By Lindsey Hall and Leigh Cohn
Most people with eating disorders agree that talking about their food problems is extremely difficult, especially when they have maintained an appearance of competence and well-being for so long. While they may be embarrassed to “tell all” to a friend or family member, especially at the beginning of recovery, confiding in a professional therapist can feel safer and easier. Also, one misconception they share is that they can get well on their own, but this is rarely true and possibly the result of a fear of relationships in general. Thus, therapy is a way to face what feels like shameful behaviors and difficult feelings, as well as an opportunity to learn how to trust and interact with another person.
Actually, many therapists specialize in this field because of their own experiences with food issues. But even if they haven’t had an eating disorder, therapists are trained to listen, accept, challenge, and provide coping skills. They are trained to fully “be there” for their clients, which is crucial for overcoming feelings of loneliness and disgust. A healthy, therapeutic relationship will positively influence nearly every aspect of a person’s life, and I strongly recommend that all people with eating disorders seek out some form of professional therapy. But no matter whom you choose for professional guidance, keep in mind that their role is not to “cure” you but rather to empower you to help yourself.
As previously mentioned, eating disorders have a wide variety of causes and relevant issues, so the best treatment is multidimensional. For this reason, professionals from many different types of disciplines specialize in this area, including psychologists, psychiatrists, marriage and family therapists, social workers, dietitians, and others. However, not all mental health professionals treat eating disorders. For example, only a small percentage of psychiatrists have full-time experience with these complex problems. Therefore, when you are seeking professional treatment, it is essential to find someone who has been trained specifically in this field.
Just as there are different kinds of professionals treating eating disorders, there are also different therapy approaches (psychotherapy, family based, etc.) and levels of care (outpatient, inpatient, etc.). In many instances, someone in recovery works with a treatment team composed of a primary physician, therapist, nutritionist, and perhaps other members, including parents and loved ones. So, your treatment will likely include an eclectic mix of techniques based on your individual needs and the unique skills of your team members.
When combined with other forms of treatment, support groups are a great way to enhance relationship skills, increase motivation, and provide feelings of connection in a semi-structured environment. Look for groups that are led by qualified professionals who are knowledgeable about eating disorders or individuals who are fully recovered.