treatment was good and did help me start a new path of recovery, but it was also incredibly inconvenient. I had to take a 30 day leave from my job (which was not well received by my employer), abandon my apartment, stop all of my outside commitments, etc. and retreat from life for 30 days.

I could have maintained most of these commitments had I entered intensive outpatient treatment.

Inpatient care was considerably more expensive than an intensive outpatient program, too.

So, even with help from my insurer, I had a large debt to the hospital that I had to repay after coming out of treatment. That was quite a burden and could have been lessened if I had chosen an IOP and tried that first.

When You Have a Family

Lastly, for those of you with children or other dependents, it might be very difficult for the family unit to lose your role for a month, or longer, of inpatient treatment. Now, if you need the more intensive level of inpatient care, than by all means, this is absolutely the way to go!

Nothing is more important than your life and you will be better able to meet your own needs and that of your family, once you are in recovery from anorexia. So, it is the wisest and most sound course of action for those who need inpatient care.

However, if you are looking for more intensive care on a weekly basis, and struggling to find recovery despite working with an outpatient team, and your health is stable, than an intensive outpatient facility may be the next best step in your care.

Most importantly, seek counsel from friends, family and your treatment team. Their guidance and support during this time is essential to your success.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

If you have experienced intensive outpatient therapy, what benefits did you experience that you can share?

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 1st, 2015
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About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.