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Eating Disorder Treatments

Typically a person suffering from an eating disorder will begin with outpatient treatment. The healthcare professionals in outpatient treatment will assess the patient and determine if higher care is needed, such as inpatient. Below are the different types of eating disorder treatments:

Outpatient Eating Disorder Treatment: Outpatient is usually the first step in eating disorder treatment. A person suffering from an eating disorder in outpatient care will most likely see a therapist and a nutritionist about 2-3 times a week. They will create a plan of action for the patient to follow. This level of care allows the patient to continue in their every day routine. The treatment team will continue to monitor the patient’s progress and decide if a higher level of care is necessary.

Intensive Outpatient (IOP) Eating Disorder Treatment: If a person in outpatient seems to need more care, they are usually transitioned into intensive outpatient treatment. The patient will meet with their eating disorder treatment team at least 3-5 days a week. The treatment includes therapy, nutrition counseling, group therapy, and family therapy.

Residential Eating Disorder Treatment: If a person suffering from an eating disorder needs more focused care, they will be moved to a residential eating disorder treatment facility. The patient will receive 24-hour care with constant medical supervision. It’s a very structured program offering the patient constant therapy and group therapy. The patient’s primary focus is to physically and psychologically heal. Food intake is also monitored at every meal, which can be very helpful to recovery.

Hospital Eating Disorder Treatment: If a patient is too sick to handle being in a residential eating disorder treatment facility, they might be moved to a hospital setting. This allows for 24-hour monitoring of the patient. The main focus here is to medically stabilize the patient and stop weight loss. This treatment is focused on getting the patient at a safe weight so they can go to residential care to start focusing on psychological healing. Hospital treatment typically last less than 3 weeks.

Continuing Care: Continuing care is extremely important to maintain recovery from an eating disorder. Once a patient has successfully gone through any treatment plan, a continuing care plan is put together. The plan includes weekly or bi-weekly therapy and nutrition sessions. It might also include family therapy, group therapy, or support groups. Support groups can be very helpful to stay connected to others in recovery and help create accountability. Therapists might also have patients keep journals, meal plans, and food logs. The continuing care plan is completely patient specific.

Types of Therapies for Eating Disorders

Successful treatment and recovery usually involves several types of therapies. It’s important to keep an open mind and find what works for you. Each person suffering from an eating disorder is different and the causes are different. Why would a treatment plan be the same for every person? It wouldn’t be.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a psychotherapy that concentrates on recognizing negative beliefs and negative thinking patterns and, then, teaching patients to identify these patterns and deal with them with healthy coping mechanisms. CBT has been effective in treating individuals suffering from eating disorders. This type of treatment also focuses on a variety of factors (family issues, psychological, and societal) that can be contributing to the eating disorders.

Family Therapy: Family therapy typically is a key component to treatment and is lead by a family therapist. The overall goals of family therapy are to create a healing environment for the whole family unit, to educate the family of the contributing problems associated with the eating disorders, and to create a healthy foundation for the future. It’s important to help the entire family heal from the effects of the eating disorder. Family therapy helps create overall understanding and build healthy boundaries.

The Maudsley Method: This treatment focuses on the family unit and teaches parents to play an active role in their child’s recovery from an eating disorder. Parents are taught to help their children eat healthy, balanced meals, to recognize eating disorder behaviors, and to handle unhealthy behaviors if they surface. This method is crucial to long-term recovery for adolescents. It’s important to recognize that children need a lot of support to succeed in recovery. It’s an environmental issue and parents need to be involved.  

Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT): IPT focuses on interpersonal problem areas. These problems include: anxiety, low self-esteem, body image issues, role transition or disputes, subconscious grief, and interpersonal shortfalls. Patients learn to cope better with the help of learned coping mechanisms and increase self-esteem.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): ACT helps patients with emotional awareness and acceptance of their emotions. Patients learn build healthy relationships with their emotions. It can help patients recognize and understand eating disorder thoughts and behaviors.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): DBT helps eating disorder patients cope with painful emotions in healthy ways using cognitive and behavioral therapy. This type of therapy is mainly used on individuals who use extreme behaviors to deal with emotional situations. Patients suffering from eating disorders are taught emotion regulation, mindfulness, methods for conflict resolution, and healthy ways to handle negative thoughts.

Medical Nutrition Therapy: MNT helps patients struggling with eating disorders establish normal eating patterns and a healthy relationship with food. Patients are educated on a healthy diet. MNT is also used as a holistic method to treatment a variety of health problems – Food is medicine.

Dance Movement Therapy: Dance therapy teaches patients to reconnect with their bodies and express emotions through guided body movements. It was one of my favorite forms of therapy during my inpatient treatment. Dance therapy helps patients heal trauma, cope with emotions, and create balance within.

Art Therapy: Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that heals through all forms of art creation – painting, clay making, and drawing. Patients are taught to communicate through their artwork. Feelings and thoughts are expressed through guided art classes.

Equine Therapy: Equine therapy uses horses as a tool to increase self-esteem, create healthy body image, empower patients, and instill emotional growth. Equine therapy allows emotional healing to occur by building a bond between patients and animals. A horse therapist guides patients to care for the animals.

Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP): ERP helps patients to overcome anxiety and fears by exposing them to the object or circumstance in a controlled environment. The goal is to desensitize the fear and help patients stop using compulsive behaviors as coping mechanisms. This form of therapy can help eating disorder patients to overcome trigger foods and fears associated with different foods.

Energy Psychology: The primary goal of energy psychology is to heal and create harmony in an area where pain or a problem exists. In energy psychology, the body and emotions are interconnected and influenced by each other. Emotions are psychological and physiological. By focusing on a trigger in one’s life and tapping meridian points, the nervous system is neutralized in regard to that trigger. The brain neutralizes the body level fear response to the action. These approaches get fast results because they target the Limbic system and the brain stem.

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