UCLA Thought Disorders Intensive Outpatient Program

What are thought disorders?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, thought disorders affect approximately 1% of the U.S. adult population. People with thought disorders, including schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, may experience the world in unusual ways. Symptoms that are characteristic of thought disorders are often described as positive, negative, and cognitive:

  • Positive symptoms: these include changes in the way people perceive the world, such as seeing or hearing things that other people cannot see or hear; having concerns for one’s safety, otherwise known as paranoia; or having difficulty organizing one’s thoughts or speaking logically.
  • Negative symptoms: these include feeling less motivation to interact with others or engage in school or work; feeling less pleasure during daily activities; and speaking less than usual.
  • Cognitive symptoms: these include difficulty processing information or carrying out complex tasks; and difficulty with focus or attention.

These symptoms often interfere with people’s ability to engage in meaningful activities, such as working or going to school. They can also impair relationships with friends and family, or make it difficult to find a partner.

What causes thought disorders?

Thought disorders are caused by several different factors. Schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder can run in families, so a person is more likely to develop a thought disorder if other family members are affected. However, some people develop a thought disorder without having any affected family member.

While some people’s genetic makeup causes them to be more susceptible to developing a thought disorder, factors in the environment also play a role. For example, maternal exposure to certain viruses during pregnancy has been linked to an increased rate of schizophrenia in offspring. It is also thought that these disorders are related to an imbalance of certain brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters. Ultimately, a combination of genetics and environment determines the development of thought disorders.

How are thought disorders treated?

Thought disorders have traditionally been treated with antipsychotic medications. These medications are generally taken every day over long periods of time. They can help alleviate some of the symptoms of thought disorders. However, many people find that, although their symptoms decrease in intensity and frequency and are less troublesome overall, they don’t go away entirely.

Recently, more and more evidence has shown that thought disorders can also be treated with talk therapy. In particular, a type of therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which helps people recognize and change maladaptive patterns in their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, can help people with thought disorders improve their functioning and manage their symptoms.

Our treatment program

The goal of the thought disorders intensive outpatient program at UCLA is to provide high-quality, evidenced-based treatment to individuals with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and other thought disorders. The program uses a form of group CBT called Cognitive Behavioral Social Skills Training (CBSST) to help participants challenge distorted thinking; better understand the link between thoughts, behaviors, and emotions; improve the quality of peer and family relationships; and work on problem-solving techniques in order to accomplish goals.

Rather than focusing on symptom eradication, the program helps participants improve everyday functioning and work towards fulfilling their own potential. The program also offers group therapy focused on sleep hygiene, self-esteem building, time management, and mindfulness, among others. All participants are assigned a care coordinator, generally a licensed clinical social worker, to provide case management services as well as brief individual or family therapy as needed. All participants are also assigned a psychiatrist for medication management.

The thought disorders intensive outpatient program takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 1pm – 4pm. The length of the program is tailored to each individual, though generally participants are enrolled for approximately six weeks. Participants are given a voucher to be used for lunch in the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center cafeteria starting at noon on each program day.


Participants in the thought disorders intensive outpatient program must meet the following criteria:

Adults ages 18+

  • Availability to attend program at UCLA (300 Medical Plaza Driveway, Los Angeles, CA 90024) on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 1pm – 4pm
  • Motivated for group treatment
  • Absence of major substance use disorder that would interfere with treatment
  • Stable housing
  • Established outpatient psychiatrist (though note that taking medications is not necessarily required for program participation)

We accept a wide range of insurance carriers, including Medicare.


If you are interested in participating in our program, please have your physician fill out the attached referral form. The referral form can be emailed to our admissions coordinator at [email protected] or it can be faxed to 310-206-1157. For any additional information, you may call Dr. Alaina Burns at 310-206-6246 or our main office at (310) 825-7469.

Thought Disorder Referral Form (download word doc)