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Residential treatment centers for eating disorders are the most effective way to effectively treat bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and other disorders, but it’s completely normal to be worried about making such a major commitment. Before entering a residential treatment program, many adolescents and their parents naturally struggle with worries about entering a new phase in their life, even if recovery is the eventual goal. After all, there will be new responsibilities, a new location, a new schedule and separation from the day-to-day schedule they are used to.

Residential treatment facilities are  place of healing and growth – although fears are natural, they are certainly not well-founded; in addition to providing solid psychological and medical residential treatment programs, they are usually luxurious, and always provide a home-like, comfortable setting that facilitates recovery. A quality residential treatment center is more than the sum of its parts – it’s a place to learn more about yourself, learn new life skills, explore mindful living, and more. This is in addition to treating the disordered behavior, of course. Here are some common concerns people have about entering a residential treatment facility, and reasons not to be worried about them.

1. My room will be locked and I won’t be allowed to leave

Mental health treatment centers, including eating disorder treatment facilities are in no way the “insane asylums” of the past. Unless there is significant medical treatment needed (win which case the patient will be in a hospital), or serious threat f self-harm or suicidal ideation, there will be no restriction on their movement. The simple fact of the matter is that as residential treatment programs are often luxurious and comfortable, and residents are never held under lock and key. Even more contemporary stereotypes about what treatment is like are incorrect.

Normally speaking, residential treatment for teens is appropriate for those who do not require intensive medical assistance, where clients can focus on addressing the underlying symptoms that influence the eating disorder and improving their relationship with food and eating. This means that a comfortable, home-like setting is far more conducive to the personal growth and experiential therapies that actually happen there.

2. I’ll get left behind at school

With the average age of onset being the late teens for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and most other eating disorders, middle schoolers and high schoolers make the majority of cases at treatment centers. At adolescent eating disorder treatment centers, it’s nearly 100%. These are important periods in the intellectual and academic development of students; missing significant time can negatively affect the client’s studies and college applications. No one wants the student to fall behind, especially the parents.

The good news is that modern residential treatment programs for teens usually include continuing academic and scholastic segments in their programs. For long-term residential stays, there is normally a time set aside each day for education, employing highly trained and licensed tutors and following each student’s school curriculum. At the highest quality residential treatment centers, there are on-site educational professionals available to conduct classes and individual tutoring. They will also coordinate coursework and lessons with the client’s school and parents, ensuring the student receiving treatment for eating disorders isn’t falling behind.

3. I’ll be there for way too long

Another common fear regarding residential treatment programs is that the client will be stuck in the same old surroundings for months on end. Although most treatment programs begin at 30 days, they can extend to longer periods. The simple fact is that the program is as long as it needs to be for effective outcomes. Thankfully, most quality programs include various excursions and exposure therapies which take clients out of the facility, which might include anything from a trip to the movies to a horseback riding session.

For example, as part of nutritional and meal-planning purposes, a group of residential clients will visit a supermarket (under caring supervision), promoting a sense of comfort around foods and helping normalize non-disordered thoughts concerning meals. These kinds of life-enhancing experiences break up the tedium. Trips to places like the theater, zoos, or historical sights are often useful as well – not only to change the routine, but to provide real-world opportunities to put mindful living lessons into practice.

4. I’ll miss my family

Being separated from one’s parents and siblings can be traumatic, especially if they have been a support system. Fortunately, these fears can be assuaged pretty easily; family involvement is absolutely central to the treatment program at adolescent eating disorder treatment centers. Count on visits if you’re in the area, Facetime sessions and similar teleconferences, and most importantly, family therapy sessions and education. These allow the psychological processing of the patient’s eating disorder to take place, provide bonding opportunities, and more. Family is the core of our lives; it’s also the core of recovery.

Get Started on a Recovered Life with Adolescent Eating Disorder Treatment

Far from being the dreary, separating, and boring experience that many teenage clients and their parents have concerns about undergoing residential treatment programs, the modern experience is one that can be personally and academically fulfilling. If you or a loved one has received a diagnosis of an eating disorder, don’t wait. Seek out a quality residential treatment facility today and start on the path to recovery,


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.