Finding an Eating Disorder Therapist

It’s important to seek treatment from an experienced eating disorder therapist since eating disorders are such complicated and serious illnesses. Without the help of a professional therapist eating disorders will likely not improve. Having love and support from your family is also important, of course, and can help a lot, but it’s not a substitute for a good therapist that specializes in eating disorders.

Here are a few things to look for when selecting a therapist. You can schedule an appointment with a therapist just to meet him or her and see if you feel comfortable. You can also change therapists at any time if you feel your current therapist is not meeting your needs.

Look for an eating disorder therapist that:

  • You feel comfortable talking to. If you don’t feel comfortable, it will be hard to open up about personal issues.
  • Treats you like an equal, not like he or she is in charge.
  • Will listen to your ideas and doesn’t think he or she knows everything.
  • Doesn’t say he or she knows exactly how you feel, but instead wants to learn about how you feel.
  • Recognizes your strengths and doesn’t just see you as a sick, unstable person.
  • Won’t get upset if you don’t agree with something he or she says but instead will encourage you to express your feelings.
  • Will spend more time addressing the emotional issues that led to the development of an eating disorder and less time talking about what you’ve eaten or how much you weigh (your doctor and/or dietician should be helping you with those things).
  • Invites you to bring family members or other important people in your life to sessions whenever you like.
  • Believes what you say and always respects your feelings.
  • Won’t try to insist you talk about things you’re not ready to talk about yet, but will confront you in a caring way if he or she thinks you are avoiding issues you need to talk about.
  • Can teach you new ways to cope with stress and problems.
  • Doesn’t want to be friends with you outside of your counseling sessions and doesn’t want to have any kind of sexual relationship with you.
  • Will be available outside of your regular appointments in the event of an emergency or crisis.
  • Won’t act disappointed or make you feel like you’ve failed if you have a relapse or slip up sometimes.
Eating Disorder Therapy Session

For Therapists

To be the kind of therapist eating disorders patients respond well to, you’ll have to be patient. It takes some people with eating disorders a long time to develop trust. You’ll also need to be very careful not to damage that trust. Make sure you set clear and consistent boundaries and never make promises you won’t be able to keep. If you say you’ll do something, it’s very important that you follow through.

Eating disorders patients tend to be very sensitive so choose your words carefully. Pay attention to your body language, too, and any other subtle signals patients might pick up on. While people with eating disorders obviously have some problems and need help, they are often very intelligent and should not be treated like children or talked down to.

The type of therapist eating disorders patients usually respond best to helps patients believe in themselves, trust themselves and have faith that recovery is possible. A good eating disorder therapist understands that recovery is a process and that it has its ups and downs.

Talk to your patients about the treatment techniques you want to use to help them and find out what they think would be helpful. It’s important for an eating disorder therapist to allow patients to make choices for themselves and to gain some sense of control over their treatment.

Many patients say that what they find most helpful is an eating disorder therapist that can help them look inside to figure out why they have developed eating disorders and help them find new ways to cope. The type of therapist eating disorders patients are most likely to benefit from seeing does not focus on what patients are eating or how much they weigh, but focuses on the emotional issues instead. Patients should be working closely with medical doctors and registered dieticians that can help them with their food choices and nutritional issues.

Remember that there is not one type of therapist eating disorders patients always respond well to. All patients with eating disorders are not the same. They have different needs and preferences. Be willing to be flexible and to develop individualized treatment plans for each patient. Discuss the treatment plan with the patient and decide on a course of treatment together.


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Written by: Colleen Thompson
-The Deadly Diet: Recovering from Anorexia & Bulimia by Terence J. Sandbek, Ph.D – New Harbinger Publications Onc, CA 1993
-The Courage To Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis – Harper and Row Publishers, NY 1988