Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is a fundamental pillar in treating eating disorders. It encompasses a range of therapeutic techniques designed to address the complex psychological, emotional, and behavioral factors underlying disordered eating. Our team of highly skilled and empathetic therapists utilize a variety of psychotherapeutic modalities, empowering our clients to embark on a journey towards recovery and restored well-being.
Through psychotherapy, we aim to create a safe and non-judgmental space where individuals can explore the intricate interplay between their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors related to food and body image. Our therapists specialize in evidence-based approaches such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), ACT, and more.
At Eating Disorder Solutions, we recognize that every individual’s journey is unique, and we tailor our psychotherapeutic interventions to address their specific needs, challenges, and goals. Our team is committed to walking alongside our clients as they rediscover their inner strength and resilience, empowering them to cultivate a healthy relationship with food, body, and self.
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- Learning how to modify the behaviors, emotions, and ideas contributing to the eating disorder.
- Assessing and identifying the life problems or events that contribute to their illness and helping our clients to determine what aspects of those problems they can improve or solve.
- Enjoying life again and regaining a sense of control.
- Developing healthy coping mechanisms and problem-solving skills.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is widely recognized as the leading treatment for eating disorders. Understanding that thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are closely connected allows for systematic restructuring to support new, healthier thoughts and actions. Since people with eating disorders struggle with a distorted view of themselves and their bodies, chronic self-criticism can lead to shame and anxiety that catalyze negative behaviors. With the help of a qualified psychotherapist, CBT can help the individual to uncover which factors are feeding their disorder and develop practical coping skills.
This type of therapy aims to change our clients’ thought processes from negative and unrealistic to more positive and realistic ones. Among the treatment options are facing your fears rather than avoiding them, learning how to calm your mind and relax your body, and engaging in role-plays to develop ways to handle social interactions. The goal is to help our clients develop coping skills to use in difficult situations, recognize the distortions in their thought processes, why they happen, and then implement alternative and more helpful patterns.
The cognitive-behavioral model acknowledges the importance of thoughts (cognitive) and actions (behavior), which are major aspects that can exacerbate eating disorder thoughts and actions.
- Cognitive factors: Consists of negative body image, self-evaluation, beliefs about self-worth, and overthinking weight and body shape.
- Behavioral factors: Consists of behaviors to control weight, such as restraint, restriction, purging, binge eating, self-harm, body avoidance, and body checking.
- Cognitive restructuring
- Coping strategies
- Relapse prevention
- Challenging distorted thoughts: One of the key components of CBT is identifying and challenging distorted thoughts and beliefs that contribute to disordered eating patterns.
- For example, a person with an eating disorder may have negative self-perceptions such as, “I’m not good enough unless I’m thin” or “I can only be happy if I’m in control of my food intake.” These thoughts fuel harmful behaviors like restrictive eating or excessive exercise. A therapist can help the individual recognize these distorted thoughts through CBT and develop healthier, more realistic alternatives. By challenging these negative beliefs, individuals can shift their mindset and reduce the intensity of disordered eating behaviors.
- Behavior monitoring and modification: With the guidance of a therapist, individuals with eating disorders can track their eating habits, emotions, and triggers in a structured way. By analyzing these patterns, clients can gain insights into the underlying factors driving their disordered eating.
- For instance, a client may notice a tendency to turn to food for comfort during stress or use food as a coping mechanism for emotional pain. With this awareness, clients can work with their therapist to develop alternative coping strategies and healthier behavioral responses to stress or emotional distress.
By addressing distorted thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors, individuals can develop a more balanced and adaptive relationship with food and their bodies. CBT equips our clients with practical tools and skills to challenge negative thinking, cope with emotions in healthier ways, and make gradual changes toward sustainable recovery.
It’s important to note that the examples provided are general in nature, and the specific therapeutic interventions employed in CBT will vary depending on the individual’s unique circumstances and needs. The guidance and expertise of a trained therapist are essential in tailoring CBT techniques to each person’s situation, fostering personalized growth and healing.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
In contrast, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) addresses the underlying emotional dysregulation often associated with eating disorders by enhancing emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness.
