One of the biggest obstacles of eating disorder recovery may come after being discharged from a residential program. Helping your adolescent integrate back into their day to day routine can be challenging for everyone. Remember, recovery is not linear. There may be ups and downs as your family navigates returning to home, school, extracurricular activities, and most likely embarking on treatment in lower levels of care. Here are a few tips to help support this transition.
1.) Cultivate Trust and Open Communication
At the very beginning of the recovery process, trust may need repair. In order to restore trust, open and honest communication is encouraged. Creating transparent and nonjudgmental dialogue between family members can help to decrease shame and lend itself to improved understanding of one another–and the eating disorder. Individuals often find residential treatment to be a place that feels safe to discuss their feelings and thoughts related to their eating disorder. A goal would be to continue this progress at home following discharge. I often tell parents that cultivating an environment where candid discussion about the eating disorder feels comfortable, can help take the power away from the eating disorder, and increase confidence and motivation for recovery.
2.) Identify Triggers
Triggers can be defined as events that create some type of uncomfortable emotion for an individual. Some common emotions that are often reported in those living with eating disorders are shame, guilt, anxiety, sadness and stress among others. In order to best prepare for recovery success outside of treatment, it is crucial to have some understanding about what the triggers are for the individual and for the family. The goal then would be to create a game plan of how–as a family–you can cope in a safe and contained way when those uncomfortable emotions arise. Your treatment team can be great collaborators in helping you to identify these triggers and in brainstorming some helpful coping skills that might be appropriate to use in those difficult moments.
3.) Incorporate Supervision to Support Recovery
Following discharge, one challenge many families face is the increased need for supervision of the adolescent. Going from an environment with 24-hour supervision back home, can feel shocking to many adolescents who may have been in treatment for an extended period of time. After residential care, supervision of all meals and snacks is highly recommended. This added necessary precaution might be difficult with all of the other commitments you might have, so sometimes I suggest that parents/caregivers enlist the help of trusted friends and family for extra support. Oftentimes, schools are more than willing to provide space for the adolescent to be monitored for snack and lunch. In the beginning, supervision can be a lot to balance. Remember that the end goal is to eventually decrease supervision as trust is repaired and the eating disorder has less control.
4.) Ask for Help!
Supporting and caring for someone with an eating disorder can challenge a person or family system in ways you weren’t expecting. The road to recovery can also be long. We want to avoid burnout and running on empty so it will be important for caregivers to have space to talk about their experience and discuss strategies for managing their own emotions. These spaces can support caregivers in feeling and processing things as they arise. We often recommend that parents seek their own therapeutic support through avenues such as parent support groups in addition to family or individual therapy. In order to support your adolescent effectively, taking care of yourself is of utmost importance. Remember you are not alone, and it is okay to ask for help
To learn more about residential treatment for anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders at Walden Behavioral Care, please visit https://www.waldeneatingdisorders.com/residential/.
Simone Arent is an adolescent clinical intern at Residential treatment, providing individual, group, and family therapy to adolescents. Simone received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Western New England University, and is currently in pursuit of her Doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology at William James College. Simone works to meet each individual where they are at by using a strength-based approach, and incorporating dialectical and cognitive behavior therapies. In Simone’s free time, she enjoys being outdoors and solving Rubik’s Cubes.