Finding a good Eating Disorder Therapist

Eating disorders are very complicated illnesses with severe medical consequences. They can be overcome with appropriate expert and family assistance. It is best to seek out the help of a qualified professional to help you or your loved one along the path to recovery. Parents play a very important role in the recovery of children, adolescents, and even young adults. One of the most successful treatments for younger sufferers is Family Based Treatment which involves the entire family.

Effective eating disorder treatment usually requires a team of professionals, who will work together to address the medical, psychological, nutritional, and psychiatric components of the illness. The earlier an individual receives treatment, the greater their chance of full recovery. For this reason treatment for an eating disorder should not be postponed even if symptoms are mild.

It is important to choose the right level of care. (See the types of eating disorder help)

There are a variety of approaches used to treat eating disorders. However, the initial goals of any approach to the treatment of eating disorders should be to first of all deal with any behaviors that are life threatening, such as suicide attempts and severe malnutrition. Once the life threatening elements of the illness are reduced, patients should be guided towards weight restoration and nutritional health. The final stage is setting the patient up for long term health and a stable way of eating and exercising. This last stage involves a long term treatment plan which may include addressing any issues that existed before the eating disorder such as depression and anxiety disorders or trauma related behaviors. The environmental factors or influences may also be addressed so that the triggers of the disorder can be avoided or recognized in the future. There should also be a component for continued education for the patient, family and friends.

Choosing A Therapist

There are no academic programs currently in place that can be used as a specific “eating disorder degree” so when seeking treatment you will have to use your own judgement as to your candidate’s level of expertise. Prior to selecting a therapist it is a good idea to take the time to read about the current science on eating disorders so that you are able to ask any potential therapist questions regarding this.

You will want to select a therapist who is up to date on the latest research regarding eating disorders. If possible you should interview and look at a number of different therapists before making your final decision. It is very important that as a parent or caregiver that you feel you will be included in the process.

Some Good Questions to Ask When Evaluating an Individual Therapist:

  1. What is your training, background, and experience?
  2. What is your experience with eating disorders?
  3. What do you believe causes an eating disorder?
  4. What is your treatment philosophy and treatment plan with goals?
  5. What is your approach to nutritional rehabilitation?
  6. How will family members or significant others be involved in treatment?
  7. What conferences have you attended recently?
  8. What certifications do you hold?
  9. Are you a member of any professional eating disorder organizations?
  10. Do you collaborate with other professionals?
  11. What is your process of referral to a higher level of care if that is needed and which treatment centers do you affiliate yourself with?

Look for a therapist who is experienced in treating eating disorders and who is up to date on the more recent understanding that eating disorders are brain-based disorders with a biological component. Look for providers who are trained to deliver appropriate evidence-based treatments for eating disorders and consider family members as part of the treatment team whenever possible.

While it is important to research treatment options before choosing a provider, it is also important to periodically assess whether that treatment is being effective and to make adjustments if it is not.


  • Early intervention shows greater results and increases chances for a full recovery. Do not delay seeking treatment.
  • Parents can play a very active role in treatment and recovery.
  • Family Based Therapy is considered the most effective form of treatment for teens with eating disorders.

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 Additional Reading:

Determining Which Psychological Treatment is Best for an Individual
Types of Eating Disorder Treatment Professionals: How to Find the Right One for You
Importance Of Getting Help And Being Honest In Medical And Therapy Appointments
Choosing an Eating Disorder Treatment Center


Why it is important to set up a treatment team before a patient leaves an inpatient care facility.

F.E.A.S.T Guide: Port in a Storm: How to Choose a Treatment Team for a Loved One with an Eating Disorder in the US

Written by Dr. Lauren Muhlheim and Tabitha Farrar – 2014