An eating disorder is a physical, mental, and emotional crisis. Finding the right treatment team can literally be a matter of life and death. Even when symptoms are mild and motivation to change is strong, working with a specialist is so valuable because most eating disorders will worsen over time when left untreated or treated poorly.
What makes someone a specialist?
Being a specialist essentially means that a provider works with a particular population in which they have extensive expertise. This comes from a combination of education, training, experience, and passion. Ethically, a provider cannot represent themselves as a specialist without careful consideration of these factors. Some specialists may also hold additional licenses or certifications.
Why is it so important for eating disorders?
Eating disorders are complex and challenging by nature and usually require multiple interventions psychologically, nutritionally, and medically. While one provider cannot offer all three due to their scope of practice, having a strong working knowledge of each area is vital for a client’s recovery success.
When it comes to eating disorder treatment, working with specialists or more general providers is like the difference between speaking with someone in your own native language or speaking with someone who took some language classes in middle school and can remember some basic phrases.
As a therapist, I specialize in eating disorders and can help clients address behavioral changes, underlying issues, struggles with motivation, and more. As I am not a dietitian, I cannot recommend a meal plan, but I do know the importance of one. As I am not a physician, I cannot tell you how to treat deficiencies in your lab values, but I do know what tests are recommended for comprehensive eating disorder treatment. Eating disorder treatment team members must be able to communicate effectively (with the client’s permission) for optimal care.
Specialists know what’s helpful and what’s harmful.
Early on in my own treatment, I went to a non-specialist who commented that my eating disorder “must not be that bad.”
“At least you’re not a 60-pound anorexic”, he joked, as I stepped off the scale. I was floored.
It’s incredibly damaging for a client to hear something like this. First, the word “anorexic” is not appropriate. An individual is not a diagnosis; they have one. Second, a statement like this perpetuates the myth that eating disorders are not dangerous unless someone is at a low weight. What my disordered brain heard was, “You’re a joke. You need to get sicker before you deserve to get help.”
Have all specialists gone through similar struggles?
Many treatment providers choose to specialize in particular areas based on their own experience or that of a loved one. Not all eating disorder specialists are recovered, but many are. Some clients find it particularly helpful to know that someone on their treatment team has “been there.” If you’re curious and think it might help you to work with a recovered provider, you can ask!
I knew when I began my training that I wanted to eventually specialize in eating disorders because of my own history. Without the treatment I once received, I wouldn’t be living a recovered life today, and maybe not living at all. I know other exceptionally talented therapists and dietitians who did not struggle themselves, but walked alongside a close family member or friend on their recovery journey. There is valuable experience and perspective in both cases.
How can I make sure my provider knows what they’re doing?
You have every right to be a good consumer of treatment. You’re allowed to ask questions about a provider’s training and education. (Tip: the good one’s won’t be offended by this.) When it’s helpful, some treatment providers are willing to share about their own experiences too.
I know that my clients’ journeys will not be the same as mine, but if it encourages them to hear what helped me in similar moments of struggles, I’m all for sharing that.
Are you ready to take your life back and move from surviving to thriving?