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Residential treatment for eating disorders like bulimia nervosa, ARFID, OSFED, or anorexia nervosa brings with it major lifestyle changes. It has come from humble beginnings to a well-established network of providers that has helped millions regain their healthier selves. However, although the programs offer different treatment methodologies on a client-by-client basis, individuals entering treatment for the first time should be ready to make this change in their lives by learning more about what residential eating disorder treatment entails. Especially for adolescents, the prospect of leaving home and going in for psychiatric treatment might be scary. Preparation, however, can alleviate this and smooth the process. Here are four ways for an adolescent and their family to get ready for residential eating disorder treatment.

1. Talk with the admissions department and make sure you are comfortable with the program

Residential treatment can be imposing; incoming clients are not only addressing a major mental health condition but also leaving the comfortable sanctuary of home for a month or more. A bit of trepidation is normal. Thankfully, eating sadder treatment centers employ staff who are trained at easing the process and answering as many questions as possible before a new client enters the facility.They are prepared to helpnervous people take the next steps. When communicating with the admissions staff, make sure they outline the programs and address any anxieties. They say knowledge is power – the admissions specialists will be able to provide that knowledge to the potential client and their families.

Your comfort with the program is paramount. Overcoming the nervousness that comes with admitting to a facility is important to recovery – confidence in the program and your ability to manage it allows for greater success in outcome. For this reason, you should discuss the program, your concerns and doubts about the program, and anything else that comes to mind with the admissions staff.Potential clients should ask about several things; among many others, they should ask about meal times and structures, exercise programs, and what kinds of therapy to expect. Virtual tours can display living and bedroom situations, whether they will have a roommate, and what kind of medical and psychiatric support will be available. It’s also advisable to discuss the program’s privileges like internet/phone access and excursions.

Most treatment centers can offer literature and tours to provide as much information as possible before treatment begins The tour can be virtual, but if it makes you more comfortable and the trip is viable, consider asking for an in-person tour as well. The information packet should contain all the fundamental information that one needs to know about the program that they are going to attend. Also, remember that most likely more questions will arise after you speak to them the first time. Don’t hesitate to call again, several times, to make sure everything is in order.

2. List your questions before and after each call

It never hurts to be organized and thorough. There is a lot to go over before committing to a residential eating disorder treatment program – it can be a little overwhelming to process all the possible information in just one phone call. Before and after your first call with an admissions specialist, you should make a list of questions you have about any aspect of the program. Some examples of frequently asked questions mightinclude:

  • How long is the program?Should I expect a month or longer?
  • What are the residential rooms like – are there roommates, shared bathrooms, etc.?
  • What are visitation/family sessions like and how often do they occur?
  • What therapeutic methods are available?How is it determined which client receives which treatments?
  • Is there in-house medical support, i.e. doctors and nursing staff?
  • What is a day like at the facility for residents?
  • What are the facilities and local areas like?
  • What should the upcoming resident bring with them to the facility?
  • What is the progression milestone? How is progress in the program measured?

You should also ask questions specific to your won situation. For instance, you may wish to know if the center is female-only or adolescent-only, or whether the program is geared to service LGBTQ populations. Are provisions made for food allergies, religious or cultural food restrictions, or other special exceptions? If the program is serving a specific group, those attending might want to verify exactly how the process works, such as is the staff recovered, or will it be female-only?

Our admissions staff has found it useful to have potential clients prepare questions before and after the initial phone call. . The admissions process is rarely immediate; over a period of days, while the upcoming resident and their family consider the treatment program, they should make sure they feel as comfortable as possible with the program. When they feel like they have a comprehensive list of questions, they can contact the program to get the answers they seek.

3. Check to make sure the program is asking questions, too

Interviews are not one-way streets. The program needs to know as much as possible about you to ensure you receive the best care possible. Admissions specialists normally have a checklist of essential information to procure about each of their potential clients. When talking to the admissions staff, make sure they are asking plenty of questions about you as well.

Beyond the sometimes difficult but important questions about insurance and other financial considerations, they will also need to know about the kinds of special needs we discussed in the last section. So while the admissions specialist will help arrange insurance and payment and travel arrangements, they will also be communicating with the treatment team to relay details about the incoming client. This helps the treatment team tailor the treatment program for each of their clients.

In eating disorder treatment, as in any form of mental health treatment, a “one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t best serve the needs of the person in treatment. Psychology and psychiatry are as variable as a person’s psyche. None are identical. This means each program must be specifically designed for each individual. The admissions staff asking lots of questions is a good indicator that they are getting all the info they need to help the care team design a proper treatment plan.

4. Make sure the family is involved in the treatment

It’s not only the client that needs to be on board, either. Often, the search for a residential eating disorder treatment program is being helped by loved ones. Especially in the case of adolescents, the parents or guardians are essential to the process. Because eating disorders have an average age of onset in the teenage years, it’s not unusual for the upcoming resident to be a teenager or young adult.

Whoever is going to be attending the program should have the opportunity to ask all the questions that they want to ask, preferably directly to the treatment center staff. They should be encouraged to create their own list of questions that they can then ask the treatment center staff. By ensuring that the one who is attending the program gets the information they want and need, the family can ease the transition to the residential facility.

By encouraging the upcoming resident and family to speak with the staff they will be interacting with later, the family can help the individual feel more comfortable with those that will treat them. Questions and conversations can be a wonderful ice breaker for the upcoming stay.


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.