There are many different options available for those with eating disorders. The right treatment depends upon the type, the severity, the age of the individual affected and whether he or she has other problems, such as self-harm or depression.
The first issue, inevitably, is recognising there is an eating disorder and being willing to seek help. People with anorexia in particular often feel reluctant to acknowledge the problem and resistant to the idea of treatment. However, studies show that eating disorders becoming increasingly difficult to treat over time as behaviour becomes more entrenched. Early diagnosis and treatment is vital.
The best first step is often to talk to your GP. Although awareness of disorders varies among GPs, many are very supportive and quick to identify treatment options. Anyone with a disorder should be referred to a specialist in the treatment of eating disorders.
People with mild bulimia and binge eating may respond well to a self-help programme if it is overseen by a professional with expertise in eating disorders. However if there are psychiatric or medical complications, such as self-harm or physical problems as a result of the disorder, they should be referred for specialist treatment.
There are a number of centres for the treatment, both within the NHS and the private sector. It is best for a person with a disorder to be treated in a dedicated eating disorder unit where all the staff understand eating disorders and specialise in treating them. In a dedicated eating disorder unit, all the support you need is available and integrated within the treatment programme. This will include specialist dietitians, occupational therapy, psychology and family therapy.
Your GP will be able to refer you to an centre if you are diagnosed with a disorder. Unfortunately, in some areas, there is a lack of specialist centres and treatment is delivered in general mental health services.
If you do not feel comfortable talking to your GP, you could approach your school nurse or teacher. It is a difficult and challenging step, but it is very important to ask for help and seek treatment.
For most people, treatment can take place on an outpatient basis. This means going for therapy sessions lasting an hour or an hour-and-a-half once or twice a week. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been proven to be very effective for people with bulimia and a special form of CBT, called CBT-E for people with eating disorders. CBT is a ‘talking therapy’ which means you will meet a psychiatrist or psychologist every week and discuss your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. It is a very practical sort of therapy, which helps you to deal with difficult feelings and change the way you respond when facing negative thoughts and feelings.
A smaller proportion of people will need to stay in the eating disorders unit for treatment, usually over a period of several months. This group usually have anorexia and are of a very low weight, or have very rapidly lost weight and they are likely to have serious physical complications. Their outpatient treatment may have failed and they may have problems such as self harm.
An increasing number of those who require inpatient treatment are children and young people, aged 18 and below. There are a small number of centres like Newbridge House which specialise in treating disorders within this younger group. A child or young person with a disorder will need a different type of treatment to an adult. Family therapy is a key part of treatment for young people. This involves bringing key family members together – this may include siblings and step-parents – enabling them to voice their feelings and work together to support the young person with an eating disorder. It is very important that any centre treating young people supports their family members and works closely with them.
We work with a range of mild to moderate eating disorders at The Therapy Hour, including anorexia nervosa (under-eating), bulimia nervosa (binge eating) and their related activities, such as purging and over-exercising. We use CBT-E alongside other proven approaches for managing eating disorders.
We do not work with eating disordered clients using distance counselling methods, as we believe that the nature of these disorders encourages clients to hide the true extent of the problem whenever they can. A hands-on, face-to-face approach offers the best chance of success in managing and resolving eating disorders.
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