How Anorexia Nervosa Therapists Approach Treatment for Eating Disorders

When an anorexia nervosa therapist is presented with a young client struggling with anorexia nervosa or another type of eating disorder, they must choose from various treatment options to help the client heal. One thing that therapists are well aware of is there is no one-size-fits-all solution in anorexia nervosa treatment. What works for one client may not be as effective for another. The need for individualized treatment is significant, particularly for younger clients – which is why those diagnosed with eating disorders should always seek out treatment professionals to get help on the path to recovery. A knowledgeable anorexia nervosa therapist or similarly skilled treatment professional will have the ability to work with the young client and their family to determine the right treatment program, one that will be most likely to lead to a fully recovered life.

What Eating Disorder Clients Can Expect from Therapy

For people who have never participated in therapy with a counselor or other mental health professional, it can be easy to assume that all therapy is the same. Television and movies tend to portray therapy in a standardized way – where the client lies on a couch and talks for hours while the therapist simply nods and writes on a notepad. But therapy is much more varied than these portrayals indicate. There are numerous types of therapy, each with standards and practices, and there are differences even among therapists practicing the same type of therapy. Just like doctors, therapists can have their own style of treatment that they believe works best for any given situation.

Recognizing the Needs of Young Clients

Therapists that work with young clients diagnosed with eating disorders are trained to recognize and meet the unique needs of their clients. While individuals diagnosed with eating disorders may share similar symptoms, they are still unique. When it comes to young people with eating disorders, the need to cater to the client’s circumstances becomes even more pronounced. A therapist cannot treat an adult with an eating disorder and a young person with an eating disorder in exactly the same way. The therapy must be adapted for young clients to ensure that it is as effective as possible.

A visit to the office of a therapist that treats young people demonstrates the differences in the treatment approach immediately. While a therapist that treats adults only will look like the office of a professional, with tasteful art on the wall and bookshelves full of reference manuals, the office of therapist for young people will have children’s drawings on the walls, toys in the corner, and children’s books on the shelves. Young people need to be approached in a way that makes them feel comfortable, and therapists working with these clients will use the appropriate tools to reach their clients to provide healing.

The First Therapy Session

Going into the first therapy session tends to make most new clients nervous, which is completely understandable. The client has no idea what the therapist will be like, what kinds of questions the therapist will ask, and whether they will even benefit from therapy. It can be quite a bit more unnerving than seeing a medical doctor for the first time because the client knows that they are going to be asked questions that may make them feel uncomfortable, sad, angry, or otherwise upset. It makes sense that many clients would not necessarily look forward to their first visit with the therapist, even if they are motivated to get help with their eating disorder.

Fortunately, therapists are aware of how difficult it can be to meet them for the first time in a therapy session. That is why therapists are very careful to be welcoming to new clients. For the first session, they focus on getting to know the client and to show that they are here to help the client. Every therapist has a special way of breaking the ice, but generally, clients can expect to be asked things like, “What are you hoping to get out of therapy?” The therapist will try to help the client express why they are there and what their hopes are for therapy. It can be a relief for clients to be able to tell someone who is understanding and kind about their hopes and dreams for a life free of eating disorder behaviors. And if the client is young enough, the questions will often be even more gentle and open.

The first therapy session is the one where the client gets a chance to see if they feel comfortable with the therapist. Not every therapist is a good fit for every client. All therapists are motivated to help clients get the most out of therapy, which is why they will tell new clients that if they are not comfortable, they can try another therapist to see if someone else is a better fit.

Choosing a Type of Therapy

Multiple different types of treatment can be used to help with eating disorders. Clients may participate in one or more of these treatment types depending on different facts. A new client at an eating disorder treatment center might be placed in a treatment program that includes multiple types of treatment because it is standard practice for the treatment center, or they might go through an initial session with a therapist to determine which treatments are likely to work best based on the initial therapy session.

