Last updated: 4 January 2021
This article covers:
– What types of therapies are involved?
– What types of professionals are involved?
– The journey of recovery from anorexia nervosa
What types of therapies are involved?
Psychological therapies are important when treating anorexia nervosa. It is used to help young people to improve normal eating behaviours and reduce body-image disturbances. There are two types of therapies that can be involved. These include anorexia-nervosa-focused family therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy for eating disorders. These will be discussed below.
Anorexia-nervosa-focused family therapy (FT-AN)
This type of family therapy focuses on helping family members to play a role in the young person’s recovery. There is strong research evidence that shows FT-AN to be effective in treating anorexia nervosa in adolescents.
The idea behind FT-AN is that the family is the main source of recovery. Therefore, by joining forces and standing up against the disorder, they can help their loved one to overcome it.
In FT-AN, the family members are given the task to get the young person to eat enough to gain weight and continue to grow. The therapist will help parents to learn the best ways to supervise and encourage this process. Eventually, with the help of the family, the young person will be able to take steps towards recovery from this disorder.
Cognitive behavioural therapy for eating disorders (CBT-E)
This is a specialized form of cognitive behavioural therapy that uses different stages in treatment to change the behaviours that keep the disorder going. Research shows that it is effective in helping adolescents with anorexia nervosa to successfully regain weight.
The idea behind CBT-E is to target the eating habits, behaviours and thinking processes that form the eating disorder. The sessions can involve stages such as psychoeducation, learning to cope with emotions, monitoring, behavioural changes and planning for the future. Parents might also be involved in the sessions to play a role in helping the young person to take steps towards recovery from this disorder.
What types of professionals are involved?
There are different professionals that may or may not be involved throughout the treatment process of anorexia nervosa in young people. These might include psychotherapists and doctors/psychiatrist, dieticians, mental health nurses, support workers and social workers. These terms might be confusing, but the main difference is in the training that each of these professionals have received.
Psychotherapists: Psychotherapists provide an in-depth approach by exploring the history and causes of certain behaviours and emotional issues. The psychotherapist will then treat the anorexia nervosa in this specialized way. Here at Mindsum, we have psychotherapists that are available to provide support.
Doctors: These are professionals that are trained in medicine. This will likely be the family GP, who might find it necessary to prescribe certain medications that might help the young person to cope with physical conditions due to the eating disorder.
Psychiatrist: These are professionals that are also trained in medicine. However, they also specialized in the field of psychiatry. So they are able to provide consultation and medication for a wide range of mental disorders. They might provide medication to help the young person to cope with other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, as they recover from anorexia nervosa.
Dietician: These are professionals that specialized in nutrition. They give education and advice on nutrients and the way these are important for health. They are able to provide meal plans to help the young person to stop unhealthy eating habits and to regain weight successfully.
Mental health nurses: Nurses trained in mental health might also be involved with the young person. If the young person is admitted to a hospital, a mental health nurse will care for their physical needs and monitor their psychological health. They might also administer medications prescribed by the psychiatrist.
Support workers: Workers trained in helping vulnerable people to live better lives might also be involved with the young person. This might be within a community setting or a crisis situation. Their role is to provide emotional and practical support (e.g. helping parents to cope, helping with paperwork, making child-care arrangements).
Social workers: Workers trained in protecting vulnerable individuals might also be involved with the young person. This might also be within a community or a crisis situation. Social workers will problem-solve and organise the right support for the young person to ensure their protection.
The journey of recovery from anorexia nervosa
The journey of recovery from anorexia nervosa can look different for each young person. For most people, the recovery process takes place over several months or years. Below are some things that are expected when going through therapy for anorexia nervosa.
This is an important phase, where the psychotherapist will get a feel of what is going on. They might ask questions about eating habits along with other important background information. This will help to create a full picture of what is going on and to know what type of treatment will be most helpful.
These sessions will take place with a time and regularity that suits the needs of the young person. An important aspect of the therapy session is the relationship that the psychotherapist will build with the young person and family members. The young person and the family will team up with the therapist to find the best ways to tackle the eating disorder. This might involve specialised techniques for managing emotions, mealtimes and thinking processes related to food and body-image.
This is an important part of treatment for anorexia nervosa. This is because anorexia nervosa affects everyday situations in the young person’s life, especially at home. The family as a whole might be assigned homework to help the young person to complete their meals. Homework tasks will allow the young person to practice and have better chances of gaining weight and tackling the eating disorder.
Progress and setbacks
When having treatment for anorexia nervosa, there will be progress and there may be setbacks. It is common for young people to relapse and start engaging in restrictive eating habits again during their recovery. It is important not to feel discouraged when this happens. These situations provide opportunities to discover new ways to move forward together with the therapist.
When treating anorexia nervosa, this stage is very important. The therapist might help the young person and the family to develop a relapse prevention plan. This will help them to take steps to prevent the eating disorder from becoming a problem again. The end of therapy will take place once the young person has made a lot of progress or has completely recovered from the eating disorder. The young person and the family will leave therapy with many skills that they can use without the help of the therapist.
There might be an agreement with the therapist to have a follow-up meeting. This is to check how the young person and the family is coping. If they are doing well, there will be no need for more support. But if they continue to have challenges with the eating disorder or any other issues, this will be an opportunity to have extra support.
List of useful resources
To read our information on anorexia nervosa, you can click here to access the link.
Recovery from an eating disorder
The Beat eating disorders website has useful information on the process of recovery from an eating disorder. To read more, you can click here to access the link.
Mental illness and recovery
To read our article on mental illness and recovery, you can click here to access the link.
Introduction to counselling and psychotherapy
The British Association for the Counselling Professions (BACP) have a useful document on different aspects of therapy. To read more, you can click here to access the link.