What is the Difference Between an OP and IOP?

Treatment for mental health disorders and addiction can occur at many levels. Most people understand the general difference between inpatient and outpatient care. But the distinctions don’t stop there. Outpatient treatment is also divided into multiple levels, including outpatient programs (OPs) and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). Learning about the features and benefits of the OP and IOP options can help you decide which type of care is best for you or a loved one.

What is Outpatient (OP) Treatment?

An outpatient program (OP) is the lowest or least-restrictive level of care. Outpatient programs are sometimes referred to as traditional or standard outpatient treatment. 

When you receive care in an outpatient program, you may attend treatment just one or two days a week. Sessions at the outpatient level may be an hour or two. Treatment will likely consist of group therapy. Individual therapy may also be included in treatment at the OP level.

An OP may be the ideal treatment environment for someone who can benefit from step-down support after completing an intensive outpatient program (IOP). Of course, clients can also enter treatment directly at the OP level if they aren’t experiencing symptoms that require a higher level of care. 

If your life continues to be disrupted by acute symptoms that have had a major impact on your ability to function, an OP probably isn’t the right level for you. But if your symptoms are milder, or if you’ve already finished a higher level of care, an OP may be the perfect choice. 

At reputable treatment centers such as Neuroscience Institute, clients will be assessed prior to starting treatment to help determine which level is right for them.

What is Intensive Outpatient (IOP) Treatment?

As its name indicates, and intensive outpatient program, or an IOP, offers a more robust treatment experience than an OP does. At the IOP level, you will likely complete more hours of treatment each week. This may include longer treatment days, additional days in treatment, or both. 

Features of treatment at the IOP level may include elements such as:

  • Group therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Skills training
  • Holistic treatments like meditation, yoga, acupuncture, and massage

It’s not uncommon for clients to transfer into an IOP after they have completed detoxification, an inpatient program, or residential treatment. An IOP balances a strong connection to structured clinical care with ample opportunities for independent living. 

During non-treatment hours, participants can practice the skills and strategies they have been learning in the IOP. When treatment is back in session, they can discuss their experiences and receive feedback from others in the program as well as from the professionals who are providing their care. 

Things to Consider When Deciding Between OP and IOP

If you have been trying to decide between an OP or IOP for yourself or a member of your family, here are a few factors to consider:

Time commitment

An outpatient program will usually include fewer hours of care each week. At this level, you can work, attend school, take part in volunteer activities, and meet other responsibilities. At the IOP level, you will spend more time in treatment, though you will still have plenty of time to pursue outside interests. Another time difference between OP and IOP is that you may remain in treatment at the OP level longer than you would in an IOP. 


In an IOP, you will take part in treatment more often than if you were in an outpatient program. So, in most cases, the cost of an IOP will likely be higher. Depending on the specifics of your policy, you may be able to use your insurance to pay for treatment. This can remove any financial concerns and allow you to focus on finding the treatment that’s best for you.


In addition to providing you with more time to work or attend school, an outpatient program also offers a greater amount of freedom to engage in enjoyable leisure activities. This can be both good and bad. Depending on your current needs, having extra free time may be problematic. Especially when you have just begun to receive care, spending additional time in a clinical setting may be the best option for you.

Treatment Level and Frequency Needed

Time, money, and lifestyle are, of course, important issues when you’re trying to decide between OP and IOP. But the most important factor to consider is, which program offers the services that align with your needs? When you get the care you need, provided at the level that’s right for you, you will have the best opportunity to progress toward your goals.

Find an OP or an IOP in South Florida

Neuroscience Institute provides personalized care for adults at both the outpatient and intensive outpatient levels. Our treatment center in South Florida serves adults with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health disorders. When you choose NRI, you will receive quality clinical services and comprehensive support from a team of dedicated professionals. Our team can help you determine whether OP or IOP is the right level of care for you. Contact us to learn more.

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