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For people diagnosed with eating disorders, psychiatric care is often the primary treatment offered by treatment centers. Whether conducted by a certified psychiatrist, or in the form of various therapies offered by certified therapists, mental health treatments are a primary method used to help those with eating disorders adjust their lives to be more in line with the way they want to live. For some patients, the recommended form of therapy is inpatient psychiatric care, which involves staying at a treatment facility for a period of time to undergo treatment.

The idea of inpatient psychiatric treatment can be intimidating for patients and their families, particularly when patients are adolescents or teenagers. While the families understand that their loved ones need help, they are often hesitant to let their children stay at a psychiatric treatment center to get mental health treatment. The hesitation is understandable. However, worry can often be lessened through education. Once the parents grasp the effectiveness of inpatient treatment—and the safety offered by such treatment programs—they are usually able to see that the potential of helping their child become fully recovered is worth the temporary separation required by the treatment program.

It is also important to clarify that most patients are able to get the mental health treatment they need at eating disorder treatment centers—which are focused on more than just psychiatric care. The treatment programs offer a warm, welcoming environment where patients can get the treatment they need while also living in a manner that is comfortable and engaging. The patients may be engaging in inpatient psychiatric treatment, but they are doing so in an environment that is designed for their benefit in all areas.

Different Individuals Require Different Therapeutic Approaches

For those who have not experienced psychiatric care, it can appear as though all psychiatric therapy is the same. The patient visits a psychiatrist, talks about their problems and slowly figures out the source of their struggles. Unfortunately, this image—made popular through television programs and movies—has become so ingrained in the public mind that it can be difficult for mental health providers to communicate that modern therapy is often different than the popular image. In truth, there is a wide range of therapies available, therapies offered by different types of care providers and tailored to the individual needs of the patient.

While one patient may be best served by engaging in therapy a few days a week and then going about their daily lives, another patient might be better helped by engaging in more intensive, ongoing therapy. The exact fit for each patient is best determined by treatment professionals. Once a doctor, psychiatrist or another treatment professional carefully examines the individual, the preferred treatment option is presented, and the patient and their family can choose whether they want to participate. If inpatient treatment is recommended, it is because the treatment professional believes that the patient can greatly benefit from spending extensive time in a therapeutic environment. Through the therapy, the treatment professional is seeking to help the patient recover and live the best possible life. That is why it is recommended that patients and their families seriously consider the recommendations of the treatment professional they are working with.

Why Inpatient Psychiatric Care Is Recommended

1. Inpatient programs are fully focused on recovery.

Life involves a lot of responsibilities—more than most people realize until they are able to step back from their daily lives. Even the lives of adolescents are filled with obligations and expectations that take up their hours and their days. While adolescents may not have to go to work, they are expected to go to school, do their homework, pick up after themselves, obey their parents, participate in extracurricular activities, and maintain friendships and more. And teenagers have even more responsibilities and expectations to manage. They may be working jobs while going to school. Their schoolwork is increasingly challenging, and their social lives become more intricate and often confusing.

While outpatient therapy—where the patient goes to therapy sessions several times a week but then goes home and lives their day to day lives afterward—can be a valuable escape from these daily obligations, it is only short-lived. But with inpatient therapy, the patient can truly escape the obligations of their lives and fully engage in therapy and recovery. They can cover much greater distances in their therapeutic work with their therapist because they get to focus on the task day after day. The amount of progress that can be made in an inpatient setting can be quite remarkable compared to the experience of attending therapy a few times a week.

2. Inpatient programs ensure controlled access to food and other substances that may present difficulties for the patient.

Engagement in an inpatient program gives people with eating disorders freedom from the constant struggle to manage their relationship with food on their own. Instead of having to go it alone and never being certain how to get the outcomes they want most, they get the assistance of a trained guide who can help them relate to food in a more desirable way. The facility controls access to food, which can help patients avoid eating disorder behaviors. But the facility does more than just control access—it also presents the client with opportunities to eat delicious, healthy meals in a way that teaches them how to see their relationship with food differently than they once did.

Some patients diagnosed with eating disorders also struggle with substance use issues beyond their challenges with food. Living at an inpatient treatment center ensures that they do not have access to these substances. Substance use can only exacerbate eating disorder issues, so it is important for patients to avoid them while on the path to recovery. Inpatient treatment centers simplify the process by helping patients stay away from all the potential substances they might struggle with so that the patients can focus fully on their recovery.

