Acknowledging the presence of an eating disorder takes plenty of courage – and yet, acknowledgment is the first step to a full recovery. There may even be a flash of inspiration and motivation to get better that accompanies it. Most inpatient eating disorder treatment centers are ready to support that motivation with a wide array of eating disorder treatment programs. This variety of treatment options allows for a great degree of individualization in the types of program and specific treatments with which each client can engage.
Eating Disorder Recovery—Understanding Treatment Options
Whether looking for a binge eating disorder treatment program, a treatment program for anorexia nervosa or one for bulimia nervosa, the available programs normally fall into two categories – inpatient and outpatient (these are often used interchangeably with the terms residential and day treatment, although there are significant differences). Understanding the main characteristics of each of these categories may make it easier to choose a program.
Inpatient Eating Disorder Treatment
Useful in treatment for eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, inpatient treatment is a type of program where the individual requiring help lives at the eating disorder recovery center. These treatment programs may last anywhere from 30 days to six months or more, depending on the medical and psychological needs of the client. While there are many advantages of inpatient treatment, a few challenges may also be present. Some of the key points to understand about inpatient anorexia treatment, or treatment for any eating disorder include:
- Inpatient treatment is a complete continuum.
Inpatient programs for all kinds of eating disorders tend to be immersive experiences. Clients live at the center and their lives are structured around healing. The daily routine will often revolve around group therapy, individual therapy and any necessary nutritional and medical treatments. Experiential therapies and life-enhancing experiences like group grocery shopping or nature walks are also key.
- Inpatient eating disorder treatment centers allow individuals to leave behind environmental issues that may be components of the disorder.
Family relationships and environments (i.e. peer pressure on young adults) found in everyday life often have an impact on the development of eating disorders. These factors can be quite powerful, often repeating in a disordered cycle. One of the great advantages of an inpatient eating disorder program is that it allows individuals to step away from these things and focus fully on recovery. Spending a month or more undergoing their own training can help the family members learn how to support their loved one and avoid enabling behaviors upon their return. The skills patients learn in treatment allow them to return to their lives and make the necessary changes to maintain recovery.
- Inpatient anorexia nervosa programs normally treat co-occurring conditions like anxiety and depression.
Eating disorders have been shown time and again in professional studies to be accompanied by other mental health disorders such as depression and PTSD. Trying to recover from an eating disorder without simultaneous treatment for anxiety and/or depression is truly an uphill battle; it is not always an easy path. Inpatient programs include mental health professionals who are well-equipped to address a variety of mental health issues that coincide with eating disorders.
- Residential programs can help individuals who are in danger of self-harm.
People that are at risk of self-harm or suicide, when having intense ideation, frequently need supervision. Troublingly, people with eating disorders have a much higher incidence of suicide than the rest of the population. Fortunately, inpatient eating disorder recovery centers are usually equipped for suicide prevention and round the clock monitoring. Because they have mental health professionals on-site, they are often the best choice for individuals at risk of self-harm.
- Inpatient treatment centers are often able to care for patients with medical complications.
Eating disorders can result in health complications corresponding to both obesity and malnutrition so any treatment center that requires residence must have a certain level of medical capabilities. For eating disorder patients with diabetes, heart troubles or other frequent corresponding symptomatology, residential care is ideal. They can be ensured their healing includes the medical treatments they need.
- Ongoing monitoring means severe eating disorder behaviors can be addressed.
The support offered by the staff at an inpatient center is useful for more than just keeping patients comfortable – it means self-destructive patterns can be corrected more quickly through consistent application. The inpatient care team is there at all hours of the day, so every time someone is returning to disordered thoughts and actions, there are psychologically gentle, judgment-free reminders of why they are there. A kind, compassionate professional is available to step in and intervene when necessary.
- Inpatient treatment can be the better choice for individuals in rural areas or those not close to major cities.
Not everyone lives near a large city or town where eating disorder treatment centers are abundant. For people in this situation, a day treatment modality may require a long journey which would make treatment difficult or even unfeasible. With an inpatient eating disorder program, though, there is no need to travel. Instead, they can live at the center until the program has concluded.
