Every May is the National Mental Health Awareness month. During this time, people can learn more about mental health treatment and raise awareness about recognizing, treating, and coping with mental illness. Certainly, eating disorders such as ARFID, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and orthorexia are prominent examples of the types of mental health conditions highlighted during this month.
While all the focus on awareness about mental health is wonderful, it often overlooks one of the most important aspects of treatment: aftercare. For any kind of intensive psychiatric or psychological treatment, the recovery journey doesn’t end with graduation from a residential or IOP program. Instead, continued care is essential. Various studies and anecdotal evidence by therapists have shown that aftercare in some form helps maintain recovery.
Aftercare for eating disorders comes in many forms. For some, more intense situations, especially following residential care, a step-down program in outpatient care (also known as day treatment) is recommended. For other cases, therapy in person or virtually is the better option. Finally, alumni groups of fellow recovered individuals are often available, providing a less-structured but hugely supportive resource.
Frequent Forms of Aftercare for Eating Disorders
Following a stint in an eating disorder treatment center, recovered individuals are still at risk for relapse and a return to disordered behaviors. To avoid undoing the progress made in treatment, many eating disorder treatment centers provide aftercare services to help their graduates. The most common types of support provided include:
A staple of mental health treatment, group therapy sessions are central to most eating disorder aftercare programs. These sessions are often structured in a way that allows both peers and family members to attend. For example, the therapy sessions may include just the client and their family or many other families as a group. The importance of sharing your experiences and feelings with a group can’t be overstated – shared experience and validation of one’s feelings are essential to growing as a person and maintaining recovery in the long term.
This can be achieved both in-person and virtually. Many eating disorder centers create online support groups for their alumnae to meet together or provide a social media space to do so. The creation of groups on these sites gives alumnae access to like-minded individuals whenever they need advice and support. This means there is a lifeline available at their fingertips in times of need. These connections also allow individuals to support their peers during their time of need, as well.
Alumnae often have access to continuing education about eating disorders and recovery from their treatment centers. Webinars and other online resources such as workbooks, telehealth counseling sessions, and group therapy sessions are usually available. This helps alumnae establish a base of knowledge with which to base their recovery journey, and a resource to turn to when feeling triggered.
Group Meetings and Outings
With or without the help of the treatment center, alumni groups can organize group outings and meet-ups with local eating disorder survivors and the people they met during treatment. These can range from a group picnic in the park to a trip to a theater to catch a musical. Oftentimes, these meetings will center around eating and mindful movement exercises. Catching up with friends made in the center or local peers also in recovery, for example, doing yoga or tai chi together, can help those teetering on the edge of relapse as well as provide a sense of community. When people are in recovery, they might feel alone. Group outings are the perfect way to counteract that.
Attending Individual and Family Therapy Sessions After Eating Disorder Treatment
As clients venture out on their own after graduating from the best eating disorder treatment centers, they must continue to make progress in addressing their mental and physical health. Alumnae can verify they are on the right track by checking in regularly at individual, group, and family therapy sessions. There are many different therapy types to choose from, so alumnae can use each one as a tool in promoting their continued recovery.
Eating disorder treatment centers offer individual and multi-family group therapy sessions to their alumnae and current clients. The individual family sessions give these individuals a chance to bring together their loved ones and have a private chat with the therapists. These sessions can focus on the aspects hindering continued progress or general topics that help alumnae share and assess their current mindsets.
Alumnae and community groups exist as well for another layer of support. In these groups, alumnae can come together with their peers to collaborate on recovery techniques of all kinds. They can share their challenges and successes with their peers to gain insights and celebrate the progress they have made in this journey. They can reach out to the eating disorder treatment center anytime therapy sessions might be beneficial. They will schedule their past clients and any family or friends who want to come too, into the sessions to ensure everyone has the support needed to remain fully recovered.
Aftercare for Adolescents
Aftercare is important for everyone who finishes eating disorder treatment. It’s even more important for adolescents. The most common ages for most types of eating disorders are 13 – 21 years old. Added to the stresses of becoming an adult and forming a sense of body image, treatment for eating disorders in teenagers often continues for long after a residential stay. Thankfully, schools can usually be contacted about dietary needs for students in recovery, and regular meetings with therapists and peers are easy to arrange virtually.
As mentioned, family therapy is often a part of an aftercare program. The family, especially the parents, is even more important in eating disorder recovery for teenagers than in adults’ recovery. Parents should consult closely with the program’s nutritionists and dieticians, who will help outline their client’s meal planning and nutritional requirements. AS well as taking part in family therapy sessions, parents also act as a go-between for the client, their therapy team, and their school. Resolute but non-judgmental guidance will help a teenager build confidence and learn to accept their body (and to eat well!)