Eating disorder treatments

If you, or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, it can be difficult to know where and how to seek help. There are a number of different types of eating disorder treatments, as well as different health professionals that you can talk to. Finding out more about places to get treatment and where you can seek help if you need it is a really important step in recovery.

This might help if you:

  • Have an eating disorder
  • Know someone who has an eating disorder
  • Want to know more about different eating disorder treatments

Types of treatment

When looking at treatment options for an eating disorder, it is important to know that different people respond to different types of treatment even if they are experiencing the same eating disorder.

Also, some treatments are better suited to specific eating disorders than others and a multi-disciplinary approach to treatment is often the best way to treat an eating disorder.

The following are some of the main eating disorder treatment types:

  • Psychotherapy
There are various types of psychotherapy treatment for eating disorders, and these will most often be delivered by a psychologist, however; psychiatrists, psychotherapists, counsellors, and social workers may use aspects of these approaches in their treatment of eating disorders. The one most commonly heard of is CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), which aims to adjust unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaviour. 

  •  Family approaches

When a person with an eating disorder has a family to support them, a family approach to treatment can be appropriate. These approaches will primarily be used by a psychologist, however may also be practised by psychiatrists, social workers and counsellors.  The type of family therapy most commonly used is the Maudsley approach in which the parents play a central and positive role in supporting their child to recovery. 

  • Self-help approaches
Self-help means just that - an approach whereby the person with the eating disorder works through a program or book of treatment by themselves. This can be useful alongside professional treatment but is generally not enough on its own. 

  • Nutritional management
Nutritional management focuses on creating normal eating patterns in people with eating disorders. It will address fears about food and weight and offers support, nutritional advice, eating plans and motivation.

  • Medication
Medications can assist with problems that often sit alongside the eating disorder, such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Medication for the treatment of eating disorders can be prescribed and monitored by a psychiatrist or a general practitioner. Medication can be useful alongside other treatment but is not enough on its own.

Types of health professionals 

Due to the complex physical and mental nature of eating disorders, treatment often includes a range of qualified practitioners. Some people benefit from stand alone therapies while others will need a multi-disciplinary approach.

Some of the people who may be involved in eating disorder treatment include…

Remember that while these people are often involved in treating eating disorders, it doesn’t mean you will have all of them playing a role in your treatment.

Places to get eating disorder treatment

There are four main ways of receiving treatment, depending on the stage of illness that a person is experiencing. Some treatments are more intensive than others, however all involve some interaction with health professionals.

In-patient

In-patient treatment clinics provide 24 hour care and exist in some hospitals and private treatment centres.  They are designed primarily for people who are medically ill and who have intense symptoms. This treatment aims to achieve medical stabilisation, along with re-feeding and weight restoration. 

Out-patient

Often people with an eating disorder do not need 24 hour care, but do need targeted treatment from health professionals.  This is where out-patient services come in handy. Outpatient services often involve input from a range of health professionals, including many of those listed above, but don’t require a person to stay in hospital. 

Day program

Day program treatment is usually a more ongoing type of care which includes a range of treatment sessions over a whole day, or a number of days per week. It often includes structured eating sessions and active treatment interventions while you continue to live at home. 

Community based support

There are a number of community based support programs that operate in local areas providing support and information for people with eating disorders. These organisations are often a great place to access referrals for eating disorder treatment, support groups, counselling services and fact sheets on different issues relating to eating disorder prevention and early intervention. 

Getting help

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, it’s important to talk to someone. You can start off by talking to someone you trust, like a friend or family member. It’s also a good idea to speak to one of the health professionals listed above or get in contact with some of the key services that exist to support people with eating disorders. Many people have fully recovered from eating disorders - deciding to seek help for an eating disorder is the first step in recovery.

What can I do now?

  • Find out more about self-help treatments for eating disorders.
  • Call the National Support Line for eating disorders 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) for free, confidential support, help and information.
  • Be kind to yourself and recognise that recovery might not happen overnight.
Last reviewed: 04 May, 2016
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