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Anorexia nervosa, as most Americans know, is a behavioral health disorder in which people (often but not always young women) perceive themselves as overweight, even when they have lost weight to the point of becoming medically-deemed underweight. People with anorexia might fast for days at a time or force themselves to eat only small portions of low-calorie foods and water. They often exercise obsessively due to their overwhelming fear of putting on weight.

Because of persistent body dysmorphia (distorted self-image), a person with anorexia nervosa simply cannot see what others see – that they are losing weight and struggling to maintain a healthy relationship with food and eating. As you may know, consistent restriction of nutritional intake can cause the body to break down in a variety of ways. The mental health aspects of this can be dangerous as well; anorexia nervosa patients run a much higher risk of suicide.

When searching for an answer to “eating disorder therapists near me“, be aware that anorexia treatment options offered at a quality center can help adolescents of all genders, races, and backgrounds understand why their eating disorder began and how to address disordered thoughts and behaviors constructively. That’s the first step to creating a fully recovered life.

Effective Types of Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa

Family-based Therapy

A popular and effective type of peer-centered therapy for anorexia nervosa, family-based therapy works well because the participants can share their feelings and emotions with people who have had a shared experience in a safe space. Involving parents, spouses, and other family members in treatment can help them understand the potentially dysfunctional roles they assume in the family that may contribute to eating disorder behaviors. It’s not unusual for the family members to engage in a few sessions on their own, without the patient. This provides an opportunity for the family to adjust their attitudes and behaviors to avoid enabling anorexia nervosa in their loved ones.

A particular type of family-based therapy, useful in teens and young adults, is called the Maudsley Method. This method teaches parents how to assume responsibility for their child’s eating patterns with an eye toward a sustainable diet and eating schedule. Four controlled trials have been conducted so far to investigate the effectiveness of the Maudsley Method. In two of these trials (Le Grange, 1992 and Eisler, 2000), researchers found that 70 percent of teens with anorexia returned to their normal weight following completion of a recovery program. In addition, outcomes for younger children with anorexia (between nine and 12 years old) who participate in family-based therapy are similar to success rates enjoyed by teens and their parents.

Individual Therapy

Anorexia nervosa treatment should always include a few options for individual therapy as well. One-on-one therapy sessions between teens with anorexia and their therapists provide a safe, secure environment. During these sessions, therapists can help to identify the root causes of anorexia nervosa and begin evidence-based methods of correcting them. Individual therapy is also necessary to teach clients how to restructure negative thought patterns and recognize distorted beliefs about their appearance.

Talk therapy, as these kinds of sessions are often known, is best performed by licensed therapists. Licensing requires years of specialized training, usually a minimum of a four-year degree in psychology, but most often with post-graduate work and real-life experience. When it comes to eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, it’s best to seek out a center that provides therapy with people who have specialized in them. Eating disorders are complex and require a deep understanding of the clinical, emotional, and physical aspects of their treatment. In the same vein, therapists that specialize in adolescent care are essential for adolescent clients – and their families.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

One of the most time-tested and effective methods of eating disorder treatment, CBTis highly effective at highlighting which thoughts are disordered, and recognizing how they are negatively affecting the patient. CBT offers cognitive tools to help patients understand why they think certain thoughts, immediately recognizing negative self-talk and quickly modifying these thoughts to prevent returning to unsatisfactory eating habits.

People with anorexia nervosa are almost always resistant – initially – to admitting there is a problem and changing their eating habits. Cognitive-behavioral therapy gets patients “on board” by having them participate in clear-eyed assessments of their thought patterns with the help of the therapist, who works from a predetermined inquiry list. CBT therapists also include techniques that give patients a new sense of hope about treatment by gently but firmly encouraging patients to take ownership of their recovery program.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

Cognitive processing therapy is a form of CBT that was developed in the 1970s by therapists trying to treat combat veterans suffering from PTSD. It has since been expanded to treat all kinds of people dealing with stresses related to past trauma. This is one of the keys to effective eating disorder treatment. PTSD is an overwhelmingly common contributing factor to the development of anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. As many as 40 percent of people with anorexia nervosa also suffer from PTSD. It should be noted that trauma does not only come from combat. It is more likely to happen from daily occurrences than most people imagine. PTSD can be triggered by abuse, (physical or psychological), a death in the family, a romantic breakup, losing a job, being in a car accident, or one of many more things.

CPT, like CBT, puts its focus on identifying disordered thinking patterns and understanding how they affect emotion and behavior. During the process, the client and therapist work together to replace those disordered behaviors with healthier ones. Unlike CBT, which is more free-form, CPT is laid out in a clearly defined 12-step program. The early stages ask the client to outline their feelings about the trauma that is affecting them and then to determine how it is driving their behaviors in reaction to it. (Coping with the negative emotions related to PTSD is a major cause of disordered eating behaviors). The latter steps are focused on replacing self-destructive behaviors with more positive ones and maintaining a sense of mindfulness about how trauma affects judgment. It’s an essential tool in quality eating disorder recovery.

Medications for Anorexia Nervosa

Although some anorexia nervosa treatment options involve antidepressants, medication is not usually a major part of treatment. Many eating disorders happen concurrently with other mental health disorders, however, so antidepressants may be useful in the co-occurring treatment of depression.Similarly, co-occurring disorders like OCD and anxiety disorders are often treated with medications, which can be prescribed if the client has one of them occurring simultaneously with their eating disorder. However, there are no medications designed specifically for anorexia nervosa or any other eating disorder. In the (admittedly rare) case of a person having an eating disorder but no other mental health conditions, prescriptions will usually not be made.

Seeking Adolescent Anorexia Nervosa Treatment

If you have been wondering if there are quality eating disorder therapists near you, there are many options. Treatment often comes in several stages and categories. Many people choose a residential option where the client stays at the facility for a set amount f time, which is usually the best option when medical care I necessary. This is normally followed by a “step-down” therapy process with a lower level of care, normally administered on a day treatment basis. Day treatment is also available on a standalone basis, so make sure you discuss all the options with the center and your referring therapist/physician.

Since COVID-19 became a part of our lives, virtual therapy sessions, in both individual and group settings are often available as well. There are fewer impediments to getting treatment than ever, so if you’re struggling with anorexia nervosa or know someone who is, please don’t hesitate. Reach out for help as soon as you can. You can help stop anorexia early in yourself or a loved one.


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.