Limelight Therapist Interview 4 – What is Intensive Outpatient (IOP)?



At Sanford House, we are always growing and changing – looking for better ways to serve our clients. And when we opened Sanford Outpatient Center, there was no question who would facilitate the group activities. The Grand Opening of our Outpatient Center just took place, we are serving clients every day. So, what better time to talk to Natalie Sernick, LLMSW about her role and responsibilities therein?




Helping our clients find hope…

Natalie Sernick enjoys working with outpatient clients as they transition back into a more natural environment. And she says she loves watching our clients experience the world without drugs and alcohol – finding hope in recovery.

We find her between group sessions. A huge yellow scarf around her neck, a big smile and a fresh bob (she goes to the gym A LOT and her previous long locks “got in the way”. This is worth mentioning, because Natalie seems like a no-nonsense kind of person – the type who would chop off her pretty long hair with a shrug. And wear her new do with style and wit.



















The Limelight Therapist Interview – Natalie Sernick, LLMSW


First things first, what is IOP and Outpatient Addiction Treatment?

IOP stands for “Intensive Outpatient Program“. And IOP is sandwiched right in the middle of higher levels of treatment and lower levels of treatment. It can be altered to fit individual needs. While Sanford House residential treatment is gender specific, IOP is for men and women together, and treats many different substances of choice. IOP is based around group therapy sessions, education and connection to community.


Got it. Why did you become a therapist?

I have known I wanted to be a social worker since Junior High School. After I got my Bachelor of Social Work and Sociology from Michigan State University, I went on to get my master’s degree here in Grand Rapids. I think I am empathetic and that I connect and relate to all kinds of people. I’m fascinated by “thoughts” – what goes on in people’s heads. I like to help people move those thoughts around until they can make sense of their own cognitive  processes.


What is your treatment philosophy?

I know people can recover. I know that when someone stops using, they can do it forever. They can get a deeper connection to “real life”. I know that a substance use disorder is not a choice. And that triggers and mental health issues are factors, but I also know that once sober – you do have a choice. And that you can have FUN in recovery.


Anything else?

Yes. Therapeutic relationships are more important than anything else. Our Family Program, for the loved ones of our clients, educates and prepares the family to be allies in recovery.


What is the key to success in recovery?

Being willing to take all suggestions and surrender. When you are on your knees, without the ability to stop and stay stopped, you have to open up and take it all in. Try everything with an open mind…



Individual therapy in one of our private rooms…


As a person in recovery yourself, how does it impact your connection to our clients?

I am a work in progress too. I say, “I’m like you.” I like to use the term “recovery”. For myself too. The booze and drugs are gone, but what am I working on? What, as my client, are you working on? If you switch alcohol or other drugs for something else, what is that? And if you can find a connection with another person it reduces inhibitions and transcends addiction…


What would you describe as the “fun” part of your job?

Bringing joy. We laugh a lot. I like to turn our client’s thoughts around from what we value as a culture so they don’t feel so alienated.



The communal kitchen…


Do you have a motto?

Not really. Maybe just, “call it into your life” and “be honest”.


A favorite journey?

Yes! Hawaii – I am spiritually called there… spiritually aligned.


What are your most marked characteristics?

I am honest, perhaps a bit blunt, fun and achievement oriented.


What about your approach to outpatient therapy?

I love groups! And I try to give everyone an opportunity to speak their mind and allow the others in the group to contribute. I like to think that “help is on the way” and to try to make everyone feel comfortable. I am always here to help our clients and their families and loved ones in their recovery process. Questions and feedback are welcome!

Thanks Natalie. SH






Sanford Behavioral Health is a residential and outpatient facility located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sanford offers excellence in evidence-based practice models in a home-like, restorative setting. Our clinicians, supported by our medical team, focus on resolving the underlying issues that often cause substance use, such as trauma, unhealthy relationships, co-occurring disorders and isolation. Programs include both in-person and telehealth: residential, day programs, intensive outpatient, outpatient, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), education and relapse prevention classes, one-on-one and family therapy, and alumni and family support groups. At Sanford, we want to inspire you to find your inner grit, rekindle your interests and engage your passion.