What Is An Eating Disorder Treatment Team?

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By: Kristina Zufall Eating disorders are psychological illnesses that by their very nature, often have medical complications. As a result, treatment for eating disorders often require a team of professionals from various disciplines to ensure comprehensive care and the best treatment prognosis. Some professionals that may be involved in the treatment of eating disorders include:

  1. Physician – Medical doctors are necessary to monitor medical status. Eating disorder can compromise medical status in a variety of ways, and medical status can change throughout the recovery process. Their role includes ordering lab tests or imaging, interpreting the results, and prescribing necessary corrective measures.
  2. Psychiatrist – Because eating disorders may occur alongside other psychological illness or substance use disorders, psychiatrists who specialize in the use of psychopharmacological treatment are often part of the eating disorder treatment team. Their specialized role involves using specific medication to assist in helping a patient reach psychological recovery.
  3. Therapist - A licensed psychotherapist is a mental health professional that helps an eating disorder patient challenge negative thoughts about food and body image. Different therapists may use different modalities, but common therapy modalities for eating disorders include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy. Non-traditional therapies such as equine assisted, expressive arts and movement, or even yoga, may also be incorporated into the therapy process.

Because of the complex interworking of the mind and body, a person who is nutritionally compromised as a result of their eating disorder may have difficulty working through the cognitive and emotional components of their eating disorder. As such, therapy often occurs alongside nutritional interventions as well.

Family therapy may also occur alongside individual therapy. Because eating disorder patients often require much support outside of the treatment setting, family therapy is way to educate families on support techniques for the eating disorder patient.

  1. Dietitian- A registered dietitian or nutritional counselor works with the eating disorder patient to develop regular and healthful patterns of eating. They play a large role in education of “normal” or “intuitive” eating, and can work with patients on food preferences, allergies or intolerances, and work to reintroduce high-anxiety foods. Further, dietitians work alongside medical doctors to ensure weight and nutrition status are adequate and can recommend any changes as appropriate.
  2. Group leader- Groups can be a therapeutic part of eating disorder recovery and may be led by therapists, dietitians, or even nurses. They have several different purposes that include education on a variety of topics including health and nutrition, ways to cope with disordered eating, or garnering support from others who have had eating disorder experiences.

Communication between treatment team members is a necessary aspect of treatment. Dietitians can tailor their nutrition interventions based on medical diagnostic testing, therapists can work utilize exposure therapy when a patient identifies a fear food with the dietitian, and therapists and dietitians can help psychiatrists understand current psychological and medical status to help tailor medication choices. Further, different treatment team members may have different relationships and experiences with the patient, and it is important all team members have an accurate picture of recovery status.

Some facilities may have these various disciplines under one roof. This is most common in high levels of care including inpatient, residential, and partial hospitalization. On an outpatient basis, it is more difficult to find a facility that has the necessary disciplines under one roof. as a result, ask your treatment providers if they have preferred treatment partners. Further, for ease of treatment, ensure all your treatment team members have “release of information” on file for each provider. This is a document that grants permission for treatment providers to communicate each other to stay up-to-date on your treatment.

If you aren’t sure who should be on your treatment team, ask your providers for guidance.

About the Author: Kristina resides in Houston, TX. She is a University of Houston alum where she earned her master’s in counseling. At Project HEAL, Kristina is dedicated to leading the Greater Houston Area team in awareness and fundraising efforts. She is passionate about the Houston Astros, Texans, and her black cat, Hallie.  Kristina’s favorite flavor of ice cream is birthday cake with sprinkles!