The development of an eating disorder can occur for a variety of reasons. There is a lot of societal pressure to be thin, and the struggle to maintain an unrealistic size can impact anyone. Peer pressure, a life that feels out of control, or poor self-esteem can all lead to an eating disorder. Residential treatment programs are designed to teach clients about the eating disorder self and to learn new ways of tending the soul with the goal of finding a full recovery. Treatment is a multi-dimensional approach and works by focusing on the inside.
Feelings of Loss or Lack of Control
Feeling out of control can have a big impact on an individual’s life. For teenagers, a lack of control can lead to some teens controlling food intake in order to feel less anxiety. There is a sense of power in being able to control what you eat, even when this is causing damage to the body. Adolescent residential treatment looks at the ways in which teenagers can gain more control in life, while at the same time learning how to manage the pressure that is often felt to maintain an impossible body size.
Bullying Can a Significant Role in Eating Disorders
One bullying incident where a young teen girl is told she is overweight can be enough for an eating disorder to manifest. While there is no way to control the actions of others, how teens react to bullying can be taught. It’s hard to be a teenager, and when a young girl is told she is too fat, she may decide to do something about it by refusing food. This has little to do with size, as girls of all types of shapes and sizes will get bullied by others. Eating disorders are a reaction to a variety of external factors that are difficult to navigate through as a young teen.
Developing a Healthy Sense of Self
Teen residential treatment focuses on helping young women develop a healthy sense of self. This is done by listening to the teen, creating a safe environment in which to talk, and by teaching positive coping skills that help reduce stress. Treatment for an eating disorder takes time, but it begins by looking at the root causes of the disordered eating in order to learn better ways to cope. Through the use of art therapy, group sessions, individualized treatment, meditation, journaling, and family involvement, the development of a healthy self can occur.
Coping Skills that Manage Stress and Anxiety
When stress and anxiety are a big contributing factor in an eating disorder, learning new ways to cope will help manage the disorder. Teens can learn yoga or meditation as a way to reduce stress. While exercise programs may not be encouraged at every residential treatment program, teens with eating disorders need to learn what is a reasonable level of activity. Coping skills can involve learning how to ask for help, taking a break, spending time outside, or learning a new activity as a way to replace the sense of self that feels lost when in the midst of an eating disorder.
Thought Patterns Need to Be Addressed
An eating disorder can embed thought patterns that are difficult to break. For example, an adult who goes on a diet to lose a few pounds will soon begin counting calories as a way to keep track of the diet. Many adults become pre-occupied with the weight loss, stepping on the scale numerous times a day or obsessively counting each calorie. For those trying to lose weight, this can become an all-consuming and overwhelming experience. Consider the mind of a person who might be susceptible to an eating disorder, and it’s easy to see how thoughts can quickly become negative patterns that lead to destructive behavior.
Thought patterns are addressed with cognitive behavioral therapy that is tailored to the individual receiving treatment. CBT involves identifying negative thoughts, discussing the thoughts, and coming up with an alternative, healthier thought that can replace it. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a process that requires a skillful practitioner and is a modality of treatment that is prevalent in residential treatment programs.
An example of cognitive behavioral therapy would be to identify the thought, “I am too fat and disgusting.” This is a common thought, even among the thinnest of those individuals with an eating disorder. A distorted body image is common, and the thought “I am too fat and disgusting” is both detrimental and simply not true. A CBT practitioner would then ask why the individual has this thought.
The individual might look in a mirror and that is what they see. Through practical support, the therapist will talk to the individual in an effort to break down this negative thought. Replacing the negative thought with something such as “I am just the right size. I am comfortable being me.” This is going to be forced at first, but over time the negative thoughts will start to be replaced by the positive ones. CBT works to train the brain to stop focusing on negative thoughts and replace the thoughts with more realistic, positive thinking that does not cause harm to the individual.