Inpatient Eating Disorder Treatment Is Not Necessarily for Everyone
- Inpatient treatment does require a serious commitment of time and energy.
The idea of devoting a month or more to an inpatient anorexia nervosa program or another type of eating disorder treatment is often intimidating, especially for individuals with prominent responsibilities. A month is a long time to be away from friends, family, work, school, etc. While inpatient treatment has many significant advantages, it is important to acknowledge it may be a more intensive treatment than some people are ready for.
- Inpatient treatment may not be necessary for some individuals.
Inpatient programs can be very effective for treating all types of eating disorders, but that does not mean residential treatment is required for every individual seeking treatment. Outpatient eating disorder treatment is also effective. Whether inpatient or outpatient is the right treatment option must be determined by the individual’s doctor, therapist and the treatment center.
Outpatient Eating Disorder Treatment
While outpatient or day treatment programs utilize many similar types of treatment offered in residential programs – including evidence-based modalities and individual talk therapy – there are some significant differences. During day treatment, the client doesn’t live at the center. Instead, they’ll visit the center on a schedule to receive treatment on a regular basis.
Some of the factors to consider about outpatient treatment include:
- It is less disruptive to the life of the patient.
As stated before, inpatient treatment is a big commitment. Leaving one’s life to enter treatment for a month or more is obviously disruptive. As long as the patient’s doctor or therapist believes outpatient treatment will be sufficient, it can prove a solution when one needs treatment, but cannot leave life behind for the extended period demanded by inpatient care.
- Outpatient treatment is excellent for less severe eating disorders.
Although any eating disorder should not be ignored, the spectrum of eating disorders can range from less severe to much more dangerous. With severe eating disorders, there may be a need for intensive medical treatment and self-harm prevention. With less severe disorders, there may not be as pressing a need for intensive care. The less severe the disorder, the less necessary residential supervision can be. When a doctor or therapist recommends outpatient or day treatment care, it has been determined that treatment on a regular basis will most likely be sufficient to treat the disorder.
- Outpatient programs are less expensive than inpatient programs.
While health insurance benefits normally help with the cost of recovery, not every type of insurance is able to completely cover the cost of intensive residential or inpatient treatment. It is a sad fact that not everyone with an eating disorder will be wealthy enough to pay flat out or to procure the highest-level insurances. Day treatment facilities can provide valuable treatment without the higher costs, meaning more affordable programs for many clients.
- A day treatment program can provide significant benefits to people who have completed an inpatient program.
Residential programs can be truly transformative, giving recovered clients a new lease on a happy, healthy life free from the throes of an eating disorder. No matter how effective the inpatient treatment was, the stresses of day-to-day may cause stress which can trigger relapses. These stresses can be enough to challenge a recovered individual’s thought patterns and behaviors, which is why many recovered people choose to continue with regular day treatment sessions. An outpatient program allows them to reconnect with the support of recovery specialists, and serve as a great refresher on the tools required to live a recovered life.
The Main Drawback of Outpatient or Day Treatment
- Outpatient treatment may not be enough for some patients.
It is worth noting that outpatient treatment may not be ideal for every individual. The more severe the eating disorder, the more likely it is that residential care will be more appropriate. There are also issues of safety to consider. If the client’s health is severely compromised, or if there is a significant risk of self-harm or suicide, constant monitoring may be required to ensure their safety.
How to Choose the Right Type of Program
For those who have received an eating disorder diagnosis and are seeking help from an eating disorder treatment facility, the decision regarding the type of center and program can be challenging. The challenge is understandable – the client’s life is about to change (for the better), and change is often terrifying. Given these factors, it is best to rely on professionals who have experience (i.e. a doctor and/or therapist) who is most qualified to guide the decision.
No matter how tempting it can be for patients and families to make a decision on their own, the doctor and/or therapist should always be consulted and listened to. Another viable option is to seek out the experts at an eating disorder treatment program near you. They are trained to help with the decision-making process and can advise individuals and their families on which treatment options are most likely to produce the desired outcome.
If you or a loved one would like more information on treatment options for eating disorders, please contact Oliver-Pyatt Centers’ admissions specialists at (866) 511-4325. We’re standing by to help you on the path to recovery.