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Could My Child Benefit From an Adolescent Intensive Outpatient Program

Navigating the journey of adolescence can be challenging for both teens and parents alike. From the stress of school to the pressures of friendships and social media, the teenage years often come with a lot of ups and downs. Sometimes, these ups and downs can turn into mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders or substance abuse

As parents, it’s natural to worry when our children struggle with their mental well-being, especially when traditional methods of support, such as talking with family or counseling, aren’t helping them. 

This is where an adolescent intensive outpatient program (IOP) comes into play. An IOP is a special kind of program that provides intensive therapy and support for teens who are struggling with mental health issues but do not require round-the-clock (24/7) care in a hospital or inpatient setting. 

“Unlike inpatient programs which require teens to stay overnight, intensive outpatient programs offer flexibility,” said Jennifer Keiser, LMSW, a counselor with Banner Health. “IOPs offer a lower level of care than hospitalization for mental health/substance abuse treatment and a higher level than traditional one-on-one counseling.”

We understand that, as a parent, the decision to enroll your teen in an IOP can be overwhelming. That’s why we sat down with Keiser to understand more about IOP treatment for teens and how you can help your child through this process.

Understanding adolescent IOPs

Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) for adolescents are structured mental health and/or substance abuse programs tailored to address the unique needs of teenagers. These programs typically offer a combination of group therapy, family therapy, medication management and educational sessions. 

“Teens typically work on coping skills to help them with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, addiction and stress from school or their home lives,” Keiser said.

Signs your teen might benefit from adolescent IOP

There could be many reasons why your child might need IOP. Here are some general guidelines to follow if you’re considering an increased level of care for your teen:

  • Your child has been talking about thoughts of suicide or self-harm. Take any mention of self-harm and suicide seriously. Call 988 or get them to the nearest emergency room. 
  • One-on-one counseling doesn’t seem to be enough.
  • Your child is experiencing persistent symptoms of anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions that affect their daily life, such as sleep, appetite and activities. 
  • Your child is involved in dangerous behaviors like using drugs, binge drinking, unprotected sex and hurting themselves (self-harming) or others.
  • Your child has extreme mood swings, from low energy to hyperactivity. 
  • There is a sudden decline in academic performance, such as slipping grades, missed assignments or absences from school.
  • Your child withdraws from social activities, spending more time alone in their room and avoiding spending time with family and friends. 
  • Your teen experienced a trauma or overwhelming event, such as a car crash, recent death, breakup, abuse or divorce.
  • Your child has trouble sleeping or poor sleep hygiene, such as insomnia and nightmares.
  • Your child struggles to adjust to being back home or returning to school after leaving an inpatient program. 

Benefits of adolescent IOPs

IOPs for adolescents can offer several benefits for you and your child. 

Flexible treatment: In an IOP, your child can engage in therapeutic activities while maintaining daily activities, such as attending school and after-school activities. This way, your teen won’t have to worry about explaining absences to their friends or teachers.

“Many programs are offered three times a week for three hours and last approximately eight weeks,” Keiser said.

Peer support: Group therapy sessions allow your child to connect with peers facing similar challenges. This can reduce feelings of isolation and stigma, allowing them to share experiences, learn from one another and develop healthier coping skills.

Family involvement: It can be easier for you to be involved in your child’s care. Family participation improves family dynamics, strengthens connections and supports the recovery journey.

Skill building: IOPs focus on teaching practical coping skills to manage emotions, navigate social situations and make healthier choices.

“Your child will learn healthier coping mechanisms and open communication, including how to communicate their feelings, needs and personal boundaries,” Keiser said. “These skills are important to their long-term success.”

Continuity of care: Transitioning from inpatient treatment or traditional outpatient therapy back to daily life can sometimes disrupt the recovery process. 

“IOPs offer a step-down approach, providing ongoing support as your child slowly reintegrates into their community,” Keiser said. “This helps decrease relapses or rehospitalizations by providing wrap-around services and stability.”

How you can support your teen

As a parent, you play a significant role in helping your teen navigate their journey through an IOP. If you have a teen in a program, Keiser shared five ways to help your teen get the most out of therapy:

  • Understand their situation: Educate yourself about your teen’s mental health condition and the treatment options available. Ask questions, seek information and stay engaged in your child’s care.
  • Be present: Participate in family sessions to learn about mental health and addiction and learn new skills for communicating with your teen. 
  • Encourage open communication: Sometimes, your child needs to be heard without judgment and without a parent trying to “fix it.” Create a safe space for your child to express their thoughts and feelings. Validate their experiences and actively listen to what they have to say.
  • Practice self-care: Taking care of yourself is as important as supporting your teen. Continue to model healthy coping skills by using good self-care, possibly seeking out your own mental health/substance abuse support and being willing to change along with your teen. 
  • Be patient: Therapy is not a linear process. It cannot happen overnight. Understand that recovery takes time and setbacks may happen. Patience is key in supporting your child through their journey.


Parenting a teenager dealing with mental health issues can feel overwhelming, but support is available. Adolescent intensive outpatient programs can provide crucial support and guidance during this critical time. However, you also play an important role in your child’s recovery journey.

If your child isn’t already in an IOP program, ask your child’s health care provider or call the Banner Appointment Line at 800-254-4357 to find a program near you. Taking proactive steps and seeking appropriate support can make a significant difference in your child's well-being and overall journey toward healing.

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