Intensive Outpatient (IOP) Treatment for Bulimia: How It Works

Contributor: Deanna James, LPC, R-DMT, from Castlewood Treatment Centers

Attentive woman working on the laptop while her boyfriend is sleIntensive outpatient or IOP can be a very effective treatment in the continuum of care for eating disorders such as bulimia. Whether as a stand-alone treatment or a follow up after residential or partial hospitalization treatment programs, the flexibility and structure of this type of program can be a perfect fit for individuals who are ready to work toward a balanced lifestyle.

While many individuals respond best to first attending a residential or partial hospitalization program, it’s not impossible to begin with an intensive outpatient level of care. Since IOP is not residential, it’s important that client’s health and living situation is stable so they may focus on integrating treatment and recovery into their lifestyle.

Restoring Health and Stopping Unhealthy Behaviors

For those who enter IOP as their first treatment component, the first phase in getting help for bulimia will focus on restoring health and the cessation of any bingeing and purging cycles. Individuals with bulimia can have a variety of symptoms which aren’t necessarily going to fit a textbook definition. They may secretly binge and then purge through excessive exercise, or force vomiting even when only eating a snack. The various causes, symptoms and effects will be different for each individual.

Taking steps toward getting help and finding recovery can be difficult. Don’t hesitate to ask questions if something is unclear or hard to understand. If feeling out of control with disordered eating cycles, even over significant periods of time, it’s important to remember it is possible to change with professional help and support.

How IOP Provides Flexibility

Young woman smiling in sunlight portraitIOP programs consist of group and individual therapy sessions scheduled typically up to 5 days per week. The flexibility in scheduling allows clients to resume their daily responsibilities to work, school or family, while benefitting from the support and treatment necessary for the recovery process.

Some programs offer IOP programming 7 days a week, to give clients the ability to work, or attend school and still come in on the weekends or evenings.

Keeping a Client Engaged with Relapse Prevention Techniques

Intensive outpatient can be the treatment of choice for an individual with bulimia, because this level of care allows a client to process what relapse prevention methods worked well and what may not have worked, revising accordingly while engaged with everyday routines. Having the opportunity to re-work relapse prevention strategies in the moment or just after a lapse can help clients create lasting change.

The therapies involved in individual therapy and process groups encourage openly talking about bulimia and related issues. Group therapy can also provide opportunities for insight into binge/purge cycles in other areas of one’s life, not just with the food. Group therapy helps clients reduce shame while identifying unhealthy beliefs and behaviors and begin learning how to replace them with healthy, restorative thinking and decisions.

Addressing Underlying Issues and Nutritional Standards

Psychologist listen to girl problem.Through a combination of individual and group and/or family therapy, clients with bulimia can address underlying issues, confront fears and evaluate any emotional or mental health concerns. Peer support and communication are important for reducing shame as well as developing the ability to recognize commonalities. In this way IOP therapies help strengthen close relationships which may have been strained by disordered eating behavior.

Nutritional standards are an important part of treatment for bulimia, and in IOP, individuals have the chance to practice balanced and healthy eating and process any purging urges which may come up after meals. Look for a treatment center that provides several supervised meals a week and nutritional assistance, as well as a mindfulness based eating in treatment.

Translating the Treatment to Real Life

Intensive outpatient is designed to provide a safe and supportive treatment environment to process daily successes and concerns which can come up when integrating recovery with everyday life. IOP programming will include discussion and planning for personal activities as well, creating a recovery program that translates outside the treatment setting and into real life. This allows clients the opportunity to actively and immediately put into practice their relapse prevention plan with the support and guidance of peers and their treatment team.

Most insurance covers Intensive outpatient, and so clients are only responsible for deductibles and any co-pays. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re wondering if IOP is the right choice for you. The cycle can be broken, and treatment options like IOP can help you establish a healthy relationship with food through recovery.

About Castlwood’s IOP:

Castlewood offers an eating disorder Intensive Outpatient Program in Monterey, California, Birmingham, Alabama, and in St. Louis, Missouri. Our St. Louis based Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is for clients living in the St. Louis area, needing more structure than individual outpatient therapy can provide.

Castlewood’s IOP may be appropriate for the client who is transitioning back to life, work, or school, after treatment in a higher level of care, such as Residential or Partial Hospitalization. Castlewood provides intensive outpatient treatment to clients with all types of eating disorders, as well co-occurring disorders such as anxiety, trauma, and depression. Our IOP accepts both men and women, ages 16 and older.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you or your loved one experienced success with IOP treatment? What worked well for you in IOP treatment?

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.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 4th, 2015
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