The DBT program helps our clients manage painful emotions and reduce conflict in relationships. While DBT promotes change, it also encourages acceptance. The term “dialectic” refers to the possibility of two opposite ideas being correct simultaneously. It is particularly helpful for individuals receiving treatment for eating disorders since most adopt an “all-or-nothing view.”
When people navigate recovery, this treatment modality appeals to them because they can accept their difficulties and work toward changing them. As a result of this work, people learn to avoid thinking in terms of either/or thinking, such as, “I’m either recovered, or I’ll always suffer from this eating disorder,” which can help them challenge similar all-or-nothing thinking characteristics of eating disorders.
- Emotional regulation: Eating disorders often involve difficulties with emotional regulation, where individuals may struggle to manage intense emotions and resort to disordered eating behaviors to cope. DBT equips individuals with skills to identify, understand, and regulate their emotions in healthier ways. By developing effective emotional regulation skills, our clients can reduce the need to rely on disordered eating behaviors for emotional escape or control.
- For example, a person with a binge-eating disorder will learn to recognize the types of feelings that lead them to binge, a harmful behavior. They may recognize that they binge when feeling anxious while under stress at work. DBT can help them start to manage these feelings of anxiety healthily by using skills, which can include mindfulness or self-soothing.
- Distress tolerance: DBT emphasizes building distress tolerance skills to help individuals navigate difficult situations without resorting to harmful behaviors. People with eating disorders often struggle with distressing emotions such as anxiety, guilt, or shame related to their eating habits or body image.
- DBT teaches techniques such as “TIPP” (Tip the temperature, Intense exercise, Paced breathing, and Paired muscle relaxation) to manage and tolerate distress healthily. By acquiring these skills, individuals can find alternative coping mechanisms that do not involve disordered eating behaviors, allowing them to face challenges without becoming overwhelmed or engaging in harmful actions.
- Interpersonal effectiveness: Eating disorders can significantly impact individuals’ relationships and social interactions. DBT focuses on improving interpersonal effectiveness by teaching assertiveness, boundary-setting, and communication skills.
- For instance, individuals may learn how to express their needs and desires effectively, assertively say “no” to unhealthy requests or situations, and constructively navigate conflicts. By developing healthier communication and relationship skills, individuals with eating disorders can foster supportive and nurturing connections, reducing the reliance on disordered eating as a way to cope with interpersonal difficulties.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a type of psychotherapy that can be beneficial in helping people heal from eating disorders. ACT is based on the premise that psychological distress is often caused by the struggle to control or avoid negative thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Instead of trying to eliminate these distressing experiences, ACT aims to help individuals develop psychological flexibility and enhance their overall well-being.
In the context of eating disorders, ACT addresses the underlying issues related to food, body image, and self-worth. Here’s how ACT can help individuals heal from an eating disorder:
- Mindfulness: ACT emphasizes mindfulness as a core component. Mindfulness involves being fully present at the moment and observing experiences without judgment. By practicing mindfulness, individuals can develop a greater awareness of their thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations related to food, eating, and body image. This increased awareness helps them develop a non-judgmental and accepting attitude toward these experiences.
- Acceptance: ACT encourages individuals to accept their thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations without trying to change or control them. This includes accepting uncomfortable or distressing thoughts and emotions associated with body image concerns or food-related anxieties. By accepting these experiences, individuals can reduce the struggle and resistance that often exacerbates distress.
- Cognitive Defusion: Eating disorders often involve negative self-talk and distorted thinking patterns. ACT employs techniques known as cognitive defusion to help individuals recognize and distance themselves from unhelpful thoughts. By viewing thoughts as passing mental events rather than absolute truths, individuals can reduce their impact on their behavior and well-being.
- Values Clarification: ACT emphasizes the identification and clarification of personal values. Individuals are encouraged to explore what truly matters beyond their eating disorder. By connecting with their values and aligning their actions with those values, individuals can develop a sense of purpose and motivation to engage in behaviors that support their overall well-being.