Some of the therapy types that may be offered at a treatment center include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of therapy that helps clients understand how their thoughts lead to their feelings and the actions they take – and helps clients learn to examine those thoughts and see things in a different light so that the behaviors can change as well. In treatment sessions for anorexia nervosa and body image, the therapist might help the client examine their thoughts surrounding their self-image, weight, shape, and dietary choices. Through treatment, the client can learn to lessen their negative feelings surrounding these concepts, which in turn can reduce the seemingly automatic eating disorder behaviors.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT is usually conducted in both an individual and a group setting. It involves helping clients identify the triggers that lead to their undesired behaviors. Once the triggers are identified, the therapist helps the client learn new responses to those triggers. Ideally, new behaviors can replace undesired behaviors so that when something does come up that triggers the client, they can respond differently in a way that is more beneficial for them. There are several different ways that the client can learn to respond to triggers that can be helpful, including practicing mindfulness and regulating their emotions. Ultimately, the therapy can help clients to better tolerate distress and respond in ways that they prefer.

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)

The term “interpersonal” refers to the way that clients interact with others that they have relationships with. Often, when clients with eating disorders have unpleasant interactions with others like family, friends, and even strangers, it can lead to symptoms of eating disorders. The goal of IPT is to help the client build better relationships so that they can avoid the symptoms of the eating disorder. Of course, sometimes it is not possible to build a better relationship, in which case IPT can help the client learn to set boundaries so that they are less affected by the actions of others that they cannot control.

Family-Based Therapy (FBT)

FBT is an evidence-based treatment that focuses on the relationship between clients and their parents. The family and the client usually meet the therapist together so that the therapist can help the family understand how they can better support the client. The behavior of family and clients are interlinked in so many ways that they are often unaware of. FBT can help families understand how to support one another so that the client is better able to recover from the eating disorder. FBT can teach parents and other family members how to assist the client on the path to full recovery, something that will ultimately benefit everyone in the family and most especially the client.

Help Deciding on a Treatment Program

Sometimes, the first interaction with a therapist an eating disorder client has is when they go to a treatment center. However, there are plenty of other situations where the client only enters a treatment program after talking with a therapist outside of a treatment center. One of the tasks that eating disorder therapists are often given is to help their clients choose the right treatment program for their needs.

Typically, the first decision is to decide if the client would be better off with outpatient therapy or inpatient therapy. Some of the main differences include:

Outpatient Treatment for Eating Disorders

Outpatient treatment is when the client attends a program periodically, such as three times a week. The rest of the time, the client goes about their regular life – like going to school, participating in extracurricular activities, and perhaps working a job if the client is a teenager. The big advantage of an outpatient program is that it allows the client to keep up with school and all the other things that they want to participate in their regular lives. However, it can be more challenging to recover in an outpatient program for certain clients, particularly those with advanced eating disorder symptoms. A lot of the progress that can be made in an outpatient program can be undone if the client’s regular life is disruptive enough.

The client’s regular therapist may recommend participation in an outpatient program separate from the therapy that the client is in right now. The therapist may believe that specialized therapy and other treatments at an eating disorder treatment center would provide additional benefits beyond what the therapist is offering. The therapist may recommend that the client attend outpatient treatment at a center in addition to regular therapy with them, or they may recommend that the client focus on the outpatient program until completion and then come back to regular therapy afterward.

Outpatient treatment can also be beneficial after a client has completed an inpatient treatment program. The outpatient program can provide additional support to help with the transition from residential, inpatient treatment to regular, day to day life.

Inpatient Treatment for Eating Disorders

Inpatient treatment is also known as residential treatment because the client goes to live at the treatment facility for an extended period, anywhere from 30 days to several months or longer depending on the situation. When a client is experiencing severe eating disorder symptoms, the client’s regular therapist may recommend residential inpatient treatment. Because residential treatment is so comprehensive – with the client participating in treatment daily – it can help the client make major progress on the road to recovery in a relatively short period.

Residential treatment programs for young people are designed to make the clients as comfortable as possible. They limit clients to specific age groups to ensure that the client is surrounded by their peers and do not have to worry about being around adults that are not treatment professionals. Many of the activities that are offered at these treatment centers are also focused on younger clients. The goal is for the treatment center to be easy and enjoyable to live in so that the clients can focus fully on their treatment.

Parents are encouraged to come to the treatment center to visit and to participate in family therapy with their children. With the right therapy options and the participation of the family, the client can learn valuable coping skills and emerge from the treatment center recovered and ready to enjoy the fulfilling life that they deserve.

Learn More About Eating Disorder Treatment

If you would like to learn more information about eating disorder treatments for people with anorexia nervosa, please contact us. Our team can help you find the support you and your loved ones need.