Understanding When Intensive Outpatient Treatment for Eating Disorders is Right for You

Woman receiving counseling on college campus

For anyone who has been in recovery from an eating disorder, it is understood how involved this journey can be. Eating disorder recovery and treatment often occurs in phases. Depending on the severity of the disease, certain phases of treatment may take longer than others, and the process may certainly be challenging at times.

Eating disorders are most effectively approached by comprehensive treatment under the care of professionals who are specialized in these psychiatric illnesses. The different levels of care available for eating disorder treatment are largely depending on what symptoms a person may be experiencing as a result of their eating disorder and the type of interventions needed for recovery.

Understanding Intensive Outpatient Care

Varying from the most acute levels to less critical forms of care, eating disorder treatment can include anything from inpatient hospitalization to residential treatment to outpatient care and more. Reserved for the most critical cases of eating disorders, individuals who are hospitalized or in residential treatment typically require twenty-four hour care due to the seriousness of their medical complications and/or psychiatric issues.

Other individuals in eating disorder recovery who have progressed in their recovery, stabilized, and/or who may have less severe symptoms and issues may be able to receive treatment in a less acute form, such as intensive outpatient treatment.

Lady meeting with a counselor for her childIntensive outpatient treatment is a suitable option for people in eating disorder recovery who are not experiencing life-threatening symptoms related to the disorder. In addition, many people at this level of care may be able to return to some normal routine aspects of their lives, such as resuming a career and job, continuing with school, and more. Many intensive outpatient programs are held for a few hours each weekday, oftentimes in the evenings, to help accommodate the schedules of patients who are holding a job, in school, etc.

Intensive outpatient programs for eating disorder treatment will continue to offer comprehensive treatment for eating disorders, as due higher levels of care. At the intensive outpatient level, this will typically include weekly individual sessions with a counselor/therapist as well as a registered dietitian.

In addition, this may involve monthly check-ins with a psychiatrist who is overseeing medication management and a primary care physician. This level of care will also offer group therapy sessions and possibly the option for other forms of therapy, such as movement therapy, art therapy, and more.

Recovering From an Eating Disorder at the IOP Level of Care

Intensive outpatient therapy is particularly effective as a continuum of treatment for an individual who has been recovering from an eating disorder. A person in recovery is more likely to remain at this level of care for a greater length of time compared to inpatient and residential treatment. Intensive outpatient therapy can help an individual effectively transition to regular routines in life while still staying to a strong support system with consistent treatment on a weekly basis.

Man Having Counselling Session while at intensive outpatient facilityThere may be times when a person with an eating disorder is obtaining treatment through an IOP level of care due to insurance issues, meaning that this was the only level of care authorized by insurance for treatment. This can be particularly difficult if the individual needs a higher level of treatment but for financial/insurance reasons, must remain within a less acute treatment option.

In these cases, it is critical to work closely with professionals providing treatment in the intensive outpatient program and to utilize resources as best as possible. Treatment staff may also be able to help a patient with an appeal to an insurance company for either extended stay or higher level of care.

It is important to work with an eating disorder professional that can best assess what type of treatment might be most appropriate for care and recovery. If you or a loved one is needing treatment for an eating disorder, be sure to work with a professional to determine the best course of action for your treatment.


Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing, Crystal serves where her passion to help others find recovery and healing is integrated into each part of her work.

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her nutrition private practice.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 27, 2016
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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.