Group therapy is a critical aspect of eating disorder treatment. For many people, hearing about the experiences of others and receiving honest feedback from people who are facing similar struggles is one of the most beneficial aspects of treatment.
In a safe, nurturing setting, patients share their pain and in doing so, realize that they are not alone. The camaraderie that develops in the group can build self-esteem and serve as a model for trusting, supportive relationships. The group setting is also a safe place to practice new communication skills and the art of acceptance of both self and others.
In group therapy, patients help one another identify and resolve problems with the guidance and expertise of a professional therapist. With a spirit of caring, they can question each other's distorted thoughts and destructive behaviors and facilitate the process of change. They also learn about nutrition, the process of recovery, relapse prevention, assertiveness techniques, coping skills and other important topics.
Although recovery happens while surrounded by family, friends and professionals, eating disorder treatment is essentially a journey of self-discovery. In individual therapy, patients have an opportunity to explore sensitive personal issues with feedback from a therapist. Common topics for discussion include childhood experiences, difficult emotions and relationship issues.
Depending on the patient's needs and preferences, therapists utilize a variety of approaches in individual therapy, including psychoanalysis, cognitive-behavioral therapy and an eclectic approach that combines a number of theories. Ultimately, one-on-one therapy creates an opportunity for healing by directly addressing the specific issues facing the individual patient.
Some eating disorder treatment programs offer some form of movement therapy. While exercise can trigger or exacerbate eating disorder behaviors, movement therapy helps patients become more aware of their bodies and more comfortable in their own skin.
Some of the benefits of movement therapy include:
- A healthier body image and greater appreciation for one’s physical health
- A positive outlook brought on by the combination of movement and music
- Relaxation through breathing exercises
- Acceptance of self and others
Nutrition education and counseling is sometimes offered as part of a well-rounded eating disorder treatment program. Nutrition therapy is typically led by a registered dietitian who works with patients to normalize their food intake and develop a healthy relationship with food. The dietitian may begin with an assessment of the patient's eating patterns, weight, exercise habits, medical concerns and body image.
In a nutrition counseling session, patients may learn about:
- The different types of food, including carbohydrates, proteins and fats, and why the body needs foods from each category
- Portion sizes and eating a variety of foods in moderation
- The consequences of eating disorder behaviors
- Recognizing the body's hunger cues
- Creating balanced meal plans
- Eating in social settings
- Overcoming fears around certain foods
- Healthy exercise routines
- Nutritional supplements
Together, the dietitian and patient create achievable goals and begin working toward those goals with support, encouragement and understanding. Once the patient's basic nutritional needs are being met, they often find that they have more energy, sleep better, and feel happier and more grounded.
Psychiatrists work with patients to assess, diagnose and treat eating disorders. Other mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, often accompany eating disorders and require dual diagnosis treatment from a team of nurses, doctors and therapists. When appropriate, psychiatrists may prescribe medications to aid in weight maintenance or to treat symptoms of co-occurring mental health issues.
Everyone suffering from an eating disorder needs support. For some, this may come from friends or family, but structured eating disorder support groups can also be beneficial. When combined with other forms of eating disorder treatment, support groups can help patients develop relationship skills and stay motivated in their recovery.