What Kind of Therapy Should I Expect in Eating Disorder Recovery?

An eating disorder like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa is a traumatic experience; in addition to the negative physical consequences they bring, people who suffer from one of these disorders often refuse to seek out help or even admit there is an issue. It is common for those entering residential eating disorder treatment centers to be unsure of what to expect and to feel anxiety of what kinds of treatment they’ll receive. Here, you can check out several types of therapy that can be part of eating disorder recovery, and hopefully assuage some of the nervousness you or a loved one might feel about going into recovery.

Body Image Therapy

One of the common underlying factors that contributes to the onset of eating disorders is a negative and/or distorted body image. Because it factors into almost every case of an eating disorder, body image therapy is an integral part of eating disorder treatment.  Useful in both individual and group milieus, body image therapy can help clients understand connections between the negative body image of others and their own personal outlook during group therapy in eating disorder facilities, or it can serve to help the client understand their own flawed thought processes.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 

Almost every eating disorder treatment center makes use of cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorder treatment. This form of therapy centers around identifying disordered thoughts and then systematically and rationally debunking them. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be done individually or with a group – during group sessions, individuals get to learn from one another, and during individual sessions, the client and therapist can build on prior progress in a more intimate way.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy 

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), highlighted in this article from Psychology Today, is a type of psychotherapy that helps encourage greater well-being by fostering coping and acceptance skills. Very often, eating disorders result at least in part from a failure to deal with emotional challenges in a productive way. Through acceptance and commitment therapy with a group, these individuals learn how to utilize interpersonal relationships and communication to accept challenges and commit to a healthier solution than disordered eating patterns.

Exposure Therapy

This form of therapy is essential in preparing eating disorder patients for returning to the “real world” after they finish inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment. In exposure therapy sessions, individuals are literally exposed to the things they fear or are anxious about in small doses. This serves to reduce the anxiety surrounding those situations. An example of this might be an individual with anorexia nervosa eating a little bit more during each session, until their inclination to restrict calories becomes manageable enough to eat a balanced meal in full.

Family Therapy

This form of group therapy may be the most important of all from a support-system point of view.  In these sessions, the individual and their immediate family and caregivers work with the therapist to learn more about eating disorders and how they affect the psyches of the patient as well as those around them. They help to avoid codependent and enabling actions on the part of the family, while also helping the subject become more comfortable expressing their emotions to their loved ones and asking for support. In some cases, the family may engage in training sessions without their loved one present, as well.

Don’t Let Unfounded Worries Stop You From Getting the Help You Need

The decision to seek treatment for an eating disorder is a tough one to make; you or your loved one will be making fundamental changes to the way they live, feel, and relate to themselves and their bodies.  However, eating disorders can be deadly if they aren’t addressed. Fear of change and anxiety about treatment methods, while sometimes powerful dissuaders for people getting help, can be overcome by calmly explaining what will be involved. Armed with knowledge about what to expect, the road to recovery is that much easier to navigate.