Choosing a Top Eating Disorder Therapist, Program or Rehab
“Once an individual is ready to commit to treatment, the first step is to find a good therapist and the best eating disorder treatment program for that individual.”
Eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia, are dangerous illnesses that require immediate treatment. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, eating disorders represent the highest mortality rate among mental illnesses. Fortunately, most cases of anorexia and bulimia are successfully treated, and the sooner treatment begins, the better the prognosis. Once an individual is ready to commit to treatment, the first step is to find a good therapist and the best eating disorder treatment program for that individual.
When to See a Therapist for an Eating Disorder
Many sufferers do not accept that they have an eating disorder, while others choose to face the illness alone. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders states that only 1 in 10 sufferers receives treatment. However, when left untreated, bulimia can lead to esophageal damage, tooth decay and heart palpitations. Additionally, 20 percent of anorexia sufferers die prematurely due to complications of their illness, according to The Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders.
A therapist is able to provide psychological support, coping mechanisms, family counseling and more to help sufferers overcome their illness. A therapist also guides an individual in deciding which types of therapy and other treatment options to pursue, helping to ensure a successful treatment regimen. A therapist also regularly communicates with the patient’s physician and other caregivers to assess the patient’s progress and devise treatment plans. Using a variety of treatment methods, therapists help sufferers regain control of their eating behaviors, their self-perceptions and their lives.
Various Types of Eating Disorder Therapists
There are professionals who are also qualified to administer therapy to anorexia and bulimia patients. A trained psychologist is the professional most commonly associated with therapy. A psychologist administers various types of therapy alone or in a group setting and aims to change thought and behavior patterns through therapy. It is important to note that a psychologist is only one member of a multidisciplinary team of professionals that assists in the patient’s recovery.
A nutritionist or dietitian normally offers nutritional counseling to help reshape the patient’s damaged perception of food. If the sufferer is an athlete, a qualified coach or psychologist with special training may administer therapy tailored to the fears, pressures and needs specific to an athlete.
Psychiatrists sometimes administer therapy, although their primary task is to assess the need for medication. A psychiatrist will likely be involved in an individual’s treatment if the sufferer has a dual diagnosis. This means that the individual suffers from a comorbid condition such as an addiction or other mental illness that may require medication. When searching for an eating disorder therapist, consider the possibility of utilizing more than one. This is most easily accomplished at an eating disorder treatment center or rehabilitation facility.
Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist
The initial meeting and first few sessions may feel uncomfortable, but these feelings generally go away when you start building a trusting relationship.
An interview is a good way for patients and their families to get to know a potential therapist. During the interview, ask questions about the therapist’s experience in treating eating disorders and their general treatment style. Ask if they are a member of the Academy of Eating Disorders, and ask about their other credentials. It is also important to know about their evaluation methods, the measurable criteria they use to assess treatment and their approach toward comorbid disorders such as anxiety and depression. Discover what medical information is needed before treatment begins, and understand how the therapist will work with doctors and other treatment providers. Ask if medication will be a part of your treatment, and ask if they will communicate with a psychopharmacologist about medication.
Other important points to ask about are appointment availability, emergency protocol, involvement of family members, communication between sessions and progress assessment. You also must discover whether the therapist will be reimbursed by your insurance plan. Ask if they will deal directly with your insurance company, and discover when payment is due. The initial meeting and first few sessions may feel uncomfortable, but these feelings generally go away when you start building a trusting relationship. However, if you continue to feel a sense of discomfort and disconnect, consider finding a new therapist.
Choosing the Best Therapy for Your Eating Disorder
Although most psychologists use a broad therapeutic approach, it is important to know which types of therapy they utilize. Search for a therapist that uses researched, trusted methods that are widely accepted in the mental health community. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a popular approach that helps the sufferer recognize and change the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that lead to anorexic or bulimic behaviors. Interpersonal psychotherapy aims to identify and resolve relationship issues that lead to unhealthy eating behaviors, and dialectical behavior therapy helps sufferers devise coping skills to prevent these behaviors. Family-based therapy and group therapy are also utilized.
Group Therapy for Anorexia and Bulimia Sufferers
Most eating disorder sufferers require individual therapy to some extent, but group therapy is another treatment option that offers a sense of belonging and mutual understanding. Patients hear the anorexia and bulimia stories of others, helping them to feel like they are not alone. The format normally consists of a group leader introducing a topic followed by a time of discussion, sharing and encouragement. These support groups generally meet several times a week and are offered as part of inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. Groups range from as few as four individuals to as many as 15.
Therapy Through Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment Programs
More severe cases of anorexia and bulimia generally require inpatient care, which offers a structured daily schedule, controlled meals, nutritional counseling and medical care. An intensive outpatient program normally includes therapeutic meals and group therapy sessions several times per week. An outpatient program offers a flexible schedule, so patients do not have to sacrifice work, school and other daily activities to receive treatment. Whichever treatment method an individual chooses, it is important to find a specialized eating disorder treatment center offering an array of treatment options that cater to the specific needs of anorexic and bulimic patients.
If you are, or a loved one is, suffering from an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, act immediately. The longer you wait to begin treatment, the more ingrained the eating disorder becomes, making successful recovery increasingly difficult. Call 1-888-994-4036 to talk to a professional about finding a therapist and an effective eating disorder treatment program near you.