5 Myths of Residential Treatment for Eating Disorders

Exploring residential treatment for eating disorders can be a challenging time of uncertainty, nerves and many questions. These feelings are normal, trust me: I’m often met with wide eyes and flustered looks when I first meet my patients.

Sometimes though, these thoughts are intensified by false preconceived notions about what residential treatment is truly like. For example, you might wonder if it will be like jail or if you will be completely cut off from the outside world.

Examining and debunking these myths can be helpful in making the decision to enter residential treatment.

Myth #1: “Residential is involuntary and located within a locked hospital unit.”
I’ve met a handful of patients who thought they’d be spending time in confinement, and in some cases, held against their will. This is definitely not the case!

Most residential facilities aren’t located within hospitals. At Walden, for instance, our residents live in a comfortable suburban apartment complex. Additionally, most residential programs are voluntary. While people vary in their willingness for this level of care, every individual makes the conscious choice to come and stay.

Myth #2: “Living in residential will cut me off from my family and friends.”
When you leave your loved ones and your home, it’s understandable that you may feel more disconnected from the outside world. Despite certain social restrictions in residential treatment – for instance, the “no cell phone” policy, designed to protect your privacy and maximize safety – you won’t be totally cut off from the outside world.

At Walden, residents have access to landline phones and email multiple times throughout the day. Friends and family are welcome and encouraged to visit during visiting hours, occurring nightly. Within adolescent programming, families are regularly part of treatment. Our residential programs are designed to keep you connected with friends and family.

Myth #3: “I won’t want to prep my own meals.”
Many of our residents express anxiety about meal prep when they first arrive. Often, people state that the idea of following a meal plan, incorporating variety and taking control back in the kitchen was originally a deterrent against choosing this level of care.

As people leave our program, they often cite meal prep as one of the most valuable interventions. People begin to feel more confident incorporating food into their daily life as a result. At Walden’s residential program, staff are always present during prep to help with challenges along the way, and our dietician can help you incorporate more variety and follow a structured meal plan.

Myth #4: “I will lose touch with the routine of my day-to-day life.”
Residential treatment requires taking time away from work, school or other responsibilities. Understandably, this raises some anxiety about losing touch with structure, productivity and routine.

Some residential programs, like the one at Walden, are designed to mimic the structure of everyday life so that you can practice incorporating food into your work and school life outside of treatment. Our goal is to prepare you for the everyday challenges and stressors you might encounter when you leave treatment.

Myth #5: “Stepping up or down to residential will be like starting all over.”
Many individuals step up to residential treatment from a lower level of care or step down from an inpatient facility. If you have gotten comfortable with your treatment team at those facilities, it’s understandable that you would have some anxiety about transitioning to residential. It might feel like you’re going to a place where nobody knows your story, your challenges and the progress you’ve already made. But that’s far from the truth.

One of the benefits of Walden’s continuum of care is that team members at all levels are communicating with each other. Your team in residential will have necessary background and treatment history to make this transition as easy as possible.

It’s okay to have fears and apprehensions about packing up your life and moving into a residential treatment facility, especially if you’ve heard certain things that might make you hesitant. Know that what you hear from others isn’t always what you will personally experience. Residential facilities are safe, supportive and connected environments where the primary goal is to help patients make positive changes in their lives.

If you’re looking for a residential program for eating disorders, we’re here to help!

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Bethany Kregiel is a clinician in the adult residential program at Walden Behavioral Care, providing individual and group counseling to people with eating disorders. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from John Carroll University and her Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from Boston College. Bethany is particularly interested in working with individuals with eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and she incorporates aspects of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and exposure therapy into her work with her clients.