The transition from adolescence to young adulthood can be an exciting and challenging time for anyone. It can be particularly hard for someone working towards recovery from an eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. Many adolescents are eager to reach this milestone, and for some, their eating disorders look to this time as an opportunity to capitalize on the possibility for decreased support, supervision and accountability. However, the transition from adolescent to adult programming can be smooth and support needs to be ongoing, and for both the adolescent and their parents, knowing this going in can help make the process a smooth one.
With the transition to adulthood comes additional freedoms and responsibilities. As you make the move to adult programming this is also the case. You may be expected to prepare meals on your own and take a more active role in your treatment planning. You will have more independence as your parents may or may not be responsible for preparing and providing meals, as was the case in adolescent family based treatment.
What might stay the same?
You may notice that many of the groups and coping skills that you learned in the adolescent program are pretty much the same. Additionally, family involvement is almost always recommended. Although they aren’t with you during program, their support is still essential to your recovery. This may take the form of ongoing supervision, meal preparation and coaching during challenging moments as well as encouragement and empathy as you continue your path to recovery. Many of our young adult patients still have weekly family meetings and their parents play a very active role in their treatment.
How can I make the transition go smoothly?
Take one day at a time, one meal at a time. Try not to do too much too quickly. Communicate with your family, friends and treatment team. Eating disorders are incredibly challenging to overcome, don’t go it alone. Reach out for support and accept it. Ask questions. Keep your goals in mind both short term and long term. These may be going to college, getting a job, progressing through treatment, freedom from your eating disorder, returning to previously enjoyed activities.
What can I, as a parent, do to support my adolescent during this transition?
Many parents have asked, “how do I help keep my adolescent on track towards their recovery after they turn 18?” The answer is really to keep doing what you were doing in adolescent program. Continue to love and support them. Know that their ED is not their choice and their struggle is very much real. Continue to coach them, encourage them AND hold them accountable. Although they have more independence in many ways once they turn 18, they may still rely on you financially for housing, college tuition, cell phones, cars, etc. These can be great motivators for ongoing engagement in treatment.
About the author:
Laura Roias is director at Walden’s Worcester clinic providing clinical, administrative and fiscal oversight and development for the clinic. Formerly, she was assistant director of Walden’s partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs where she obtained extensive experience conducting individual, group and family therapy. Ms. Roias employs a strengths-based perspective and uses a wide range of therapeutic modalities including cognitive behavioral, dialectical behavioral and interpersonal therapy. She received her master’s from the University of North Carolina.