3. Inpatient programs help patients avoid exposure to triggers that may stimulate eating disorder behaviors.

Eating disorders are complex conditions that may result from a wide variety of situations and circumstances. As varied as these conditions may be, however, there are some commonalities. Most people who struggle with eating disorders have triggers. The triggers are often found on a regular basis in their everyday living environment. One of the main benefits of entering an inpatient treatment center is that patients can escape many of these triggers. By removing themselves from the possibility of being triggered, they can more easily focus on healing.

Not all triggers can be avoided in an inpatient environment. For example, if being around strangers makes a patient want to engage in an eating disorder behavior, the patient will still experience that trigger at the eating disorder treatment center. The difference is that all other factors are controlled for by the treatment staff—the patient is under observation, so if they start to engage in behaviors they want to avoid, they will have help to encourage different behaviors. But even if there are a few triggers still present in the treatment center environment, there are going to be far fewer than there would be in the patient’s day to day life.

4. Inpatient programs are staffed by fully qualified staff that is available 24/7.

There are few things that instill a sense of safety more than being cared for by qualified individuals who are clearly available at any time, day or night. While patients can certainly be nervous when they first arrive at a treatment center because it is a new experience, they quickly discover that they only need to ask for help to get what they need. Knowing that there is always someone around who wants to help makes the experience much more comfortable for patients and allows them to keep their mind on recovery instead of worrying about whether they can find help when they need it.

Beyond the various staff that works at treatment centers, patients have access to therapists that are there to help them get to the heart of the issues they are facing. Patients can quickly interact with qualified mental health professionals as they travel on the journey to full recovery. They do not have to wait a week or more to have a discussion with a therapist because there are multiple mental health professionals at hand at the treatment center.

5. Inpatient programs allow patients to engage in therapy each and every day.

For the average person seeking therapy, it is a luxury to have access to a qualified therapist once a week. For most seeking therapy, it is often only available once every two, three or even four weeks. But for those in an inpatient setting, therapy is available every day. While the type of therapy can vary between individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy and other types of therapy, the fact is that they can work with a therapist to unravel their own path to recovery on a daily basis. It is the regular engagement in therapy that makes the progress of inpatient care possible. A patient can work with a therapist five times in five days and accomplish more than they could in weeks or months of regular therapy access.

6. Inpatient programs include multiple types of therapy.

Most inpatient treatment centers offer multiple types of therapy, which when combined can produce more dramatic positive results than any single type of therapy on its own. Inpatient psychiatric care serves as the foundation for the therapies offered at many treatment centers. It is conducted by a licensed psychiatrist, who can prescribe medication as necessary for patients who require it. Not all patients require medications like anti-depressants, but for those who do need medication, it is important that they get it. Beyond the treatment with the psychiatrist, the patient may engage in therapy sessions with a therapist certified in specialized areas like cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. The individual may also participate in group therapy based off CBT principles, as well as family therapy—where the family of the patient is included in the therapy session to learn how to best support them.

All these therapy sessions integrate with one another to help the individual walk the path towards full recovery. While it still takes time—and is not without its challenges—the participation in so many different types of therapy can greatly enhance the experience of the patient at the treatment center. It is an experience that is not possible without the inpatient setting, which is why some individuals are so encouraged to enter an inpatient program.

7. Inpatient programs are focused on emotional safety.

Recovering from an eating disorder is difficult enough without facing emotional risks from people and environments that do not support recovery. Inpatient psychiatric care at a psychiatric treatment center is carefully designed to protect the emotional health of patients. The treatment center directors are well aware of the ways that environments can present an emotional risk to patients and are careful to ensure that the programs they create avoid these risks. The goal is for patients to recover as quickly and as fully as possible. That is only possible if the psychiatric treatment center fosters an environment of emotional safety for every individual who comes through the door.

8. Inpatient programs often cater to specific groups.

Inpatient psychiatric treatment is available for specific groups in need of care. There are programs that are female-only, programs for adolescents, teenagers and more. These programs are designed to ensure that all the patients are as comfortable as possible and that they feel safe so that they can focus on their recovery.

If you have questions about inpatient psychiatric treatment and eating disorder treatments, please contact us. Our team can help you determine what type of treatment is right for you and your loved ones. We are here to answer all your questions, so please get in touch.



Melissa Spann, PhD, LMHC, CEDS-S

Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido & Affiliates, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.