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Body image issues in teens are extremely common. Unfortunately, ongoing concern with the body image of a teenage girl can eventually develop into one or more eating disorders. These disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, impact teenage girls across the country and the world, leading to potential health complications and ongoing mental stress. Both those struggling with these disorders and their loved ones can begin to wonder if there is any way out of such a situation.

For teen girls and their families, it is important to know there are eating disorder treatment programs that are effective and accessible. These programs can help teens learn methods to develop healthier eating habits and developing new relationships with food. Treatment can also help to improve body image issues in teens.

There is no denying the challenge of identifying and accepting the reality of an eating disorder. For those that have taken this major step, the next stage is to find a treatment program that is right for them. Knowing what qualities are most important in a treatment program can make it easier to start the search and make a decision about which treatment program may be the best fit.

Qualities to Look for in Teen Eating Disorder Treatment Programs

1. A focus on teens.

One major concern in any type of eating disorder treatment is the comfort of those being treated, which means looking closely at the treatment environment and the program. A residential treatment program to help teenage girls should be limited to teens only, no adults. The exclusive nature of the program is necessary to ensure the most welcoming environment possible, one where healing can occur and where the patients feel they are supported and free to express their wants and needs.

All reputable treatment centers will offer programs specific for certain groups. Of course, not all can focus on teenagers, which is why further research is required beyond just finding a program that treats eating disorders. The more focused the program is on treating teens, the more comfortable one can be in choosing such a program for one’s child.

2. Treatment for the individual.

Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are defined by a set of behaviors which means treatment professionals, such as doctors and therapists, can typically give a specific diagnosis with confidence. However, just because someone exhibits symptoms of a certain eating disorder does not mean that individual can be treated exactly like every other individual with a similar disorder.

A quality treatment program should cater to the individual. In fact, the driving philosophy behind the program should include an appreciation for the fact that every patient is a unique individual. There is no perfect blueprint for what kinds of treatment will fit perfectly with a certain disorder. Instead, effective treatment means looking carefully at the circumstances of the individual and designing a treatment program based on the needs of the one being treated. Becoming fully recovered requires a treatment program that treats each teenage girl the way she needs to be treated, not just like everyone else.

3. Ability to treat co-occurring disorders.

Bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder and other eating disorders may occur alongside other mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. These feelings of anxiety or depression can also negatively impact body image concerns. To treat the eating disorder only, without addressing the other co-occurring mental health issues, is a dead end approach and will only lead to frustration for the patient and the treatment team.

An effective treatment program is one that can treat co-occurring disorders simultaneously with the treatment of eating disorders. Whether one chooses from residential treatment programs or day treatment programs for teens, it is vital the program is capable of treating anxiety, depression, substance abuse issues and other mental health concerns.

Receiving treatment for both an eating disorder and a co-occurring disorder may seem somewhat intimidating at first glance, but in reality, treatment often overlaps and provides support for one another. Instead of being overwhelming, it can feel quite comforting to feel supported and receive the treatment and care to address all concerns.

4. Ability to treat medical issues.

Eating disorders can be dangerous, leading to unhealthy and potentially hazardous lifestyle decisions that may or may not be obvious leading up to treatment. The longer a teenage girl is engaged in behaviors associated with eating disorders, the more risk there is of medical complications. An ideal eating disorder treatment program for teenage girls will have medical staff on hand to address any medical issues that arise at the beginning of treatment and throughout the treatment process.

Regular malnutrition can cause damage to organs and other medical problems that must be addressed. Medical treatment will help to identify medical issues. Once those issues have been identified and diagnosed, the medical team can provide the treatment necessary to for the teenager to physically recover. Physical recovery coincides with the first stage of mental recovery, and it is important to prioritize medical treatment if it is required upon entry into treatment.

5. A focus on compassion.

It is normal for parents to become distraught when they realize their teenage daughter has an eating disorder. The signs may have been there for a while and the parents may have tried to provide help on their own. Or, there may have been few signs and the entire situation comes as a major shock. Regardless, an eating disorder diagnosis is understandably upsetting for everyone involved. Thus, it is no surprise many parents struggle to maintain the calm demeanor and objectivity they would prefer to have when trying to help their daughter.