When Exercise Is Introduced
Some teens in residential treatment programs are obsessed with exercise. This is not helpful to those who are trying to recover from an eating disorder. Exercise is a healthy part of life, and part of learning better coping skills is to learn what is appropriate when it comes to regular exercise. For some girls, eating very little is only one part of the eating disorder. The other side of the eating disorder is exercising almost constantly in an effort to lose weight. It’s a fine line in residential treatment programs to teach healthy exercise without encouraging weight loss among a group of teenagers who don’t need to lose weight.
Exercise can involve low impact activities such as yoga, light stretching, or walking. Girls in teen residential treatment are taught healthy ways to manage exercise without going overboard. Teenagers can learn how to care for their body, without pushing their body to extreme limits in an effort to lose weight.
Art Therapy to Learn About the Self
Reaching out to teens in residential treatment can be difficult. For those who have long-term eating disorders, it can be hard to connect with their inner self. Art therapy is a way to express emotions without having to talk about what is going on. Art can be an introduction to the inner self and give teenagers an outlet of self-expression. Art can be as simple as painting with watercolors, molding clay, or drawing with colored pencils.
For teenagers who are struggling with being able to verbalize their feelings, art therapy can help spark discussions about body image, the sense of self and learning more about tending to the soul. Self-expression is difficult for many people and opening up new ways for self-expression can help those who are in residential treatment programs.
Journaling and Expressive Therapy
Journaling is also a form of self-expression, and it is used in treatment to help individuals connect with their inner thoughts. Journaling can involve free writing to write about anything that comes to mind or can involve more directed writing activities. A journal can ask specific questions, or a therapist may ask a group to write about something specific to discuss in the next group meeting. Journaling helps people learn more about their thoughts, which helps lead to more productive, healthier thinking patterns.
Sharing a journal entry can be a fear for many people, even those who aren’t in treatment. Journaling has to be safe for the one writing down their innermost thoughts and sharing should only be done in a therapeutic environment. While in treatment, journaling can be an effective tool to get the core of the reasons behind an eating disorder. Used correctly, journaling helps create a story and allows a therapist to address any concerns that are noted in the journal.
Compassion and Dignity While in Treatment
For those without a history of disordered eating, it can be hard to comprehend what is going on. Recovered staff are often some of the most effective counselors in residential treatment programs because they understand the eating disorder on a deep level. Compassion is always vital when interacting with those who are recovering from an eating disorder and shame has no place in successful treatment. When compassion and dignity are the core values of a treatment facility, real recovery can occur.
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, up to ten young women out of 100 may be dealing with disordered eating. Unhealthy eating habits, too much stress and following peer pressure leads to disordered eating that can become out of control fast. Disordered eating is more common among young girls, and those that are high achieving perfectionists are more susceptible. Disordered eating continues to be about control, and teens need to be taught healthier ways to gain control in life so that food is not the primary source of control.
Teenagers with Eating Disorders Have Unique Needs
Tending to the inner self of a teenager girls means taking the time necessary to reach out. Parents and other family members are an integral part of treatment, as they are the support network for any teenager who is in recovery for an eating disorder. Reaching out doesn’t mean shaming, and it doesn’t mean trying to force a teenager to eat. The problem is more complex, and when the family supports the teenager in recovery, they are often more successful.
Effective recovery starts from the inside. For teenagers who aren’t feeling a sense of self, it’s necessary to encourage positive interactions. To get to the root of an eating disorder, it’s necessary to learn what is going on inside the individual who needs help. Through self-expressive therapies, individual counseling, group meetings, art therapy and family involvement, treatment is a multi-dimensional approach that focuses on the teenager who is trying to recover.
Take the Time to Reflect
Recovering from an eating disorder can happen. Through working with a strong CBT therapist and challenging negative thought patterns, recovery is possible. The goal of residential treatment programs for teenage girls is to teach healthy ways to reach out to others, better communication skills, and positive self-esteem. It’s a process that takes time, as eating disorders don’t have one specific root cause. Treatment is tailored to each individual teen. Recovery means healing from the inside so that what is on the outside can match a healthy, happy inside.
When the hold an eating disorder has on a person is broken, all kinds of positive behaviors begin to emerge. When the inside is understood, it can be healed. Recovery that focuses on the inside provides a solid foundation on which to build a healthy life.