Who are the Professionals who Treat Eating Disorders? — The Therapeutic Treatment Team
Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center
What are the kinds of professionals who treat eating disorders?
GPs and Local Doctors
Occupational Therapists & Rehabilitation Therapists
Nurses & Mental Health Nurses
The therapeutic team is usually a group of clinicians and professionals who are able to guide someone with an eating disorder through the treatment and recovery process. Because of the complex nature of eating disorders, treatment for an eating disorder can often mean working with several qualified practitioners. Some people will benefit from stand-alone therapies, which involve working with only one professional, while others will need a multidisciplinary approach with help from multiple professionals.
GPs and Local Doctors
GPs are an important part of the treatment and recovery process and anyone who experiences an eating disorder should have a GP that they can talk to and trust. Your GP can:
Talk through the signs and symptoms of the eating disorder with you
Provide you with additional information abut the eating disorder
Refer you to an eating disorder specialist for further help, diagnosis and treatment
A GP (General Practitioner) is a doctor who has general medical expertise. Although GPs may not be formally trained in distinguishing the presence of an eating disorder, they are a good ‘first base’ if you have concerns about yourself or someone you care for.GPs are an important part of the treatment and recovery process and anyone who experiences an eating disorder should have a GP that they can talk to and trust. Your GP can:
A Pediatrician is a doctor who has medical expertise with infants, children and adolescents. They are often involved in the treatment of children and adolescents suffering from eating disorders. Pediatricians can:
Speak to children and adolescents at their level
Talk to you as a carer or parent and help you understand what is happening to your child or loved one
Decide on a treatment or refer you to another specialist who will be able to help you
Psychologists are commonly involved in the treatment of eating disorders. They can provide counselling and education for people with eating disorders using a variety of approaches. Psychologists will generally:
Conduct assessments to diagnose mental illnesses or conditions
Develop treatment plans that specifically address mental and emotional issues associated with the eating disorders (e.g. body image or weight issues)
Provide counseling for other problems not directly related to the eating disorder (e.g. family situations, social problems)
All psychologists should be tertiary qualified; in addition, clinical psychologists need to have completed postgraduate training in order to gain expertise in treating mental illnesses.
Assess someone with an eating disorder to diagnose various disorders
Develop treatment plans that help to treat the disorder
Prescribe medication and monitor how the medication is working
All psychiatrists will have completed medical training and additional supervised psychiatric practice.
A psychiatrist is a medical practitioner who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. Psychiatrists can:
Translate scientific information into practical advice surrounding food and healthy eating
Prescribe dietary treatments for people suffering from eating disorders
Teach people with eating disorders how to eat and how to buy appropriate foods (e.g. in a supermarket)
Work in private practices and hospitals
Provide medical nutrition therapy services
A dietitian is a tertiary qualified expert on food and nutrition. Dieticians play a common role in the treatment of eating disorders. A dietitian may be necessary if someone with an eating disorder requires guidance and planning in order to address their abnormal eating behaviors. A dietitian can:
Offer general advice to people with eating disorders
Provide basic advice on nutrition, eating plans and motivations for eating well
Address fears and concerns about food and weight
A nutritionist is a tertiary qualified professional who can provide general support to people with eating disorders in relation to nutrition education and community health. Nutritionists can:
A social worker is often involved with treatment if the person presents with behavioral, social or mental health issues in addition to an eating disorder. Social workers are tertiary qualified and can provide individual, couple and family counselling for people with eating disorders and their carers as well as case management and referrals or resources. They often facilitate support groups and provide links to other community resources.
Social workers can be found in hospitals and health services, government programs and community organizations.
Occupational Therapists & Rehabilitation Therapists
Occupational therapists and rehabilitation therapists help someone with an eating disorder to develop, practice and implement the life skills they require to address their disordered eating behavior. Occupational therapists may work with someone suffering from an eating disorder throughout the treatment process, with the aim of helping the patient to effectively manage and normalize their eating patterns.
Occupational therapists can also help someone with an eating disorder develop other relevant life skills that will allow them to function in their everyday lives and perform everyday activities.
Nurses & Mental Health Nurses
Nurses and mental health nurses form an important part of the multidisciplinary treatment team. Their role is to provide practical medical and mental health care for someone with an eating disorder while that person is hospitalized or gaining treatment via the health system.
If a person with an eating disorder is admitted to hospital or a similar community setting, either as part of an outpatient or inpatient program, nurses and mental health nurses will become involved in the treatment of that patient and their eating disorder on a daily basis.
