Eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa are deeply complex and dangerous mental health disorders that require specialized treatment. For this reason, some people who need help (or their loved ones trying to get them help) may buy into the conventional wisdom that an inpatient or residential treatment program is necessary in every case. However, in some cases, a residential program is an impossibility, such as a person responsible for the care of a young child, or a professional who cannot take off 30 days from work.

Even beyond conflicting circumstances, not every case requires the highest level of care. While one individual might need the structure and, particularly medical oversight that a residential program can offer, for others, day treatment programs could provide the right balance of professional support and flexibility. An eating disorder day treatment program can be ideal for individuals who need therapeutic sessions as well as the freedom to continue work or school.

What Exactly Is Eating Disorder Day Treatment?

In most cases, the therapeutic services offered by a day treatment program for eating disorders provide largely the same types of therapy and treatment as their residential cousins. The major difference is that day treatment programs tend to provide a lower level of medical and psychiatric care than residential programsFor people at medical risk due to malnutrition or other symptoms of an intense eating disorder, an initial stay at a medical hospital might be followed by day treatment, partial hospitalization, or intensive outpatient program.

Throughout the individual’s time in an eating disorder day treatment program, they’ll have regular sessions with psychiatric professionals who can facilitate more intensive medical services (which studies have shown can be equally effective) if needed. Once the medical and psychiatric risks have been stabilized, a day treatment center will focus on talk therapy with an individual focus.

Why Do You Need an Individualized Treatment Program?

Although the science behind evidence-based day treatment programs recognizes that eating disorders often have many of the same characteristics, each person is an individual in their own right. The individualized treatment plan recognizes that in spite of the many similarities, each individual in treatment has unique characteristics that can’t be effectively addressed by a cookie-cutter program.

As an example, a program designed for a college wrestler who has to maintain a certain weight and is prone to purging behaviors won’t be effective for a young woman who avoids caloric intake entirely because her body image has been distorted by anorexia nervosa.

Though they both share a diagnosis of an eating disorder, each of those people will have different life experiences that must be acknowledged and respected in order to regain their healthy self.

Other Common Components of Day Treatment Programs

In addition to regular sessions with a trained eating disorder therapist, there are other important components can be implemented on a day treatment basis. Group and family counseling sessions with an eye toward providing support to people with eating disorders are often part of a complete program, and available on a day treatment basis.

Because eating disorders often result because of perceptions surrounding food, working closely with a dietitian and developing a nutritional plan is often key. Cooking classes, grocery store outings, group meals and visits to area restaurants allow participants to reintegrate healthy eating habits into their life as therapy progresses.

A modern, compassionate day treatment program focuses on helping individuals become fully recovered and embrace their healthy self while allowing them the freedom to continue working, attending school, or providing childcare. In many cases, the staff is also recovered and knows firsthand what it’s like to repair their thoughts and actions in a healthy, food-positive way.

Recovery from eating disorders isn’t always the way it’s sometimes portrayed in the media – it doesn’t have to be in-house, residential, or clinical. Day treatment options that provide the necessary levels of care, balanced with medical and psychiatric ways, are a perfectly viable option for a full recovery from any eating disorder.

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