Understanding the Different Therapies Used in Teen IOP

Table of Contents

This Article Discusses the Following:

  • Definition of Teen IOP
  • The therapist’s role in teen IOP
  • Types of therapies used in Teen IOP, including alternative therapies
  • Integration of alternative therapies with traditional approaches
  • Medication-assisted therapies in Teen IOP
  • Factors to consider when choosing therapy for teen IOP

Teen treatment centers in the US use several interventions to help teenagers overcome mental health and substance abuse issues. One of the most common treatment options they provide is the Teen intensive outpatient program (IOP): a flexible, comprehensive program for treating moderate teen mental illness and adolescent substance use disorders.

To help you understand what the program constitutes, we will discuss the therapies used in teen IOP and offer additional information, such as what treatment professionals consider when choosing a therapeutic approach for your teen during intensive outpatient treatment. Join us, and let’s get started.

Overview of Teen IOP

The intensive outpatient program is a less restrictive advanced care option for teenagers that offers a safe and supportive environment for building healthy coping skills, increasing self-awareness, learning how to manage emotions, and building healthy relationships. Teens get to stay at home, attend school, and participate in other activities while attending treatment. IOPs offer family participation, academic support, and aftercare planning to ensure better treatment outcomes.

Different Types of Therapies Used in Teen IOP

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT for teens is an evidence-based psychotherapy that helps teenagers change maladaptive thoughts and behaviors. It is premised on the idea that our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are interconnected; therefore, changing our thoughts can help us change our behaviors. CBT is commonly used for teen substance abuse, anxiety, teen depression, trauma in teens, and adolescent bipolar disorder treatment.

Techniques Used in CBT for Teens

  • Journaling- Journaling is done in-between sessions to help teenagers process their thoughts and feelings. It offers an easier way to track moods, practice positive self-talk and identify negative thinking patterns.
  • Behavioral experiments- These experiments allow teenagers to test out and deconstruct negative self-beliefs
  • Cognitive restructuring- Cognitive restructuring challenges destructive thought patterns or internal beliefs by helping teenagers identify distorted thought patterns and replace them with more balanced thoughts.
  • Guided discovery- This technique allows therapists to gain a better understanding of teen perspectives to help them challenge negative beliefs.
  • Relaxation and stress management techniques- Techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, and mindfulness meditation help teenagers manage stress and anxiety.
  • Problem-solving techniques- CBT’s brainstorming, goal-setting, and role-playing techniques help teens identify and find solutions to their life problems and manage relationship conflict.

Limitations and Considerations of CBT in Teen IOP

  • CBT techniques must be tailored to meet teenagers’ individual and developmental needs.
  • Therapists need to employ motivation and engagement enhancement strategies to increase engagement for better outcomes
  • CBT majorly focuses on teenagers’ thoughts, behaviors, and emotions and may therefore ignore other systemic factors responsible for teen difficulties, such as cultural influences and family dynamics
  • It may be challenging to find competent CBT-trained therapists in certain areas.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Teen DBT was originally developed for borderline personality disorder treatment. It helps teens with mental health or addiction disorders manage their emotions, develop healthier coping skills and deal with difficult situations. Common techniques and skills used during DBT sessions include distress tolerance, mindfulness, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.

Core Components of DBT in Teen IOP

  • Phone Coaching- Therapists use phone coaching to offer teens support and guidance between sessions. It also allows them (teenagers) to utilize the skills learned in DBT sessions during crises.
  • Individual Therapy Sessions- Teenagers have one-on-one meetings with therapists during teen individual therapy sessions to identify and address issues as well as work towards their treatment goals. The therapist uses different techniques during these sessions to help them manage stress, process emotions and improve relationships.
  • Group skills training- Teens facing similar challenges learn and practice DBT skills, improve interpersonal relationships, and learn from each other during group skills training.

Benefits of DBT in Teen IOP

  • It teaches teenagers how to manage their emotions
  •  Teenagers learn how to deal with difficult situations
  •  It reduces teen self-destructive behaviors by imparting healthy coping skills
  •  It has long-term benefits such as increased functioning, improved emotional well-being, and long-term sobriety
  •  It builds teen self-awareness

Family Therapy

Teen family therapy is administered to help teenagers and their family members understand and resolve problems within the family dynamic. It allows households to explore issues causing teen distress, develop healthier relationships, learn new communication strategies, and work toward the child’s health and well-being.

