Looking for an eating disorder therapist is an important step towards recovery. There are several therapies for eating disorders. Learning about what they involve can help someone make an informed decision.
This article explores eating disorder recovery, the types of therapy available, and how to find a therapist. It also discusses other medical professionals who can aid in the recovery process.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), recovery from an eating disorder is often a long-term process that requires support from medical professionals, family, and friends.
Therapists can treat different types of eating disorders, including:
People may require different levels of care, depending on the severity of their symptoms. For example, someone at risk of serious health issues due to an eating disorder may need to visit the hospital.
A therapist with experience in treating these conditions will play a part in each step of a person’s recovery. There are six stages of eating disorder recovery:
- Pre-contemplative stage: Here, a person may not realize they have an eating disorder, though friends and family may notice symptoms.
- Contemplation stage: This occurs when a person begins to acknowledge their eating disorder, and considers seeking help. However, they may feel resistant to change. Here, therapists can start working with an individual.
- Preparation stage: Here, a person wants to change but is unsure how. Therapy at this stage focuses on coping skills, self-care, and managing the critical thoughts that contribute to the eating disorder.
- Action stage: This stage begins when a person is ready to implement the strategies they have learned. For example, they may start to engage in a regular pattern of eating.
- Maintenance: When a person actively practices new behaviors and coping skills, and reaches the point where they no longer engage in problematic eating patterns, they may enter the maintenance phase. Relapse is possible during this time, so it is essential for them to address potential triggers.
- Termination stage: At this stage, a person discontinues formal treatment and maintains their new behaviors and thought patterns on their own.
People do not always go through these stages in order. Instead, their progression may become a cycle, so they need to revisit earlier stages to reinforce the skills they learn.
People can find an eating disorder therapist through recommendations from a doctor or dietitian, or by looking online. The NEDA provides an interactive map to help people in the United States find eating disorder support near them.
When people search for a therapist, it is a good idea for them to consider:
- Location: If a person would like in-person therapy sessions, they can search for therapists in their local area. Alternatively, some may offer sessions via video conferencing, which allows people to see therapists wherever they are.
- Training and background: People should always check a therapist’s license, credentials, and experience in treating eating disorders. This is especially important when they search for therapists online.
- Budget: Fees and insurance coverage can vary depending on location and the therapist’s qualifications. Some have a sliding fee scale, making it easier for people on lower incomes to access treatment.
- Rapport: Good relationships with therapists are an important aspect of treatment. Some offer free initial consultations to allow people to see if they will be a good fit. If someone does not think a particular therapist is suitable for them, it is okay to look for another.
Another aspect people need to consider is the style of therapy. The following section explores some different approaches to treat eating disorders.
Enhanced cognitive behavioral therapy
Enhanced cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT-E) works in a similar way to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Both look to shift unhelpful thought patterns to alter a person’s behavior.
A review reports there is robust evidence that supports CBT-E as an effective treatment for eating disorders.
Dialectical behavior therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) also stems from CBT.
It teaches coping skills to help a person manage and understand their emotions. This may help them deal with underlying beliefs or life events that triggered their eating disorder.
A 2014 study of women living with anorexia nervosa or bulimia suggests DBT can reduce eating disorder behaviors.
Acceptance and commitment therapy
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a mindfulness-based behavioral therapy. The goal is to teach people how to live meaningfully while accepting that pain is an inevitable part of life.
By acknowledging painful thoughts, a person can then defuse them. This can help someone with an eating disorder learn to live with the negative emotions that can contribute to their condition.
An older study looking at people living with eating disorders found those who received ACT were less likely to be re-hospitalized than those receiving standard treatment.
Cognitive remediation therapy
The focus of cognitive remediation therapy (CRT) is to strengthen different mental processing skills. It assumes that if someone can improve their cognitive function, they can manage daily life more easily.
According to a 2013 study, using CRT for eating disorders can help a person think more flexibly, helping them adapt to challenging situations. A research review exploring CRT for anorexia also suggests it can reduce the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to this condition.
Family-based treatment (FBT) is for children and adolescents who have an eating disorder. It requires parents or caregivers to temporarily take control of a child’s meals to prevent them from needing hospitalization.
Eventually, the child or adolescent gradually begins to make choices for themselves about their meals. According to a 2017 review, studies show FBT is an effective form of eating disorder therapy. However, not all families find it useful.
As well as a therapist, a person’s support network may also include the following people:
- Dietitian: Can provide education on nutrition, help someone learn about balanced meals, and create meal plans.
- Support groups: Led by a trained counselor or mediator, support groups can provide emotional support and a place to talk. The NEDA list some free online support groups and forums.
- Dentist: People with bulimia may find that their teeth become damaged over time. Dentists can help prevent or repair any damage.
- Family and friends: A person’s support network can play an important role during recovery, especially at mealtimes.
Therapy sessions are an essential part of eating disorder recovery. However, some situations require emergency help. A person should go to the hospital immediately if they or someone they know:
- has severe underweight
- experiences severe mental distress
- consumes something toxic
Eating disorders can severely affect the quality of life of people living with these conditions and those close to them. Early intervention and treatment greatly improve the likelihood of recovery.
Anyone who suspects that they or a loved one has an eating disorder can contact the National Eating Disorder Association for advice and support via:
- phone or text at 800-931-2237
- online chat, by going to this link
These services are only open during specific hours. Someone in crisis can text “NEDA” to 741741 at any time to get support from a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line.
Alternatively, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) run a Disaster Distress Helpline that people can contact on 800-985-5990 for 24-7 support.
Many other resources are available, including:
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
- The Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness
- F.E.A.S.T., who provide support and educational resources to friends and family who want to help someone living with an eating disorder
Several types of therapy can help people with eating disorders. A doctor may be able to provide recommendations for therapists who specialize in treating eating disorders. Alternatively, people can look online.
When searching for a therapist, it is vital to check their credentials, fees, and whether they are a good fit for the person.