- Committed Action: ACT emphasizes taking purposeful action based on one’s values. In the context of eating disorders, this involves positive changes in eating habits, body image perceptions, and self-care practices. ACT helps individuals set achievable goals and develop strategies to commit to those goals, even in the face of challenges or setbacks.
Family-Based Therapy (FBT)
- Active family involvement: Family-based therapy recognizes the significant impact of family dynamics on an individual’s eating disorder. It actively involves the family in the treatment process, shifting the individual’s responsibility of meal planning, supervision, and support to the family unit. The family becomes a vital part of the recovery team, working collaboratively with healthcare professionals to facilitate the individual’s progress.
- Weight restoration and normalization: A primary goal of family-based therapy is to restore weight and normalize eating patterns. The therapy addresses the individual’s critical medical and nutritional needs, focusing on structured meals, balanced nutrition, and consistent weight and physical health monitoring. The family actively supports and supervises the individual’s meals, helping them establish regular and adequate eating habits.
- Empowering parents as agents of change: In family-based therapy, parents or primary caregivers are crucial change agents. They receive education and support to effectively manage their child’s eating disorder, set appropriate boundaries, and promote healthy behaviors. This process empowers parents to participate in their child’s recovery actively, providing essential support and structure.
- Enhancing communication and problem-solving skills: Family-based therapy addresses communication and problem-solving within the family system. It helps family members improve their ability to express emotions, communicate effectively, and constructively resolve conflicts. By strengthening family relationships and fostering a supportive and understanding environment, the therapy aids the individual’s overall recovery and long-term well-being.
Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) is a therapeutic approach that focuses on improving interpersonal relationships and addressing the underlying interpersonal issues contributing to eating disorders. IPT recognizes that social and relational factors play a significant role in developing and maintaining these disorders.
The following examples illustrate how IPT can help individuals recover from eating disorders:
- For example, a person with an eating disorder may struggle with conflicts in their family related to food, control, or body image. In IPT, the therapist helps the individual explore these conflicts, express their needs and concerns, and work towards resolving them constructively and collaboratively. By improving interpersonal dynamics and reducing conflict, individuals can experience reduced distress and a decreased reliance on disordered eating behaviors as a means of coping.
- For instance, the therapist may help the individual identify friends, family members, or support groups that can provide encouragement, understanding, and assistance throughout the recovery journey. By nurturing these supportive connections and fostering a sense of belonging, individuals can experience increased motivation, emotional support, and reduced feelings of isolation often accompanying eating disorders.
- For example, the therapist may work with the individual to develop assertiveness techniques, such as “I statements,” which promote clear and respectful communication. By enhancing communication skills, individuals can reduce interpersonal misunderstandings, increase their ability to express their emotions and needs appropriately, and build healthier relationships.
By addressing interpersonal conflicts, enhancing social support, improving communication skills, and addressing grief and loss, IPT empowers individuals to develop healthier relationships, strengthen their support networks, and foster a more balanced and fulfilling life. Our trained therapists can guide our clients in identifying and navigating these interpersonal issues, supporting them on their path to recovery.
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Eating disorders are among the most complex illnesses due to several interconnected factors contributing to their development and maintenance. Our multidisciplinary approach brings together professionals from various disciplines who can collaborate, assess different aspects of the disorder, and tailor treatment plans to address the complicated nature of eating disorders. By combining expertise in psychology, nutrition, medicine, family dynamics, and other relevant fields, our multidisciplinary team can provide a holistic and integrated approach to support our clients in their recovery journey.
At Eating Disorder Solutions, we’re here for you every step of the way, no matter your initial assessment or therapeutic needs. Our knowledgeable team understands the differences and benefits of these and many other types of therapy and can help you create an individualized treatment plan for your specific condition, health, and best outcome.
Most importantly, it’s crucial to remember that it’s never too late to seek help. The road to recovery can be difficult, but a healthier and happier life is always possible.