Do eating disorder therapists REALLY know what they're doing?
The last few days I have been reading some of the comments posted in eating disorder online support groups, and there seems to be a lot of negative thinking and despair about the ability of therapists to be able to truly help people with eating disorders.
Too many people have reported bad experiences with therapists and other helping professionals when trying to seek relief and recovery.
I can understand these feelings because I've had many people walk into my office over the years and tell me horror stories about therapists/dietitians/doctors/nurses who told them that they were specialists in eating disorder treatment, but ended up either shaming them more, giving faulty advice that made the eating disorder worse, or were so uncomfortable with discussing the eating disorder symptoms that they just stopped talking about the eating disorder all together in during office visits.
Finding A Specialist with Appropriate Experience
I don't mean to disparage all helping professionals; I am one myself after all! And I know that there are many, many excellent eating disorder experts out there in the world, but I also know there are many who claim to be eating disorder specialists and end up doing more harm than good. For example, did you know that in order to be considered an eating disorder specialist for most insurance companies, a therapist needs only to check a box - without providing any evidence of training or knowledge in the field of eating disorders?
I used to be on a lot of insurance panels, and I never had to provide evidence of additional training or expertise when I checked that box. It's all dependent upon the law. In my home state of Florida, you cannot claim to be a sex therapist unless you provide proof of hours of specialized training completed. Unfortunately this just isn't so with other diagnoses including eating disorders.
Does this mean you should not seek the help of a therapist in your attempt at recovery? Absolutely not! It just means you have to be an educated consumer.
That's difficult to do when you don't know what goes on behind the scenes of insurance companies and therapy clinics. After all if your insurance company or the clinic assures you that a therapist is a specialist, you would tend to believe them, wouldn't you?
Hopefully as the years go by and more and more people advocate for quality eating disorder treatment, state governments will require a therapist to provide proof of expertise and success in treating eating disorders.
What Can You Do?
I always suggest that you interview several therapists before choosing the one who will give you the best investment for your time, money and emotional vulnerability in talking about your eating disorder. In order to help you I am providing in this post the checklist of questions to ask a therapist before you begin treatment with them that I include in my book Five Simple Steps to be Eating Disorder FREE.
Question checklist to ask a potential therapist:
- How much training and experience do you have treating eating disorders?
- What is your basic approach and techniques for treatment? Will they be easy for me to understand and use?
- How long can I expect treatment to last before I start to improve?
- How long and how frequent are the treatment sessions?
- Do you accept health insurance and/or offer a sliding fee scale or discount package?
- Will you build and communicate with an outpatient treatment team, and how often?
- How are you going to address the eating disorder symptoms right away in order to help me regain my physical health?
- What are your thoughts on use of medication?
- Will you be working with a dietitian who is an eating disorder specialist, along with my primary doctor and psychiatrist?
- How many eating disorder patients have you treated over the last two years, and how many of them have recovered fully? What is your definition of full recovery?
- Do you have any complaints against you?
And Yes, You Can Do It
It takes so much courage just to pick up the phone and call a potential therapist. For some people it may seem unimaginable to interview them about their qualifications. But let me tell you a secret - a good therapist will not be offended by being asked about their qualifications and their ability to help you.
In fact, it will be a sign to them that you are a client who's serious about your recovery and wants to secure the best treatment possible.
If the therapist makes you feel ashamed for asking them about their experience, that's a signal you should cross them out and interview the next therapist on your list. And don't forget to use websites like edreferral.com and edap.org to locate specialists in your area. Websites like these actually provide a much better screening process of therapists, demanding that they provide proof of experience in eating disorders field before they will list them on the site.
The Body Image Counseling Center Can Help
I hope this message removes some of the feelings of hopelessness and despair out there about being able to find a great therapist. Please let me know what other questions you may have about the eating disorder treatment world and I’ll be happy to try to provide guidance and support. It’s my goal to help people with eating disorders find the right help and support the first time they try, as quickly and affordably as possible.
If you need counseling and help with your eating and body image issues, we can help and support you. Just click here to schedule a counseling appointment and we'll be in touch the very same day.
Also, summer is here and so are body image issues - fear of wearing bathing suits, shorts and other summer clothes. I've been posting lots of supportive articles and messages on my FaceBook page. You can check it out here, and please "like us" to show support for our mission!