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Remote Access IOP Carries Unique Riggs Treatment Beyond the Berkshires

April 5, 2022
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By John Zollinger
Just five months after its launch, the Remote Access Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) for Massachusetts College Students is yielding valuable insights on how video technology brings knowledge gained from a century of Riggs residential treatment to patients from diverse backgrounds and locations around the state. 
Introduced last November, the IOP has partnered with counseling offices at several public and private schools such as UMass Amherst, Williams, Tufts, Emmanuel College, and Boston University. The Riggs IOP features intensive psychotherapy, medication management and consultation, yoga and mindfulness, and groups focused on developing self-knowledge and building resilience through relationships. Learning about an individual's struggles that comes from these program elements is integrated by a multidisciplinary treatment team.
“Navigating the transition to college is always challenging, but the pandemic, which has exacerbated social turmoil and instability, has made it far more stressful for many students,” said Spencer Biel, PsyD, director of the IOP. “With college counseling offices facing overwhelming demand for their services, our program offers critical support to both the students and the schools,” he added.
Among the challenges students report facing are:
  • Disrupted social structures that are critical in young adult identity development
  • Increased social isolation and uncertainty about the future
  • Escalating screen use and other retreats from reality
Still in its pilot phase, the program has approximately seven students presently. Each one averages about 12-13 hours per week engaging in group and individual treatment overseen by a multidisciplinary team that includes psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers.
“Patients have remarked on the deep, personal engagement that is the cornerstone of the Riggs approach, noting how different this is from other treatments. They feel seen, heard, and less alone with their struggles, and, through the integration of services and perspectives that comes from working with a dedicated IOP treatment team, can pull together a more comprehensive understanding of themselves. As they discover meanings in their behaviors and symptoms, they have more resources, within themselves and in the relationships they develop, to address the challenges they face.” —Spencer Biel, PsyD, IOP Director
The IOP staff is still in the early stages of gathering data on outcomes, but Biel described some initial anecdotal feedback.
In addition to carrying Riggs’ traditional practices well beyond the Center’s base in the Berkshires, the IOP has been able to treat a diverse group of students. Of the 11 students enrolled in the program since its inception, 18% are transgender, 27% are Latinx, 36% are Asian or South Asian, and 82% self-identify as a minority.
“Increasing diversity in our patient population and making our unique approach to treatment more accessible is a goal for Riggs,” said MedicalDirector/CEO Eric M. Plakun, MD. “We are heartened that most of our IOP students utilize financial aid and that more than 80% self-identify as minorities. This is progress, though we also realize there is much work still to be done to reach more students and work with them to achieve resilience through relationships.”
The IOP is open to students 18 years or older who are physically in the Commonwealth while they are being treated. However, the program is not meant for crisis stabilization or for students who have an active substance use disorder.
To learn more about the Remote Access IOP, visit: www.austenriggs.org/IOP
Prospective students and college counselors may also call our office directly: 833.921.5700.