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There are a number of different types of eating disorder treatments, as well as different health professionals you can talk to about them. Learning more about the various options for treatment, and the health professionals involved, is an important step in recovery.

This can help if:

  • you have an eating disorder
  • you know someone who has an eating disorder
  • you want to know more about different eating disorder treatments.
Girl looking at her counsellor

Types of treatment

When looking at treatment options for an eating disorder, it’s important to know that people may respond differently to different types of treatment, even if they are experiencing the same disorder. Also, some treatments are better suited to specific eating disorders than others. In general, a combination of approaches is often the best form of treatment. Some of the main eating disorder treatment types are discussed below.

Psychotherapy

There are various types of psychotherapy treatments for eating disorders, but all of them focus on a person’s thoughts, emotions, behaviours, patterns of thinking, motivations and personal relationships. The most common treatment model is called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which aims to adjust unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaviour. Psychotherapy will usually be administered by a psychologist; however, psychiatrists, counsellors and social workers may use aspects of it in their treatments as well.

Family approaches

Family approaches are most common for adolescents, young adults and children suffering from an eating disorder. This type of treatment focuses on involving the whole family as a support network for the person with the disorder. The aim is to treat the person while at the same time offering support and information to family members on how to provide appropriate care. The most commonly used type of family therapy is the Maudsley approach, in which parents play a central and positive role in supporting their child to recovery.

Self-help approaches

Self-help means just that – an approach whereby a person with an eating disorder works through a treatment program by themselves. Self-help strategies for eating disorders can be useful when used alongside professional treatment but are generally not very effective on their own.

Nutritional management

Nutritional management is usually provided by a dietitian, and focuses on creating normal eating patterns. It aims to address fears about food and weight, as well as to offer support, nutritional advice, eating plans and motivation.

Medication

Medications are often very effective when someone with an eating disorder has additional mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and insomnia. These disorders commonly co-occur. Medications are often prescribed and monitored by a psychiatrist or a general practitioner and are most effective when used in conjunction with other treatment approaches.

Types of health professionals

Due to the complex physical and mental nature of eating disorders, treatment often includes a range of qualified practitioners. Some of the people who may be involved in treating an eating disorder 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.

Types of treatment settings

There are four main ways of receiving treatment for an eating disorder, depending on the stage of illness. Some treatments are more intensive than others, but all involve some interaction with health professionals.

Inpatient program

Inpatient treatment clinics provide 24-hour care and are usually located in hospitals and private treatment centres. They are designed primarily for people who are medically ill and experiencing severe symptoms. Inpatient treatment aims to achieve medical stabilisation as well as weight restoration and proper nourishment.

Outpatient program

Often people with an eating disorder don’t need 24-hour care, but do require targeted treatment from health practitioners. Outpatient services normally 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 involves a range of treatment sessions over an entire day, or a number of days per week. It often includes structured eating sessions and active treatment interventions while the patient continues to live at home. A day program may be a way for someone to transition from an inpatient stay to outpatient care.

Community-based support

There are a number of community-based support programs that operate in local areas and provide 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.

What can I do now?

  • Talk to someone you trust, such as a parent, friend, teacher or doctor.
  • Call the National Support Line for eating disorders, 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673), for free, confidential support, help and information.
  • Read more about the process of recovering from an eating disorder.