Different Models and Approaches Used in Family Therapy

  • Structural Family Therapy- This approach identifies and restructures dysfunctional patterns, hierarchies, and boundaries within the family, leading to better interactions and healthier relationships.
  • Solution-Focused Brief Therapy- Instead of focusing on family problems, SFBT identifies and builds upon the family’s strengths and resources.
  • Strategic Family Therapy- SFT addresses problems within the family dynamics by using strategic therapy and family therapy to plan, execute (strategically), and measure outcomes.
  • Narrative Family Therapy- This approach views participants separately from their problems. It helps family members deconstruct negative patterns and build alternative empowering stories for improved growth and resilience.
  • Bowenian Family Therapy- Bowenian family therapy addresses the family’s system and dynamics, helping decrease anxiety and improve family relationships.

 Addressing Common Concerns and Issues in Family Therapy for Teens

  • Communication- Family therapy offers teenagers, siblings, and parents a more effective way of communicating their issues. It also helps identify and address issues responsible for the family’s communication breakdown.
  • Anger Problems- Family therapy teaches safe and healthy ways of tackling problems that do not involve anger outbursts. For family members with anger issues, it offers constructive ways of dealing with or channeling anger.

Benefits and Outcomes of Family Therapy in Teen IOP

If successfully administered, family therapy can improve family communication, strengthen family relationships, increase empathy and understanding between family members, address conflicts and misunderstandings, enhance family members’ problem-solving skills, and improve participants’ emotional well-being.

Group Therapy

Teen group therapy is administered to groups of teenagers facing similar mental health or substance abuse challenges. It offers a safe and supportive environment, allowing them to work collaboratively on their issues, improve self-awareness and become more resilient. It also teaches important skills such as conflict resolution, communication, and problem-solving.

Group Therapy Formats and Techniques Used for Teens

  • Psychoeducational Group Therapy- Psychoeducational group therapy sheds light on teen conditions and allows participants to learn new coping skills. The relevant groups focus on specific mental health or addiction disorders.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Group Therapy- This group therapy format helps teenagers overcome maladaptive behaviors by restructuring their thoughts and self-beliefs.
  • Skills Development Groups- Skills development groups help teenagers acquire and improve healthy coping skills. They aim to strengthen participants’ cognitive and behavioral resources, so they can make positive changes and avoid triggers.
  • Interpersonal Process Groups- Interpersonal process groups promote positive changes by focusing on interpersonal group dynamics.
  • Support Groups- Teen support groups provide unconditional acceptance, making teenagers feel less alone. They also enhance accountability for long-term sobriety.

Benefits of Group Therapy in Teen IOP

  • It helps teenagers build better communication skills
  • It teaches teens how to interact with others positively
  • It allows teenagers to be more aware of their actions and emotions
  • It teaches teens how to better cope with emotions and stress
  • It helps teenagers find their voice, improving their confidence
  • Teenagers feel less isolated
  • It teaches teenagers to be more understanding and compassionate

Guidelines for Effective Group Therapy Sessions for Teens

For effective group therapy sessions, therapists should:

  • Establish and communicate expectations at the beginning of the therapy process
  • Create a safe, supportive, and non-judgmental environment for teens to express themselves and share their experiences
  • Encourage all participants to participate actively
  • Identify and address the individual needs of every teenager
  • Use interactive techniques to promote teen engagement
  • Normalize and validate participants’ emotions
  • Dutifully monitor and manage group dynamics.
  • Evaluate and adjust the sessions’ effectiveness.

Individual Therapy

Teen individual therapy helps adolescents lower their guard and discuss their challenges. It is administered through one-on-one meetings with professional therapists who help teenagers understand their feelings and thought patterns, identify underlying causes for their mental health or addiction disorders, and develop healthy coping skills.

Therapeutic Approaches Used in Individual Therapy

Aside from dialectical behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, therapists also use the following therapeutic approaches during individual therapy:

  • Motivational Interviewing- Motivational interviewing increases teenagers’ treatment motivation by helping them realize that they are not alone in their struggles. This therapeutic approach encourages issue exploration and solution-finding.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy- Teen ACT helps teenagers accept what they cannot change and commit to working on the areas they can.

