Who are the Professionals who Treat Eating Disorders? -- The Therapeutic Treatment Team
Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center
What are the kinds of professionals who treat eating disorders?
The therapeutic team is usually a group of clinicians and professionals who are able to guide someone with an eating disorder through the treatment and recovery process. Because of the complex nature of eating disorders, treatment for an eating disorder can often mean working with several qualified practitioners. Some people will benefit from stand-alone therapies, which involve working with only one professional, while others will need a multidisciplinary approach with help from multiple professionals.
GPs and Local Doctors
A GP (General Practitioner) is a doctor who has general medical expertise. Although GPs may not be formally trained in distinguishing the presence of an eating disorder, they are a good ‘first base’ if you have concerns about yourself or someone you care for.
GPs are an important part of the treatment and recovery process and anyone who experiences an eating disorder should have a GP that they can talk to and trust. Your GP can:
- Talk through the signs and symptoms of the eating disorder with you
- Provide you with additional information abut the eating disorder
- Refer you to an eating disorder specialist for further help, diagnosis and treatment
A Pediatrician is a doctor who has medical expertise with infants, children and adolescents. They are often involved in the treatment of children and adolescents suffering from eating disorders. Pediatricians can:
- Speak to children and adolescents at their level
- Talk to you as a carer or parent and help you understand what is happening to your child or loved one
- Decide on a treatment or refer you to another specialist who will be able to help you
Psychologists are commonly involved in the treatment of eating disorders. They can provide counselling and education for people with eating disorders using a variety of approaches. Psychologists will generally:
- Conduct assessments to diagnose mental illnesses or conditions
- Develop treatment plans that specifically address mental and emotional issues associated with the eating disorders (e.g. body image or weight issues)
- Provide counseling for other problems not directly related to the eating disorder (e.g. family situations, social problems)
- All psychologists should be tertiary qualified; in addition, clinical psychologists need to have completed postgraduate training in order to gain expertise in treating mental illnesses.
A psychiatrist is a medical practitioner who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. Psychiatrists can:
- Assess someone with an eating disorder to diagnose various disorders
- Develop treatment plans that help to treat the disorder
- Prescribe medication and monitor how the medication is working
- All psychiatrists will have completed medical training and additional supervised psychiatric practice.
A dietitian is a tertiary qualified expert on food and nutrition. Dieticians play a common role in the treatment of eating disorders. A dietitian may be necessary if someone with an eating disorder requires guidance and planning in order to address their abnormal eating behaviors. A dietitian can:
- Translate scientific information into practical advice surrounding food and healthy eating
- Prescribe dietary treatments for people suffering from eating disorders
- Teach people with eating disorders how to eat and how to buy appropriate foods (e.g. in a supermarket)
- Work in private practices and hospitals
- Provide medical nutrition therapy services
A nutritionist is a tertiary qualified professional who can provide general support to people with eating disorders in relation to nutrition education and community health. Nutritionists can:
- Offer general advice to people with eating disorders
- Provide basic advice on nutrition, eating plans and motivations for eating well
- Address fears and concerns about food and weight
A social worker is often involved with treatment if the person presents with behavioral, social or mental health issues in addition to an eating disorder. Social workers are tertiary qualified and can provide individual, couple and family counselling for people with eating disorders and their carers as well as case management and referrals or resources. They often facilitate support groups and provide links to other community resources.
Social workers can be found in hospitals and health services, government programs and community organizations.
Occupational Therapists & Rehabilitation Therapists
Occupational therapists and rehabilitation therapists help someone with an eating disorder to develop, practice and implement the life skills they require to address their disordered eating behavior. Occupational therapists may work with someone suffering from an eating disorder throughout the treatment process, with the aim of helping the patient to effectively manage and normalize their eating patterns.
Occupational therapists can also help someone with an eating disorder develop other relevant life skills that will allow them to function in their everyday lives and perform everyday activities.
Nurses & Mental Health Nurses
Nurses and mental health nurses form an important part of the multidisciplinary treatment team. Their role is to provide practical medical and mental health care for someone with an eating disorder while that person is hospitalized or gaining treatment via the health system.
If a person with an eating disorder is admitted to hospital or a similar community setting, either as part of an outpatient or inpatient program, nurses and mental health nurses will become involved in the treatment of that patient and their eating disorder on a daily basis.
Medical and mental health nurses will often conduct medical or mental health assessments, administer any medications and provide treatment as well as interact with a person with an eating disorder to coordinate the level of care required.
Choosing a therapist
When choosing a therapist, it is important to remember that the relationship you have with your therapists and clinicians is vital. At the heart of a good therapeutic relationship lies:
Understanding – your therapist understands your disorder and your emotions and feelings, and you also understand their role in the treatment and recovery process
Trust – you trust your therapist and your therapist trusts you; give time for trust to develop
Rapport – you can talk openly and be heard without judgment Collaboration – you and your therapist work as a team, developing mutual understanding, setting goals and following through on objectives
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