Eating Disorders Professionals
Choosing a team to help you or your loved one heal.
Posted Jan 13, 2020
In your journey to recovery, you might encounter several different types of treatment providers. These will include psychotherapists, dietitians, primary care doctors, and possibly psychiatrists. Ideally, these professionals will work together as a team, keeping each other informed of any significant changes and collaborating on care strategies.
In the setting of a program such as an inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization (PHP), or intensive outpatient (IOP), teams keep informed by having regular meetings together as a part of their daily schedule. At the outpatient level of care, it is important that providers contact each other frequently if they are not in the same practice. They will need a release of information from you in order to do so.
A psychotherapist’s job is to help you to understand and change the emotional and cognitive patterns that underlie the eating disorder. Psychotherapists can be psychologists, clinical social workers, or licensed professional counselors based on the type of education and licensing that they have received. If you are unsure if a therapist you are considering is licensed, you can contact the state licensing board.
Some psychotherapists are covered by insurance, and some are not. If your psychotherapist is not covered directly by insurance, you may still be able to get some money back. Ask your insurance company about out-of-network benefits for mental health.
A dietitian has been specifically trained in food science. It is important in eating disorder recovery to be working with a registered dietitian, as opposed to a nutritionist. A registered dietitian is a professional who has met the training and educational requirements for licensure.
It is also important that your dietitian has special expertise in the area of eating disorders. Much of the nutritional advice that might be appropriate for the general population would be completely wrong for someone who has had an eating disorder. You may or may not be weighed at the dietitian’s office, and you may also decide together to do “blind weights,” where you do not have to know the number on the scale.
Primary Care Doctor
A primary care doctor, a medical doctor who is a generalist, should be a part of your team. The doctor’s job is monitoring blood work for medical issues, such as electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, or heart problems. It can be difficult to find a primary care doctor who specializes in eating disorders.
If you can, then great! If not, then make sure that your primary doctor is willing to accept guidance from the rest of the team, embrace all-foods-fit and health-at-every-size philosophies, and exercise care when discussing weight.
If you use medication to manage symptoms while you heal, you will have to get prescriptions from a psychiatrist, a medical doctor who specializes in psychiatry. Sometimes psychiatrists offer psychotherapy too, and if you are considering this option, it’s a good idea to check whether the psychiatrist has had additional training in this area.
Psychotherapy is often not well covered in medical school. Psychiatrists typically meet with patients for fairly short periods of time to check in on how things are going overall and to discuss any side effects from medication. As people become increasingly stable on a medication that works for them, they can check in with a psychiatrist less often.
For each of these providers, it’s important that you feel comfortable and understood. Although it’s a cumbersome process, I typically recommend setting initial appointments with three providers and then choosing the one that seems like the best fit. This wouldn’t be the best course of action if you have medical risks, though, because, in this case, time can be of the essence. In that case, I suggest beginning work with whoever can get you in the soonest, and perhaps trying other professionals after you’ve stabilized.