People with eating disorders often have psychological issues like low self-esteem, perfectionism and unhealthy coping skills. In addition, certain mental conditions frequently co-occur with eating disorders, including anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Eating disorder counseling may be effective in treating these underlying psychological causes of eating disorders.
Goals of Eating Disorder Therapy
The primary goals of eating disorder counseling are to:
- Disconnect the patient’s sense of self-worth from her appearance
- Improve self-image
- Strengthen interpersonal relationships
- Teach effective problem-solving skills
- Teach healthy ways of dealing with emotional stress.
Starting Eating Disorder Counseling
Eating disorder therapy involves regular meetings with a psychologist or mental health counselor, or you may meet in a group setting. Counseling can last anywhere from a few sessions to a few years.
For most patients, eating disorder therapy is difficult. It can be hard to change beliefs and behaviors that the patient has held onto for many years. Most patients continue meeting with their counselor after other types of eating disorder treatment have ceased, as unresolved psychological issues may increase the risk of relapse.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Mental health professionals use several different types of psychotherapy to treat
eating disorders. One of the most popular types is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps a patient recognize harmful behaviors, feelings and thoughts that contribute to eating disorders.
The patient learns to replace these behaviors and beliefs with more realistic ones. The patient also learns to respond to stress and other psychological triggers in healthier ways. Cognitive behavioral therapy is particularly effective in treating patients with bulimia.
A second type of eating disorder counseling, known as interpersonal psychotherapy, is a short-term therapy that focuses on changing unhealthy relationships that support harmful eating habits. Originally developed to treat depression, interpersonal psychotherapy has been adapted to eating disorder treatment as well. A patient with both an eating disorder and depression may find success with this type of therapy.
Psychodynamic treatment is similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, in that it focuses on the beliefs and behaviors that fuel the eating disorder. However, whereas CBT helps a patient recognize unhealthy beliefs and behaviors, psychodynamic treatment focuses on the events and experiences that cause these behaviors. In this eating disorder treatment, the past and the unconscious are the keys to solving problems in the present.
Family eating disorder therapy focuses on specific events, issues or relationships within the family that may be causing or influencing the eating disorder. Family therapy also focuses on how the eating disorder impacts the family, and may help to improve communication and familial relationships, especially in cases of adolescent patients.
Eating disorder counseling is one of the most effective types of eating disorder treatment. If you think you need therapy, talk to your doctor to decide which type is best for you.
American Psychological Association. (2008). Eating disorders: Psychotherapy’s role in effective treatment. Retrieved September 13, 2010, from http://www.apapracticecentral.org/outreach/eating-disorders.pdf
Mayo Clinic. (2009). Eating disorder treatment: Know your options. Retrieved September 13, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/eating-disorder-treatment/MY00794
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. (2010). Information about therapeutic treatments. Retrieved September 13, 2010, from http://www.anad.org/get-information/information-about-treatment/