Wednesday, July 24, 2019

What Kind of Eating Disorder Counseling Can You Expect?

When first facing the prospect of entering an eating disorder treatment center, many patients are unsure what to expect.  They may even be nervous or resistant.  It’s natural to have some cold feet when it comes to entering an eating disorder treatment center, but a quality facility will have some characteristics that make the time spent pursuing eating disorder recovery much less intimidating.  Here, we will outline some of the eating disorder counseling programs and techniques commonly found in both day treatment and residential programs for eating disorder treatment and help to set aside some of the fears you or a loved one may be having about getting treatment.

A Safe, Comfortable Setting

Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, are classified and recognized at mental health disorders.  Unfortunately, many people have a skewed idea of what eating disorder treatment at a mental health facility is like.  Movies and TV have sometimes put forward an image of sterile, hospital-like hallways with linoleum floors and fluorescent lighting, where people sleep on cots, and so on.

A quality eating disorder treatment center couldn’t be more different.

The best facilities will be luxurious and well-appointed, often with a cozy and home-like feel to them.  Bedrooms will be well-appointed and comfortable, and the facility itself should include a community cooking and eating space which can normalize the rituals of cooking and eating together.  A stay at one of these centers won’t be a nightmare like those portrayed in the media.

Modern, Evidence-Based Talk Therapy

Mental health treatment in general and eating disorder treatment, in particular, have grown in leaps and bounds recently, with the embrace of modern, evidence-based therapeutic techniques. This means two things: first, the method used is based around empirical evidence – using the scientific method to design treatment for each client based on what has been proved to work time and time again – and second, a conscious push to match the treatment program to the client's specific needs.  Rather than a cookie-cutter methodology which applies identical techniques to every case, a quality eating disorder treatment center will tailor the program to each client's unique needs.

These evidence-based therapies are often geared towards specifically addressing disordered behaviors like the repeating purging associated with bulimia nervosa. One such therapeutic technique is known as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).  This technique consists of mindfulness training and emotional distress tolerance – which means, through training and discussion with the eating disorder counselor, the individual getting treatment learns to process the negative emotions which help to cause eating disorders.  These emotions can be processed in a way which doesn’t involve harmful behavior or self-harm, providing a grounded path to long-term eating disorder recovery.
Experiential Therapies

What is an experiential therapy? They are still a relatively unknown for many people, but they are proving effective at many of the best eating disorder treatment programs.  An experiential therapy goes outside the bounds of traditional talk therapy and even techniques like DBT.  They do not necessarily need to be directly associated with food, eating, or body image, but instead put the mindfulness techniques being taught to a real-world application. A common form of experiential therapy is art therapy, in which the client draws, paints, or sculpts under the guidance of a therapist.  It’s extremely useful in taking steps towards acknowledging and processing the previously mentioned negative emotions.

Art therapy is also known for surprising individuals.  Often, feelings and ideas which couldn’t be expressed through normal means come flowing out when applied to paper or canvas.

Other experiential therapies that are more food-centric should also be part of a good eating disorder recovery program.  A great example of this would be excursions to a grocery store to go shopping for a balanced diet.  This is so effective because it simultaneously teaches a valuable life skill (picking nutritious food in balanced amounts) and helps address fears or anxieties around food and eating, which are common in most eating disorders, especially anorexia nervosa.  Experiential therapies like this and other, similar methods are the hallmark of a forward-thinking eating disorder treatment center.

Expect More from Your Eating Disorder Treatment

When you or a loved one has reached the point where you’re ready to seek out eating disorder counseling, remember that some anxiety about getting started is normal.  The portrayal of mental health treatment in the media has caused some confusion about what it’s really like.  You should expect the best from your eating disorder recovery program – including a safe, comfortable setting, evidence-based talk therapy, and a variety of different experiential methods to ensure the best chance at a long-term, recovered life.

This is a guest blog entry.

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