A major benefit of a respected treatment program, whether it is a residential treatment program or a day treatment program for teens, is the level of compassion offered to patients and their parents. Treatment professionals know how hard it can be for teen girls and their parents. They know how challenging it can be for parents to remain as composed as they want to be. That is why they stress the importance of compassion and understanding during treatment. The more compassion, the more supported one feels and the greater chance of achieving recovery.

6. Offering day treatment programs and residential programs.

All eating disorders in teens should be diagnosed by treatment professionals. Part of the reason this is important is because those who are licensed and trained to treat such issues are trained to guide parents and teens toward the right kind of treatment program. The two most common types are day treatment programs and residential programs, each offering its own benefits for treating eating disorders in teenage girls.

Some things to consider about each include:

Day Treatment Programs

Day treatment programs for teens are considered less intensive than residential programs, but just because they are less intensive does not mean they are not effective. Day treatment involves going to a treatment center on a specific schedule, typically several times a week, and engaging in a prescribed treatment program for the disorder. The types of treatment patients engage in may include individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, education about nutrition and sessions of structured eating to learn more positive eating habits and strategies.

Unlike residential programs, day treatment programs for teens do not require the patient to live at the treatment center. Because she does not have to stay full-time at the center, the patient has more opportunity to maintain a life outside of treatment, including school and extracurricular activities. Day treatment is often recommended for those with less severe disorders.

Residential Treatment Programs

As the name implies, residential programs require patients to live at the facility where treatment is administered. These programs are often designed to be as comfortable as possible, with welcoming living spaces and shared spaces, compassionate staff, nutritious, delicious meals and other features to make the stay as positive as it can be. Many of the treatments offered in residential programs are similar to those offered in day treatment, including group therapy, individual therapy, family therapy, nutrition education, structured eating sessions and more. However, due to the increased time spent at the facility, these programs often delve deeper with their offerings, including relaxing activities like yoga and activities special to the treatment center, such as gardening or horseback riding.

Residential treatment is often recommended for those with more significant disorders, or those who have been through day treatment but are still trying to become fully recovered. The increased focus on treatment, with staff available 24/7 to help the teen when she requires it, can facilitate faster and more thorough progress and provide a support structure that can prove beneficial.

7. Using evidence-based psychological therapies.

There can be plenty of benefits that come with a holistic treatment program, but the foundation for treatment should be based on evidence-based psychological therapy. There are several types of therapy research has shown can be beneficial for helping improve body image issues in teens and eating disorders in general. These include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy:Often referred to as CBT, this type of therapy is helpful for identifying feelings and thoughts. Once the teen can learn to identify thoughts that are distorted, like those surrounding her body image, she can practice methods for altering those thoughts.
  • Group CBT: Therapy conducted with a group and overseen by a mental health professional can bring added benefits to individual CBT sessions. It can be helpful to see thoughts and feelings mirrored in others who are also attempting to recover from an eating disorder and it can be beneficial to learn skills presented in group therapy and practice those skills in the real world.
  • Family-based therapy:Family therapy sessions bring in the close family members of the teen so both parents/guardians and teens can learn ways to improve eating habits and replace unwanted behaviors. Parents are often surprised to discover how much benefit they get out of such sessions, particularly in relation to the eating disorder, such as identifying issues and providing useful, effective support to help their teen address these issues.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy:Also referred to as DBT, this therapy trains participants in certain skills that can be quite useful for regulating emotions. Techniques such as mindfulness are learned and can become more effective over time, especially when practiced regularly.

8. Willingness to engage in experiential therapies.

There are a variety of experiential therapies practiced at treatment centers that teenage girls respond well to, including exposure therapy, music therapy and art therapy. Respected treatment centers for teens should be aware of the effectiveness of these special kinds of treatment and be willing to include some of them in their programs where possible. Time spent exploring, adventuring, bonding with animals and engaging in other positive experiences can help teenage girls reconnect with their feelings and feel more connected to the world around them.

Help Finding Treatment for Teen Eating Disorders

If you would like more information on treatment options for teenage girls with eating disorders, including day treatment programs for teens and residential treatment programs for teens, we are here to help. Our treatment team is here to provide compassionate guidance on what options are available and what may be right for your unique circumstances.