Alternative Therapies

Alternative therapies are effective non-traditional treatment approaches/ techniques. Common alternative therapies in teen IOPs include:

Art Therapy

Teen Art therapy in LA, is administered in group settings under the supervision of a qualified art therapist. The therapist provides the required materials and guides participants through relevant activities, such as drawing, painting, collage-making, photography, coloring, and sculpting. This therapeutic approach helps teenagers express their thoughts and feelings, process and cope with difficult emotions, explore their identities, increase self-esteem, and reduce stress.

Music Therapy

Teen music therapy allows teenagers to cope with issues such as stress, trauma, depression, and anxiety. It can be tailored to meet teenagers’ individual needs. Common music therapy techniques such as songwriting, listening to music, and playing instruments can help teenagers manage anger, stress, and anxiety, increase self-confidence, and express emotions. Other associated benefits include improved concentration, communication skills, and focus.

Equine-Assisted Therapy

Equine-assisted therapy is a collaborative and experiential mental health treatment approach that requires teens to interact with horses. It is generally done under the supervision of equine therapists and horse trainers. It helps teenagers improve their emotion regulation skills, self-esteem, confidence, and self-awareness. It also promotes relaxation, stress reduction, and communication skills development.

Integrating Alternative Therapies with Traditional Approaches

Here are a few ways IOP providers integrate alternative therapies with traditional approaches for improved treatment outcomes:

  • Tailoring the treatment plan to include evidence-based traditional therapies and appropriate alternative therapies.
  • Using alternative therapies to complement and enhance the effectiveness of traditional approaches
  • Collaborating with alternative therapy providers such as acupuncturists to develop a comprehensive multidisciplinary treatment plan.
  • Incorporating alternative therapy elements into traditional therapy sessions
  • Introducing alternative therapies at different treatment stages
  • Teaching alternative therapy skills (such as relaxation techniques) within the traditional therapy context
  • Recommending resources that align with alternative therapies, such as guided meditation recordings, books, and online resources

Medication-Assisted Therapies

Intensive outpatient treatment providers can combine therapy with medications when treating certain addictions and mental health disorders, such as opioid dependency.

Role of Medication in Teen IOP

Teen intensive outpatient treatment professionals use medication to:

  • Reduce the severity or duration of withdrawal symptoms
  • Manage and alleviate common mental health conditions symptoms such as depression and anxiety disorders in adolescence.
  • Stabilize mood by regulating mood swings
  • Manage symptoms related to co-occurring disorders
  • Reduce symptoms that may hinder therapy progress
  • Target specific treatment needs as provided by the individualized treatment plan

Commonly Prescribed Medications in Teen IOPs and Their Purpose

Teen IOPs generally prescribe antidepressants, mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety medications, stimulants, and antipsychotics during medication-assisted therapy. Here are their purposes:

  • Antidepressants relieve depression symptoms and help treat conditions such as social anxiety in teens, generalized anxiety disorder, OCD in teens, teen panic disorder, and PTSD.
  • Mood stabilizers help manage extreme mood swings in teenagers, which are common in teens with bipolar disorder
  • Anti-anxiety medications calm the mind and reduce stress levels. Examples include benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Buspirone, and antihypertensives.
  • Antipsychotics treat psychosis, a condition prevalent in schizophrenia and substance use disorders. They also alleviate agitation and hallucination symptoms
  • Stimulants increase alertness, attention, and energy levels for successful ADHD treatment.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Therapy for Teen IOP

  • Teen Diagnosis- It’s important to consider the teen’s diagnosis and underlying conditions when choosing therapy since some therapies are best suited for specific conditions and symptoms. For example, DBT is the most suitable option to treat borderline personality disorder in teens, while CBT is recommended for teen anxiety.
  • Treatment Goals- The therapy option should align with the desired treatment outcomes, be it to reduce symptoms, improve coping skills, or achieve other specific objectives.
  • Evidence-Based Approaches- Practices that have proven highly effective in treating specific mental health and addiction disorders should be prioritized.
  • Family Involvement- The intensive outpatient program should include therapeutic approaches, such as teen family therapy, that allow family members to participate in their teenager’s treatment directly.
  • Teen and Family Input- Mental health professionals should seek input from teenagers and their families when choosing therapeutic approaches for adolescent IOP. Collaborative decision-making generally promotes engagement and improves treatment outcomes.

