What Your Clients Can Expect from Our Virtual IOP

“Virtual IOP was exactly what I needed...constant pushing from my therapist and dietitian keeps me trying to recover; the group held me more accountable – to myself AND them. The safe space the group provided as well as dedicated time in the skills group pushed me to sit, be aware, be present, be mindful, be introspective, to reflect and be conscious of things that are too painful...hearing others express their coping mechanisms and values allowed me support and gave me ways to reframe or better verbalize and identify my feelings.” Erin, Virtual IOP Patient

Since 2016, Eating Recovery Center (ERC) has worked to expand healthcare and treatment services for patients through virtual treatment, helping them receive the intensive care they need no matter their location. ERC has since treated more than 6,000 patients virtually and has the only published research documenting the efficacy of Virtual IOP for eating disorder patients.

What is Virtual IOP?

A Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program for mood, anxiety and trauma-related conditions models the experience patients receive at Pathlight’s numerous on-site locations, but with added benefits regarding convenience and flexibility. Virtual IOP enables patients to receive care in the privacy of their own home, or dorm room, without the need to commute to travel. Pathlight’s team consistently reinforces that the virtual experience is as valid, effective, community-based and accountability-focused as on-site treatment – as demonstrated by peer-reviewed, published clinical outcomes.

Deborah M. Michel, PhD, CEDS-S, FAED, National Clinical Director of Virtual Care at Pathlight, states: “It really mirrors what we do on-site, but for people who aren’t near one of our locations, virtual care is such a critical way to help remove barriers to care.” For anyone with mood and anxiety disorders, VIOP can be integrated into their daily schedules. Clinicians often agree that VIOP may, in fact, be a more comfortable experience for some patients, particularly those with social anxiety.

Casey Tallent, PhD, Director of Collegiate and Telebehavioral Health Initiatives reinforces this opportunity, speaking to the increase in mood-related conditions within environments like college campuses. Virtual IOP gives colleges and universities the opportunity to provide a convenient, proven treatment methodology that promotes earlier intervention in the “step up” phase of a student’s mood or anxiety development and improves their prognosis – while still enabling the student to remain engaged in their academic pursuits.

Virtual IOP can also serve as a “step down” tool for students returning home or to campus following treatment from a higher level of care. This allows students to return to their previous academic and social lives with appropriate ongoing support. Dr. Tallent adds, “Too often we see high recidivism rates from students returning to areas without aftercare options to help them stay on their recovery journey.”

Pathlight’s eight-week program involves approximately 10 hours per week of evidence-based treatment with licensed, specialized professionals to help interrupt symptoms and build a foundation of resilience that can support patients as they move on to life outside treatment.

Pathlight is also unique in offering two distinct Virtual IOP programs for Mood & Anxiety:

  • Adult Mood & Anxiety Treatment
  • Child & Adolescent Mood & Anxiety Treatment

Programming & Treatment Modalities

Pathlight offers a consistent continuum of care by using the same therapist throughout the course of treatment with each pod of six to eight patients. Dr. Tallent remarks that one of the unique differentiators for Pathlight’s Virtual IOP is the fact that patients not only have the same treatment team, but also are in group with the same pod members – leading to high patient satisfaction and connection between patient and treatment team. Following an initial assessment and admittance to the program, patients have a one-time, comprehensive intake session, 9 hours of group therapy, and 45 minutes of individual or family therapy weekly.

What to Expect During Intake

During the intake process, the therapist familiarizes themselves with the patient: exploring what has changed since the initial assessment, what the patient’s living situation is like – including who is typically around the patients, what their financial situation is, etc.

When the intake concludes, therapists and other team members collaborate with patients to identify goals and create an individualized treatment plan. Patients are asked to explore what they want out of Virtual IOP and work to set treatment goals alongside their treatment team, making everyone’s care unique to them.

In understanding the impact of families, friends, and loved ones in the treatment and recovery process, Pathlight uses a family-based therapeutic approach: setting goals in collaboration with the patient themselves, family members or caregivers, and therapist to ensure consistent care and support.

Opportunities for Connection & Community

Three times a week, patients meet in a clinician-led virtual group setting for three-hour sessions. These sessions are focused on teaching skills, processing emotions and learning adaptive coping patterns. Skills-focused therapy and process-oriented therapy use evidence-based modalities including Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Radically Open Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (RO-DBT), Family Based Therapy (FBT), and Emotion Focused Family Therapy (EFFT). Patients also engage in behavior modification therapy, focusing on exposures and behavioral activation.

Clinical Manager Anne Maguire, LCSW notes that the virtual setting lends itself well to reacting to patients in the moment. She says, “It gives you the ability to completely pivot. While they’re doing a mindfulness activity, I can pull up a new file on a whim, to really address their needs. I think that's the biggest thing. We want to cater to their needs.”

In group therapy, Pathlight therapists are the guides, but much of the work is focused on shared experiences and peer support. A clinician shares, “I’m not a ‘fixer;’ I'm a listener. I'm here to be a partner in care. We have our patients support each other...they can have shared experiences of yes, that's happened to me too -- and here's how I handled it.”

Individual Therapy and Support

Patients attend one weekly individual or family therapy session for 45 minutes each week. Some weeks will address homework, or how it has been to practice a certain coping skill that week. Sessions can also focus on addressing a behavior that a patient engaged in, or a remark from a family member.

Throughout the entire eight weeks, the entire team works in partnership and are in constant contact; all information is shared to streamline and enhance communication and progress. Outpatient providers and therapists are consistently updated on progress along the way.

Family & Friends Involvement During Treatment

Pathlight places a strong focus on ongoing support for family and caregivers, empowering support systems to better support their loved ones. For adolescents, family is automatically involved in the Virtual IOP process – but adults can also have their families, friends, and support systems involved via family therapy sessions. In addition to formal sessions, Pathlight also offers additional support to families with caregiver-focused support groups and a weekly educational Virtual Family & Friends Education Series. This ongoing family support for all patients enables caregivers to feel supported, as their loved one has more time to practice skills-based recovery strategies.

What to Expect After Virtual IOP

At Pathlight, a patient can seamlessly move up to a higher level of care if necessary or continue to their aftercare: seeing their outpatient providers to continue their care. Pathlight offers comprehensive aftercare support and alumni-based resources to help sustain recovery after treatment. The Alumni and Family Liaisons are a clinician-led team dedicated to supporting alumni and their family members throughout their journey: providing ongoing support via phone and email outreach, alumni events, support groups, social recovery communities, and other resources.

Learn More About Virtual IOP Services

To learn more about virtual treatment for your patients, reference the following resources:

Refer Your Patients to Virtual IOP Today

There are four easy and convenient ways to refer a patient:

  1. Contact our master’s-level Clinical team at 1-877-825-8584
  2. Email us at
  3. Fax your patient’s information to 425-974-1530
  4. Complete the Quick Admit Form