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For adolescent girls who are struggling with an eating disorder and their families, it is important to know that there are effective and dedicated eating disorder treatment programs available.  These programs can help teens learn methods for defeating their disordered behavior and moving on to a healthier, happier life. Treatment can also help to improve body image issues in teens, which can go a long way towards removing the foremost causing factor of most eating disorders.

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 much easier to start the search and make a decision that teenage girls and their families can be comfortable with.

Teen body image issues are hardly uncommon, and sadly, ongoing concern with the body image of a teenage girl can eventually develop into one or more eating disorders. These disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, orthorexia, binge eating disorder and more, can lead to a variety of health complications and quality-of-life fallbacks. That’s why it’s key for teenagers with eating disorders and their families to know what to look for when trying to get help

Important Traits of the Best Eating Disorder Treatment Centers for Adolescents

1. Specialized adolescent programs.

One major concern in any type of eating disorder treatment is matching the treatment elements to the person receiving treatment. A treatment program to help teenage girls should be limited to teen girls only – no adults, no boys, and so on. The specialized nature of a teen-only program creates a welcoming, almost insular environment, one where all the focus is on this singular population’s needs.

The first quality to look for in an adolescent eating disorder is this specialization. Not every center can make teenage eating disorder treatment their sole focus, which is why further research is required beyond just locating any program that treats eating disorders. The more focused the program is on treating a single segment of the population (in this case, adolescents), the more effective the treatment provided is likely to be.

2. Personalized treatment plans and patient participation.

Eating disorders, like every kind of behavioral or mental health disorder, are defined by a set of behaviors—meaning that doctors and specialists can compile certain teenage eating disorder statistics. However, people are more than statistics. Simply following a cut-and-paste set of guidelines applied identically won’t provide the most effective resolutions.

A quality treatment program should interview and assess various aspects of their patients’ disorder and co-occurring symptoms before devising a unique treatment plan. In fact, the staff at a quality treatment facility knows there is no perfect blueprint for what kinds of treatment will fit perfectly with any individual.  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. The path to a full recovery is dependent on an individualized treatment plan – not a series of rote checkboxes.

3. Employing evidence-based theories in treatment.

While traditional psychotherapy and medical treatments are part of any successful program, the foundation for treatment should still be based on evidence-based psychological therapy. Clementine prides itself on providing both cutting-edge treatments and proven, evidence-based methodologies These include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. Often referred to as CBT, this type of therapy helps identify feelings and thoughts. Once an individual can begin to identify disordered thoughts and feelings, and the behaviors that come with them, she can practice methods for changing those thoughts.
  • Family-based therapy. Family therapy sessions bring in the close family members of the teen so that both parents/guardians and teens can learn ways to improve eating habits and avoid unwanted behaviors. Parents are often surprised to discover how much benefit they get out of such sessions—particularly concerning the eating disorder, like identifying issues and providing useful, effective support to help their teen address these issues.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy. Also referred to as DBT, this therapy uses a back-and-forth, almost Socratic questioning process between the therapist and the patient to isolate disordered thoughts logically. Techniques like mindfulness are learned and can become more and more effective over time, especially when practiced regularly.

4. Medical treatments.

Eating disorders like bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa can have, in extreme cases, severe health consequences in adolescents. The longer someone has been showing the behavioral symptoms of adolescent eating disorders, the more risk there is of medical complications. A fully integrated treatment program will address the mind, the emotions, and equally importantly, the body.

Eating disorders can result in various physical ailments from losing hair to anemia and even malnutrition, which must be treated before or at least simultaneously as the mental aspects of the disorder.  Once those issues have been identified and diagnosed, a concurrent medical and physical healing plan can be implemented – providing the base for a comprehensive emotional and psychological recovery. Physical recovery is the first stage of mental recovery, so it is important to prioritize medical treatment if it is required upon entry into a treatment program.

5. Co-occurring treatment programs.

Over 90 percent of people with eating disorders have some form of mood disorder as well.  When teenage eating disorders are present, then, is quite common to develop anxiety surrounding body image and many other aspects of a girl’s life, and major depression is even more common – disordered behaviors around food are often a stress response to depression. Treating only the symptoms of eating disorders without addressing the other presenting mental health issues is has been shown time and time again to lead to relapses and the need for further treatment – an incomplete solution.

An effective treatment program is one that can treat co-occurring disorders simultaneously with the treatment of eating disorders. When choosing from residential treatment programs or day treatment programs for teens, it’s essential to find one that can effectively manage the balance between treating the specific eating disorder symptoms along with anxiety, depression, PTSD or other co-occurring disorder.

Going through 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 other treatment. Instead of being overwhelming, it can feel quite comforting for those with teenage girl body image issues and other concerns to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel—a way out of the ongoing difficulties that make life so much harder than it has to be.

6. Educational Programs and Academics

Eating disorders of all types have an average age of onset from age 12 to 25, meaning that a statistically large number of people begin to show a need for eating disorder treatment during adolescence.  The middle school and high school years are obviously crucial times for the development of the physical body and the time when personalities are formulated, but they are also essential times during which a person’s education takes place.  

To maintain the progress individuals have made in their education while undergoing eating disorder treatment, a good facility must include some form of academic continuation.  Parents seeking out an adolescent program, especially a residential one, should make sure some provisions are in place. Clementine will provide certified teachers as part of the program, as well as time set apart for academics each day.  In many cases, specialized tutors will also be available. These provisions seem basic, but for a teen entering a 30 or 90-day program, it can make all the difference.

7. A variety of treatment types and options.

Not every person is the same; neither are their treatment needs. For more severe cases of eating disorders, the proper treatment methodology will be different from a developing case or a milder one.  That’s why different levels of care are essential – after all, a program for binge eating disorder will have different requirements from one for anorexia nervosa, for example. The two most frequently applied levels of care are day treatment programs and residential eating disorder programs.

Some things to consider about each include:

Residential Treatment Programs

Residential treatment is the more intensive and comprehensive option, useful for extreme cases and those in which the patient is at risk for self-harm.  In a residential program, the adolescent will live at the facility and receive 24/7 coverage as treatment progresses. 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. Normally speaking, a variety of treatment methodologies including experiential therapies, group therapy, family therapy, and the aforementioned evidence-based models will form a unique treatment plan for each patient. 

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.

Day Treatment Programs

Day treatment programs for teens are usually less intensive than residential programs, with only a few hours of direct treatment per week on average, but they are often just as effective for those who don’t require the round-the-clock treatment provided by residential programs.  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. 

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.

8. Life-enhancing experiences and experiential therapy.

One of the most important things adolescent eating disorder treatment can do is restore a teenager’s ability to enjoy their life.  Too often an eating disorder robs people of joy; robs them of their ability to take pleasure in the experiences, big and small, that make up our lives.  Clementine programs for adolescents make sure there are experiences that can remind our clients not only what they are recovering from, but what they are recovering to.

Experiences like nature walk on the beach or in the woods, excursions to cultural events like the movies or a concert, restaurant experiences for clients further along in recovery, and experiential therapies like gardening or massage therapy can take what might be a dreary experience into a life-affirming path to a happier and healthier lifestyle in recovery.

Areas We Serve:

Houston, TX | South Miami, FL | Malibu Lake, CA | Naperville, IL | Portland, OR | Briarcliff Manor, NY | Twin Lakes, VA


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.