Skip to main content
September 29, 2020

What Does “Intensive Care” Mean in Eating Disorder Treatment?

What Does “Intensive Care” Mean in Eating Disorder Treatment?

Eating disorder care spans across a continuum of levels. At one end are less intensive levels of care (LOC), and at the other are more intensive ones. Each level along the spectrum is increasingly more intensive than the one before it:

  • Outpatient Care (OP)
  • Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
  • Partial Hospitalization Program/Intensive Day Program (PHP/IDP)
  • Residential Care
  • Inpatient Care

Though the names and exact criteria for each level of care may vary across providers and insurance plans, the eating disorder field generally follows this multilevel structure in treatment, research, and education. At The Emily Program, we use these guidelines to inform treatment recommendations and ultimately aim to match each client with the care that best meets their unique needs. Co-occurring physical and psychiatric conditions, client location, and environmental or home stressors are among the factors also considered in making a recommendation.

What Makes Some of These Levels “Intensive”?

In general, the more “intensive” a level of care is, the more support and structure it offers clients.

Inpatient care is the most intensive level of treatment The Emily Program provides. It offers around-the-clock medical and psychiatric monitoring to ensure safety and stabilization. This level of care is designed for individuals who are medically unstable due to the severity of their eating disorder symptoms. Clients have access to a multidisciplinary team, including physicians, nurses, psychiatrists, and dietitians, who all work closely to provide comprehensive care. Like residential treatment, inpatient care includes structured daily programming with a focus on initiating recovery and preparing for transition to less intensive levels of care. The duration of stay varies depending on individual needs but is typically shorter than residential care, focusing on acute stabilization before transitioning to lower levels of care.

Residential care is the next most intensive level offered by The Emily Program. At this level, residents reside in a homelike setting that offers 24/7 support and monitoring. Kitchen, dining, and living areas provide space for therapeutic and educational groups, as well as any leisure activities. In addition to group programming, residents typically also participate in individual therapy, nutrition counseling, and family therapy. Programming runs throughout the day, and supervision is provided during and after all meals and snacks. Some residents stay less than a month in this level of care, while others may stay for several months.

Less intensive than residential care is Partial Hospitalization/Intensive Day Programming (PHP/IDP). Clients reside outside of treatment centers but spend a minimum of 30 hours a week in all-day therapeutic and educational programming. They eat the majority of the day’s meals and snacks with the support and supervision of treatment staff; the others are eaten outside of programming. Clients have more independence as they practice new coping skills without around-the-clock monitoring.

In Intensive Outpatient Programming (IOP), clients achieve even more independence as they learn to incorporate skills and psychoeducation into their everyday lives. They may return to their regular school, work, or family routines as they spend the majority of their day outside of programming and connect for briefer therapeutic sessions and fewer meals and snacks. IOP typically includes programming for 4 days per week, 3 hours per day.

All Levels of Care are Important

It is important to note that a more intensive level of care does not mean a more “legitimate” eating disorder; it simply means an eating disorder that requires specific attention. Though more structure and support may be necessary to address certain physical or behavioral symptoms, eating disorders are first and foremost mental illnesses. A person who receives outpatient treatment exclusively has a recovery that is equally valid and worthwhile as one who receives residential or any combination of care levels in between.

If you’re wondering what level of care may be appropriate for your or a loved one’s eating disorder, please contact The Emily Program at 1-888-364-5977 or fill out our online form today.

Get help. Find hope.