What Should I Expect From a Day Treatment Program for Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are much more frequent than most people are aware of. Over the course of a lifetime, t’s estimated that over 20 million Americans will suffer from some form of an eating disorder. Many of those cases cannot be overcome without professional help. When researching options for treatment, there will be several possibilities that arise – including day treatment (sometimes called outpatient eating disorder treatment). Although many people think of residential programs first when they think of eating disorder treatment, day treatment is viable both as a primary form of care as well as being ideal for a variety of treatment options that don’t require an intensive stay at a residential facility.

There is no single catch-all method for treating eating disorders but choosing to obtain treatment on aday treatment or outpatient basis offers a number of advantages. Key among these advantages is the flexibility day treatment provides. Whereas with a residential treatment program, a time commitment of 30 days or more is required, with day treatment, the person comes to an outpatient eating disorder treatment center for a certain amount of time to obtain specialized counseling and other individualized treatments while still being able to maintain their familial, job and schooling responsibilities.

Day treatment programs can serve another vital function as well. Very often, following residential treatment, an individual is stable medically and emotionally but still needs regular therapy and counseling to maintain their recovery. A day treatment program is an ideal way to continue eating disorder treatment in a “step-down” capacity. Continuity is important in mental health treatment – a step-down program from the same eating disorder treatment center as residential can provide access to the same treatment team of therapists, dieticians, nutritionists, and recovery coaches as well as continuity of the philosophy and methodology taught in residential.

All in all, day treatment in the form of intensive outpatient (IOP), partial hospitalization (PHP), or day treatment therapy is a vital and essential part of recovery from eating disorders. What should you or a loved one expect from a day treatment program for eating disorders? Read on to learn more.

Essential Elements of Day Treatment for Eating Disorders

1. Day and Evening Options

As mentioned above, flexibility is among the chief advantages of a day treatment program.Some people might work a later shift and find that a day treatment program allows them to attend therapy during the day and still work at night, or perhaps they are a homemaker who’s available during the daytime. Others, however, need to attend school during the day or hold down a job so the option of attending an evening outpatient program is appealing to them.

While a day treatment program is not as time-intensive as residential, it still can require several sessions per week, especially in the early stages of recovery and at the beginning of a step-down situation. Providing the option for both daytime and evening sessions allows clients the opportunity to maintain their schedule and keep their treatment in balance.

2. Individualized Treatment Plan

While an outpatient eating disorder treatment center might provide the same list of options for treatment to all of their clients, not everyone will complete them at the same time or the same pace.  Each type of eating disorder has unique symptoms that require treatment; for example, a treatment program for anorexia nervosa might feature a series of sessions focused on identifying and replacing distorted body image, which would not be required for another client who is dealing with ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder).

Even among people with the same disorder, individual circumstances are different from person to person. Any modern eating disorder treatment center worth its salt will perform complete physical and psychological assessments before intake, and then develop an appropriate plan that addresses the client’s needs. Creating an individualized treatment plan involved acknowledging that each person has their own unique path to recovery.

3. Eating Disorder Counseling

A variety of eating disorder counseling options allows a client to fully examine the causative factors and thought processes that create and propagate eating disorders. For most people, this comprises several weekly individualized counseling sessions with a master’s or doctorate-level therapist. In general, cognitive retraining exercises such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) will be used in addition to traditional psychotherapy. These exercises focus on behaviors, not weight, and provide clients a greater opportunity for self-understanding and mindfulness.

As well as these forms of individual therapy, almost every eating disorder treatment program, residential or day treatment, will feature group therapy sessions. As much progress can be made in individual sessions, group therapy provides many more chances for a breakthrough. Many people who’ve recovered from eating disorders point to group therapy sessions as the most powerful and helpful part of their treatment experience. Being with other people who understand first-hand the difficulties of recovery provides a sense of catharsis and emotional support that can’t be substituted.

4. Family-Focused Treatment Sessions

Whether in standalone day treatment or a step-down capacity, the client’s family plays an important role in successful eating disorder treatment. Group therapy sessions with the client and those closest to them allow for the creation of a strong support system. An individual can count on a family that’s been educated about eating disorders to be sensitive about triggering topics and situations, and also to provide emotional support when maintaining recovery becomes challenging.

Family sessions usually include both the client and their families, although sometimes the family may meet with the client’s care team on their own. Educational materials are usually provided that can outline the nature of various eating disorders and provide examples of support techniques the family members can use. When combined with a robust aftercare program, family support is one of the most important factors in keeping eating disorder recovery going strong for years to come.

5. Food-Focused Recovery Space

The central part of any eating disorder treatment program is repairing an individual’s relationship with food and eating. Although eating disorders are generally not about weight loss or gain as much as they are about providing a sense of control, making people feel more comfortable about natural eating is essential to a successful recovery.

Tiptoeing around the presence of food or outright avoiding it altogether is nearly impossible.Although it can be a challenge for many people just beginning treatment, food should have a constant presence in treatment – whether that is in the form of food discussion, nutritional training, meal planning, or shopping. After all, everyone needs to experience and interact with food to survive, and increasing comfort and enjoyment of food is central to eating disorder recovery.

A notable component of eating disorder day treatment finding ways to make intuitive eating part of daily life. For example, a registered dietitian works weekly with clients to provide individualized nutrition therapy to meet their needs. Other activities focused on food might include creative cooking and meal planning classes and that demonstrate techniques they can take home with them.

Supported meals, restaurant visits, and grocery store outings provide real-world experiences that offer two benefits to clients. For many people still struggling with eating disorders, a simple social experience like going to a restaurant with friends can be challenging and seem impossible. Real-world experiences like guided restaurant visits also provide exposure to food in a setting that helps guide and support the clients every step of the way. These outings are often part of the group therapy mentioned earlier; fellow clients can provide support and solidarity when facing these challenges.

Finally, the facility itself should be food-focused at all times. Even on a day treatment basis, a fully-stocked kitchen and pantry should be available. A meal or snack should always be available on request for satiety or just for pleasure. The staff should also be supportive and encouraging of these requests; it’s a brave act for someone with an eating disorder to eat simply for the pleasure of it.

Reach Out For Help from Oliver-Pyatt Centers

Oliver-Pyatt Centers provides a warm, supportive, and experience-backed basis for successful day treatment. By providing thorough management of both psychiatric and medical conditions, Oliver-Pyatt Centers offers a psychologically gentle and accepting environment for clients to heal and recover from eating disorders. Reach out today to learn more about how their treatment options for eating disorders

With 20 years of behavioral health business development experience, Carrie combines world-class marketing, media, public relations, outreach and business development with a deep understanding of client care and treatment. Her contributions to the world of behavioral health business development – and particularly eating disorder treatment – go beyond simple marketing; she has actively developed leaders for her organizations and for the industry at large.