IOP adds additional group to meet demand

The Department of Psychiatry’s Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) continues to grow, with the IOP adding an in-person cohort to help patients with co-occurring mental and substance use disorders.

On July 9, 2018, the Department of Psychiatry opened a new Behavioral Health Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) clinic. The IOP clinic helps support the needs of individuals with co-occurring mental health and addiction who require more support than weekly or monthly outpatient services provide but do not require withdrawal management or other inpatient treatment.

Over the years, the demand for IOP’s services, in particular in-person groups, has grown. The IOP already included two cohorts – a telehealth morning group and an in-person afternoon group, with the third cohort, an in-person morning group, added in May 2024. Each of these cohorts participate in the 6-week program, meeting four days a week for three hours of group therapy per day, as well as for weekly individual therapy and medication management visits as indicated. 

IOP Medical Director Sara Zachman, MD, MPH, said group therapy can benefit people in recovery. 

“Many patients are understandably anxious about sharing in public, but our therapists work hard to normalize that. After a while, many find there is a lot of mutual support in a group setting,” she said. “They learn from other people’s experiences and can identify elements of it. They may see people who are steps ahead of them in recovery, which can give people hope, or be able to offer insights for people earlier in the recovery process, which can be gratifying.”

In 2020, the IOP began offering group therapy via telehealth due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Ken Zoucha, MD, Director of the Addiction Division in the Department of Psychiatry, the telehealth sessions were successful. While telehealth worked, Dr. Zoucha said in-person group therapy still needed to be done.

“Patients deserve a private space, and, in some cases, patients aren’t comfortable speaking about their addictions with family members nearby. Some patients also don’t have access to needed technology. They may not have high-speed internet or data available on their phone,” he said.

Expanding the IOP’s capacity has been made possible due to the addition of the PLMHP training program in the Psychiatry Department. The PLMHPs are getting trained by fully licenses IOP therapists and supported by the interdisciplinary IOP team that also includes a dedicated nurse, medical assistant, medication provider, and medical director.

Dr. Zachman said the additional IOP capacity will contribute to the need for addiction treatment in Nebraska.

“We are excited to offer more spots for more people in an effort to decrease wait times. We know quick access is critical in substance use treatment,” Dr. Zachman said. “We know people often have a window when they are ready for treatment, and we want to be ready to offer that help when they are ready.”

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