Eating Disorder Training For Therapists

Man leading an eating disorder training for therapists.

Eating disorders are incredibly complex, and often badly misunderstood by the public. An eating disorder can present itself in many different ways, and encompasses much more than an aversion to food. Understandably, treating eating disorders requires care and specialist knowledge.

Many who wish to train as an eating disorder therapist are deeply passionate about the subject. This passion is necessary, as the client’s journey to recovery can be long and fraught.

If you think you have the attitude and understanding to become an eating disorder therapist, take a look at this guide to learn more.

What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are a varied and complex mental health issue, encompassing unhealthy attitudes towards food and the body. Eating disorders can affect people from all walks of life, and they can present themselves in many ways.

Therapists trained in eating disorders will be able to assess and evaluate the problem, and develop a treatment plan.

An eating disorder is a behavioral condition, resulting in disordered eating and emotional distress. Types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Eating disorders are often seen alongside other disorders such as anxiety, OCD and substance abuse.

A trained therapist can assess the complex causes of eating disorders, and develop a treatment plan to resume healthy eating behaviors.

You will also need to treat the psychological and emotional effects of an eating disorder, as well as understand the medical complications that can result from disordered eating.

Eating disorder treatment needs to be closely tailored to an individual. While some who struggle with eating disorders will quickly find a therapy that works, others will need to experiment with several treatment plans, before finding an effective solution.

What Is Eating Disorder Training For Therapists?

There are many forms of therapy used to treat eating disorders, including Family-Based Therapy (FBT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).

Family-Based Therapy is used to treat eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa in children and adolescents. Parents play a crucial role in this therapy, and are given control of their child’s eating.

Over time, the child gradually resumes control. The therapist should be trained to specialize in eating disorders, and will meet with parents and children in sessions.

CBT is a form of talk therapy that connects thoughts and emotions with behaviors. When CBT is adapted for eating disorders, it’s often referred to as CBT-E.

A therapist trained in CBT-E will help the client to recognize how thoughts are connected to actions, and then challenge these thoughts to alter behaviors. This is a key treatment for adults with bulimia nervosa.

DBT is based on CBT, but takes a dialectical approach: both accepting and changing behaviors. Mindfulness plays a key role in DBT, which is a treatment often used for managing strong emotional responses.

What Type Of Therapy Is Best For Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders present themselves in various ways, and can be the result of complex causes, so there is no single best therapy. While treatments such as FBT and CBT are most common, treating eating disorders requires a personalized approach.

In many cases, clients with eating disorders will experience several forms of treatment before finding a therapy that works for them.

Those with eating disorders can receive outpatient treatment, inpatient treatment, day treatment, and residential care. The level of treatment received will often depend on the clinical and medical needs of the client.

You will frequently need to work alongside nutritionists and dieticians, who will discuss meal planning and healthy eating with the client. As eating disorders can often lead to medical complications, eating disorder therapists will often form one part of a larger clinical team.

How Do You Train To Be An Eating Disorder Therapist?

Eating disorder therapists work in a highly specialized area, but you must first begin with a Bachelor’s Degree in psychotherapy, or a similar area of study. It is likely you will then need to receive a Master’s Degree to become a licensed therapist.

Training to become a therapist that specializes in eating disorders involves building on a previous bed of knowledge, learned during your Bachelor’s Degree. Understanding therapies such as FBT and CBT is essential.

While many therapists choose to work with eating disorders, Master’s Degrees rarely specialize in this area. Instead, you’ll need to look for those which include coursework covering related topics, and opportunities to intern in an eating disorder treatment center.

From here, you may wish to take further specialized training in eating disorders. The International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals offers the Certified Eating Disorder Specialist credential. This certification distinguishes you as a therapist with advanced, focused training.

Further Specialization

Eating disorders are multifaceted, and we’re still discovering the complex causes that can lead to disordered eating. Because of this, if you’re interested in becoming an eating disorder therapist, there are different approaches you can take.

For example, dieticians play a key role in helping the client to reassess their relationship with food, and regain a healthy balance. To train for this role, you would need to undertake a Bachelor’s Degree in dietetics.

Eating disorder dieticians work closely with therapists to establish healthier behavior patterns.

Psychiatric nurses also work closely with those struggling with eating disorders, and will monitor the effect the disorder has had on the body. A psychiatric nurse is trained to understand the overlap between mental health and physical health.

Again, this role requires a Bachelor’s Degree and further specializations.

Summary

Eating disorders have complex causes, and can present themselves in various ways. Sadly, this is a growing area of the medical profession, with more therapists than ever need to specialize in eating disorders.

Despite this, few courses focus on eating disorders specifically. Instead, look for courses that offer modules focused on treating eating disorders, and for hands-on experience. Additionally, you can supplement your training with courses in FBT, CBT, and DBT.

Eating disorder therapists have to be prepared for complex treatment plans and clients resistant to change, but this is a highly rewarding area of specialization.

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