Also read: How to Choose a Teen Rehab Facility

The Role of the Therapist in Teen IOP

  • Conducting comprehensive assessments and making diagnoses
  • Collaborating with medical staff, teenagers, and family members to develop individualized treatment plans
  • Establishing a therapeutic allegiance with the teenager based on trust, confidentiality, and empathy
  • Offering one-on-one support and interventions during individual therapy sessions
  • Leading group therapy sessions and helping teenagers share their experiences and learn from one another
  • Administering family therapy to help family members identify and resolve issues within the family dynamics.
  • Offering psychoeducation to teenagers and their family members to shed light on teen conditions, treatment options, and other relevant issues.
  • Monitoring the teenager’s progress throughout the treatment process and making necessary adjustments.


Intensive outpatient programs help teenagers overcome substance abuse and mental health disorders without significantly interrupting their education, work, or social lives. Our Key Healthcare IOP  offers adolescents a safe and supportive environment to build a strong recovery foundation and learn how to manage their emotions. They also develop healthy coping skills, increase self-awareness and receive additional peer support. Feel free to contact us to learn more.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Does Equine Therapy Work as a Therapeutic Approach in Teen IOP?

In equine therapy, teenagers interact with horses, which are seen as non-judgmental and unbiased companions, to achieve emotional, behavioral, and cognitive growth. Establishing a therapeutic relationship with the horse helps them develop empathy, trust, and improved communication skills. Benefits associated with this therapeutic approach include improved self-esteem, better emotion regulation, and stress reduction.

What is the Main Focus of Individual Therapy in Teen IOP?

Individual therapy mainly focuses on providing a structured approach for teenagers to open up about their encounters and struggles. Therapists help them understand their feelings and thoughts patterns, identify the underlying causes of their struggles and develop healthy coping skills during the sessions.

How Does Group Therapy Promote Peer Support and Growth in Teen IOP?

Group therapy allows teenagers of the same age group to share their experiences, thoughts, and emotions and learn from each other. It also offers them a structured environment to develop and practice social skills and hold each other accountable. Lastly, teenagers get to normalize their experiences, reducing feelings of shame, self-blame, and isolation.

How Does Music Therapy Enhance Emotional Expression and Communication in Teen IOP?

  • Techniques used in music therapy, such as singing and music production, offer teenagers an outlet for emotional expression.
  • Teenagers can express their thoughts, emotions, and experiences through lyrics.
  • Teens can communicate and connect nonverbally through melody, rhythm, and dynamics.
  • Techniques such as improvisation allow teenagers to explore different emotions and express their mental state.
  • Teenagers get to collaborate and communicate with others during group music-making.

What Differentiates Inpatient and Outpatient Therapy in the Context of Teen IOP?

Inpatient therapy is conducted in teen residential treatment center where teenagers reside and enjoy round-the-clock support, while outpatient therapy happens in non-residential settings that allow teens to live at home or make independent living arrangements.

Inpatient therapy is also more intensive than outpatient treatment, as it is mostly used for severe mental health and substance use disorders. Lastly, the duration of treatment between the two therapies differs, i.e., outpatient therapy is generally designed for relatively longer treatment and support.

Are Alternative Therapies Like Yoga or Meditation Used in Teen IOP?

Yes. Intensive outpatient program providers offer therapies such as teen yoga therapy and meditation as part of their complementary therapeutic approaches. Benefits associated with these practices include stress reduction, increased self-awareness, better emotional regulation, and improved overall well-being.

How Does Teen IOP Integrate Academic Support for Participants?

Teen IOPs help participants focus on their schoolwork and succeed in their studies by offering academic coaching and tutoring.

Are Parents Involved in the Therapeutic Process During Teen IOP?

Yes. Intensive outpatient treatment providers understand the importance of family involvement in mental health and addiction treatment. Teen IOPs offer family counseling and education programs to help parents understand teenagers’ conditions and learn how to offer the best support.

Are There Any Age Restrictions for Teens Participating in IOP?

Currently, our Key Healthcare intensive outpatient program is only available for teenagers aged 14-17. Fortunately, we have other options for teens outside this age bracket.

Can Teens Continue Attending School While in Teen IOP?

Yes. Teen IOPs guarantee minimal interruption of teens’ school, education, and social lives. They can attend school as usual as long as they check in with the treatment provider regularly.