On May 8, Palo Alto’s Children’s Health Council (CHC) will debut its newest branch, the Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), which will focus on aiding teenagers struggling with depression or anxiety.
The IOP will use a variety of therapeutic methods, including mindful movement and family therapy, to provide comprehensive support and treatment for high schoolers, specifically those with high levels of anxiety, self-esteem problems, suicidal thoughts and histories of self-harm.
“The goal of the IOP is to meet the needs of the community — of Palo Alto and also of the greater Bay Area,” said Jennifer Leydecker, a licensed marriage and family therapist and primary clinician at the IOP. “There are adolescents struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, and [the IOP] is definitely needed because there are few resources for higher-level needs in the Bay Area.”
The outpatient program is the first of its kind to open in Palo Alto. While there are other IOPs and teenage mental health facilities in the Bay Area, they concentrate mostly on substance abuse; this IOP will primarily target combatting depression, anxiety and threats to harm.
“There are teens in the area who need more help,” said Lynette Hsu, head of adolescent mental health at the CHC and medical director of the IOP. “There are many with severe depression, difficulty with chronic suicidal thoughts and self injury behaviors.”
Students who meet the threshold of symptoms for higher-level therapy will be referred to the IOP through their school counselors, therapists or hospital staff. Patients will include both those coming straight out of residential hospital programs as well as teens coming from a once-a-week therapy session schedule who need a step up to higher degrees of treatment.
“A lot of the things we see when people struggle with severe depression is that it affects your functioning in many parts in your life. They will probably need help academically, with family conflicts or might be having problems with friends and do not know of strategies of how to cope with how they feel.”
Lynette Hsu, head of adolescent mental health
At the IOP, therapists will use dialectical behavioral therapy as their main curative tactic. Dialectical behavioral therapy focuses on improving the mindset of those with severe mood difficulties and suicidal thoughts, and involves work around mindfulness and changing behavior.
“One of the core skills we will be working with is how to not think so black and white, which means seeing the gray area around things and recognizing that things aren’t always good or bad,” Leydecker said. “There are positive, negative and neutral aspects.”
The IOP will consist of two main therapists that will run the program, an educational specialist and an occupational therapist. Currently, the staff is working in consultation with dialectical behavioral therapy specialists and putting together a curriculum in preparation for its premiere in the beginning of May.
Patients at the program will work with therapists every week from Monday to Thursday, and will participate in a spectrum of activities, ranging from individual therapy to multi-family skills groups, where patients and their families will build healthy, proactive skills and address issues that arise within each family in productive ways.