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Outpatient Treatment for Eating Disorders

Get in Recovery and Maintain The Rest of Your Life


Updated September 12, 2012

Fortunately, many people suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder can engage in treatment on an outpatient basis. This is the most flexible level of care and the level of care with the least disruption of your regular day-to-day life. You can keep up with school, work and other commitments while attending treatment appointments.

What does outpatient treatment entail?

The cornerstone of any treatment plan is psychotherapy, or counseling. On an outpatient basis this typically occurs at least once a week, with each appointment lasting about an hour. However, depending on your individual needs and the seriousness of your eating disorder, your therapist may recommend that you attend sessions more frequently. As treatment progresses and you need fewer sessions, your therapist will likely recommend spacing sessions out to every-other-week, and then to once-per-month and eventually to an as-needed basis.

Many people also attend family therapy sessions as part of their eating disorder treatment. Your primary therapist may coordinate these sessions, or you may also have a separate family therapist on your treatment team. Your age (adolescent or adult), how far away your family lives, and how involved you are with them are all factors that will help determine whether these sessions are scheduled on a regularly occurring basis or interspersed throughout treatment. If you have a spouse or significant other, they may also be encouraged to take an active role in your treatment as well.

Group therapy or support groups are also very common for those in outpatient treatment. However, it's important to talk with your primary therapist about when it would be appropriate to start a group and what group she/he would recommend, if that is something you are interested in. Group therapy can be extremely beneficial in treatment. However, it can also be overwhelming and triggering to someone who is new to recovery.

Nutrition counseling or consultation with a dietician is typically recommended as part of outpatient treatment as well. These appointments typically last thirty minutes to an hour and may be every week or less frequently. They encompass nutrition education, meal planning and accountability for your meals. Many clients initially shy away from making appointments with dieticians, thinking that they will force you to eat more (or less) than you are comfortable with. However, most dieticians who specialize in working with eating disorders are very patient and able to work at a pace you are comfortable with.

Regular physician visits are also extremely important for anyone suffering from an eating disorder. Your physician will be able to assess if you are experiencing any medical complications from your disorder and can determine if you need a higher level of care with additional medical monitoring. Many sufferers also see a physician who specializes in mental illnesses, a psychiatrist. This is the person who will prescribe and monitor any medications to help with the symptoms you are experiencing.

Who is outpatient care appropriate for?

Outpatient treatment is appropriate when the sufferer does not have any medical complications that need to be monitored, and is able to make progress on an outpatient basis. For instance, if a person is able to follow a meal plan with only the support of their family, then outpatient treatment may be a good fit. However, if someone isn't able to follow a meal plan at all and/or has medical complications, a higher level of care may be more appropriate for them.

Most people suffering from an eating disorder use outpatient treatment options at some point in their recovery. They may only be treated on an outpatient basis or they may attempt recovery on an outpatient basis only to decide later that a higher level of care is necessary. Even people who are treated at a higher level of care typically continue treatment on an outpatient basis after they complete work with the additional support of intensive outpatient, inpatient or residential treatment.

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