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What can therapy for eating disorders help with?

Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating are complex conditions influenced by many factors, and the approach to treatment is correspondingly multifaceted. While medical and nutritional programs are the first line of treatment for restoring healthy body weight, psychotherapy addresses the cognitive and behavioural disturbances that underlie the disorder and mood disturbances that accompany it. For example, those with anorexia may have a distorted body image, fragile self-esteem, and a sense of perfectionism or psychological rigidity. Therapy helps resolve such psychological problems and helps patients devise behavioural strategies for establishing a healthy weight.

How do therapists treat eating disorders?

Therapists may call on multiple modalities, including an eating-disorder-specific form of cognitive and behavioural therapy (CBT-E), which addresses the erroneous beliefs, distorted self-perceptions, and impaired mood of those with eating disorders. CBT also helps patients develop workable behavioural strategies for establishing and maintaining healthy weight. Because of the central role that family dynamics play in eating disorders, family-based therapy may be prescribed as well, and is the form of therapy validated for children and adolescents. In addition, group therapy is often prescribed to help patients gain insight, relieve isolation, and support recovery.

Who is qualified to treat eating disorders?

Optimal treatment for eating disorders generally involves ongoing medical monitoring, which may include prescription management by a licensed psychiatrist; nutrition counselling, education, and meal planning by a registered dietitian, and psychotherapy by a licensed psychotherapist. Psychotherapy is considered an indispensable element of treatment. Because of the high rates of medical and psychiatric crisis that accompany eating disorders, and the complexities of the conditions, it is important to find a therapist who is experienced with or specializes in the treatment of those with the eating disorders.

What to look for in a therapist who treats eating disorders?

Given the complexities of eating disorders, it is important to find a therapist who has extensive experience treating them. The International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals (IAEDP) designates as Certified Eating Disorders Specialists (CEDS) those therapists who have completed advanced education, undergone supervised clinical training, and passed a certification exam. Since medication and nutritional education and guidance are usually necessary for effective treatment, it is advisable to choose a therapist who additionally has a good working relationship with, or who works in conjunction with, psychiatrists and dietitians to discuss issues that will arise and that may indicate the need for change in treatment strategies.