If you are an outpatient or healthcare provider working with an individual with an eating disorder, it can be a rewarding – yet sometimes challenging – experience. While every case might have its fair share of ups and downs, one common thread remains constant: you play an invaluable role in helping your client achieve key goals and milestones as they work towards recovery.
Eating disorders are highly complicated conditions, and the road to recovery is rarely linear. Relapses and setbacks can occur. Whether you are a therapist, a dietitian, prescriber or primary care physician, you can be the voice of encouragement that connects your client to higher levels of specialized care, when appropriate.
To help you in these cases, here are some questions to consider:
What is the individual’s medical status?
Communicate with your client’s primary care physician and/or dietitian about the current weight, vitals, and lab results if you do not have that information already. It is helpful to look at the trends of these numbers to assess whether medical status is stabilized or decreasing as you work with your client. Abnormal lab results, irregular vital signs and concerning changes in body weight are grounds for higher levels of care. Here at Walden, for instance, our inpatient hospitalization program has around-the-clock medical care, with nasogastric tube feedings if your client requires them. From there, they can transition into residential care, which has on-site nursing 16 hours of the day.
How motivated are they to recover?
If your client has been voicing difficulty working towards or maintaining recovery on their own, residential treatment could be a great place for them to establish and/or reconnect with their recovery goals. Clients that suffer from consistent and intrusive eating disorder thoughts that are impairing regular activities or daily living may need that level of 24/7 support that residential treatment can offer. At Walden, residents receive daily groups and clinical support to help them challenge eating disorder thoughts, and focus on achieving short- and long-term goals to promote self-efficacy and hope for recovery.
Do their day-to-day lives have adequate structure?
Two imperative interventions to disrupting eating disorder behaviors are structure and supervision. At Walden, all meals and snacks are supervised by staff who provide meal coaching and coping skills when challenges arise. If your client is struggling to eat meals, disrupt binging or purging or refrain from over-exercise without supervision, these types of structured environments can be incredibly beneficial.
How is their support system?
Eating disorders can be an isolating condition, so ensuring that your client has a healthy and active support system is key. This might include family, friends and/or a partner that can walk alongside them and help with structure, supervision and accountability at home. This is an especially great protective factor as they work towards recovery on an outpatient level. If your client’s loved ones are unable to provide practical and emotional support at home, residential treatment can be effective in providing this type of environment. Once your client is in residential treatment, families can be educated and empowered to replicate the structure and support at home.
Still wondering about the best level of care for your client and want to know more? It’s easy – check out Walden’s residential program for all types of eating disorders, or contact our Admissions Department to learn more about our brief intake and evaluation process.
Shannon Stern is an Adolescent Clinician at Walden’s Residential Program, and provides individual, group and family therapy to residents and families. Shannon received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at the University of Vermont, and worked at the Center of Disability and Community Inclusion before receiving her Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology at Boston College. Shannon worked as a clinical intern at Stonehill College’s counseling center, where she provided individual therapy to undergraduate students and co-led The Body Project, a psychoeducational group for female students struggling with body image. Prior to joining the Walden team, Shannon held positions working with young adults at Semester Off, and providing in-home therapy to youth and families at Youth Villages. Her professional interests include working with individuals struggling with eating disorders and incorporating a strengths-based approach to help them achieve personal goals.