Choosing an Eating Disorder Therapist, Program, or Rehab
“Once someone 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 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 someone is ready to commit to treatment, the first step is to find a good therapist and the best eating disorder treatment program for that person.
How a Therapist Helps
Many people who have an eating disorder find it difficult to accept that this is true; others may choose to face the illness alone. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders states that only 1 in 10 people with the disorder receives treatment. However, when left untreated, bulimia can lead to esophageal damage, tooth decay, and heart palpitations. Additionally, 20% of people with anorexia 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, teach coping mechanisms, offer family counseling, and more to help people with eating disorders overcome their illnesses. A therapist also guides someone in deciding which types of therapy and other treatment options to pursue, helping to ensure a successful therapeutic regimen. A therapist regularly communicates with the patient’s physician and other caregivers to assess their progress and to devise comprehensive treatment plans. Using a variety of treatment methods, therapists help sufferers regain control of their eating behaviors, their self-perceptions, and their lives.
Types of Clinicians
There are several types of professionals who are qualified to administer therapy to people with anorexia and bulimia. A trained psychologist is the professional most commonly associated with therapy and administers various types of therapy alone or in a group setting. They work with their clients to change thought and behavior patterns that affect their eating disordered behaviors. 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 usually offers nutritional counseling to help reshape the patient’s damaged perception of food. If the person 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 a person’s treatment if they have a dual diagnosis, which means that they also have another condition, such as an addiction or other mental illness that may require medication. When searching for an eating disorder therapist, consider the possibility of using more than one. This is most easily accomplished at an eating disorder treatment center or rehabilitation facility.
Questions to Ask
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 find out what other credentials they may have. 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 psychiatrist about medication.
Other important points to ask about are appointment availability, emergency protocol, involvement of family members, communication between sessions, and progress assessment. It is also important to find out whether the therapist will be reimbursed by your insurance plan. Ask if they deal directly with your insurance company and know 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
Although most therapists use a broad therapeutic approach, it is important to know which specific types of therapy they use. Search for a therapist who uses researched, trusted methods that are widely accepted in the mental health community. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a popular approach that helps a person recognize and change their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that may lead to behaviors associated with anorexia or bulimia. Interpersonal psychotherapy aims to identify and resolve relationship issues that sometimes lead to unhealthy eating behaviors. Dialectical behavior therapy helps people be more aware of their feelings and mindful of their surroundings and teaches clients how to reframe their perceptions of emotions and circumstances.
Most people with eating disorders require individual therapy to some extent, but group therapy is another option that may offer a sense of belonging and mutual understanding. Patients hear about the experiences of others with anorexia and bulimia, which is often helpful in reminding them they are not alone. The format normally consists of a group leader who introduces 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 4 individuals to as many as 15.
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 (IOP) 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 you choose, it is important to find a specialized eating disorder treatment center offering an array of treatment options that cater to your specific needs.