Medical and mental health nurses will often conduct medical or mental health assessments, administer any medications and provide treatment as well as interact with a person with an eating disorder to coordinate the level of care required.
Choosing a therapist
When choosing a therapist, it is important to remember that the relationship you have with your therapists and clinicians is vital. At the heart of a good therapeutic relationship lies:
Understanding – your therapist understands your disorder and your emotions and feelings, and you also understand their role in the treatment and recovery process
Trust – you trust your therapist and your therapist trusts you; give time for trust to develop
Rapport – you can talk openly and be heard without judgment Collaboration – you and your therapist work as a team, developing mutual understanding, setting goals and following through on objectives
The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author and are presented without editing. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or the policy of EDReferral.com, and no official endorsement by EDReferral.com of the opinions expressed herein should be inferred.
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Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN) and binge-eating disorder (BED), are one of the most complex and clinically challenging groups of mental disorders. Due to the severity of eating disorders and the volatile nature of this mental illness, professional help and psychiatric support is of paramount importance for recovery and healing.
Timely diagnosis and effective treatment interventions are known to improve the prognosis of this disease. Effective treatment for eating disorders typically requires access to both medical and psychiatric care.
Treating eating disorders
Varying levels of care are available for patients with an eating disorder. For patients who are medically and psychiatrically stable, intensive outpatient or day treatment may be a suitable option where they can manage daily appointments with school or work. However, those who need close medical and mental supervision, inpatient care may be the best route.
With residential care, patients can work closely with a team of health professionals, including medical doctors, registered dieticians, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, therapist, and psychiatrist.
Psychiatric support for treatment of eating disorders
Recovering from an eating disorder does not merely entail eating healthy. Eating disorders are complicated illnesses that influence perceptions of body image as well as behaviors, and they are not easy to alter. Treatment of these disorders is dependent upon changing these perceptions and behaviors that are only possible through psychiatric support.
Comprehensive psychiatric treatment allows patients to deal with coexisting conditions that may hold back eating disorder treatment. In such instances, inpatient psychiatric care is compulsory to stabilize depressive symptoms before they can enjoy the full benefits of eating disorder treatment.
An experienced psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner in eating disorders will understand the complexities of common eating disorder behaviors. A vast array of psychiatric symptoms are found consistent in patients with disordered eating, including anxiety, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, depression, substance use disorders, suicidal thoughts, and self-harm.
Psychological treatments for eating disorders
Even though there exist various psychological treatments, they all typically involve engaging with a therapist. These treatments are specifically constructed to help a patient understand their thought process, coping strategies, and relationships, in order to make changes that will make everyday living easier.
Some of the main psychological treatments used to help people with eating disorders are:
- Family therapy: family members are involved as team members to help the patient through treatment, counseling family and the patient
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: This therapy teaches the patients to recognize their negative thoughts and beliefs, and to unlearn them, replacing them with healthier coping strategies
- Interpersonal psychotherapy: Interpersonal issues and symptomatic recovery are focused through this highly-structured and time-limited approach
- Psycho-dynamic psychotherapy: Also known as insight-oriented therapy, this approach focuses upon self-awareness through the unraveling of the subconscious and unconscious thoughts influencing present behavior.
If a patient is severely underweight, as is mostly the case in anorexia nervosa, treatment will begin with physical recovery prior to psychological treatment. Once the body is recovered, it will be easier to focus on rebuilding the mind.
Psychiatric support and the role of medications
Several FDA-approved pharmaceuticals are available for treating eating disorders. These are most often SSRI medications that help with symptoms of anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and PTSD.
Incorporating medications in treatment is best done under the close supervision of a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner. Patients can benefit from this in inpatient settings as they are guided through dosages and side effects.
While the outcomes of eating disorder treatment are difficult to quantify, professional multidisciplinary treatment for eating disorders can significantly improve a person’s overall quality of life through the provision of resources to help recover.
Challenging old habits is tough, and relearning better coping strategies will involve trial and error. Persistence is vital during this crucial time, and you can benefit significantly with counseling and therapy.
If you are in need of professional support for an eating disorder, reach out to an eating disorder specialist to begin your recovery journey today.
About the Author:
Sana Ahmed is a journalist and social media savvy content writer with extensive research, print, and on-air interview skills. She has previously worked as a staff writer for a renowned rehabilitation institute, a content writer for a marketing agency, an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster.
Sana graduated with a Bachelors in Economics and Management from the London School of Economics and began a career of research and writing right after. Her recent work has largely been focused upon mental health and addiction recovery.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Reviewed & Approved on June 20, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC
Published June 20, 2019, on EatingDisorderHope.com