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  • Writer's pictureKelly Neilson, MDA RD LD

Tips for Finding an Eating Disorder Therapist

Eating disorders are serious mental health issues that can have very serious impacts on a person’s life and health if left untreated. The stereotypical image and misconceptions of eating disorders leave many feeling they’re not sick enough or deserving of help. This denial can lead to the individual being untreated, undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed.

If you’ve been diagnosed with an eating disorder, you’re probably working with some sort of practitioner, such as a dietitian, therapist, or medical doctor. And he/she may have referred you to additional practitioners to ensure a well-rounded plan for addressing your eating disorder.

A multidisciplinary team approach is considered best practice for treating clients with eating disorders and disordered eating. A multidisciplinary approach provides the individual with nutrition education, psychotherapy, and medical monitoring. Working with one practitioner doesn’t address all these areas.

I often tell my clients, “If you’re only meeting with a dietitian or only with a therapist, you’re only getting halfway healed.”

Here are a few tips to help you find a qualified, mental health clinician who will complement the work you’re doing with your dietitian.

woman speaking to eating disorder therapist, Tips for finding an eating disorder therapist

Decide whether you want to see a therapist in person or online

Googling “eating disorder therapists” brings up an overwhelming list of practitioners, some of which may be in your area and others who provide online treatment. You may even see ads for therapists specializing in eating disorders only to find that when you click on their websites, there’s nothing that sets them apart from a general practitioner.

So how do you find the right one for you among the sea of options?

Start with location. Do you prefer to see a therapist in person or virtually? Some people prefer face-to-face contact, while others like the convenience of video sessions.

If you prefer in-person sessions, look for eating disorder therapists who have practices in your area. This will help narrow down your search.

There are a couple of ways you can do this.

Ask your doctor or dietitian

Chances are they’ll be able to give you a referral to a local, reputable therapist — or a few — who specializes in eating disorders.

Conduct a Google search

Search for “therapists in my area” or “therapists in _______,” insert your location (city and state). You’ll get a list of local practitioners in the Google Business Listing. This will also help weed out some of the random practitioners from other areas.

Search professional directories

Commonly, directories show the name, photo, license, professional bio, and specialization of practitioners in that location.

Psychology Today has a reputable directory of therapists. If you see a “Verified” seal next to a practitioner, that means Psychology Today verified the therapist’s name, contact information, and licensure in the state of practice. The publication also checks to ensure the professional isn’t under any license restrictions.

You don’t want to start seeing a therapist whose license has been suspended and they’re still practicing.

Of course, not all cities will have an eating disorder therapist. Smaller communities may only have therapists who treat all mental health disorders. So online may be your only option. If this is the case, professional directories are going to be your best search tool.

Keep in mind, not all states allow interstate practice. When searching the directory, always start with practitioners in your state.

Training and Background: You Want a Therapist Who Specializes in Eating Disorders

Similar to a specialized medical doctor, it’s important to work with a psychotherapist who specializes in eating disorders. You wouldn’t go to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor seeking treatment for a gastrointestinal issue.

So why would you go to a therapist who isn't well-versed in treating eating disorders? Every professional on your treatment team should have the appropriate experience.

As noted above, professional directories list the type of state-issued license each mental health clinician holds. And frequently their bio will include their specialization — but not always — so read carefully and don’t make assumptions because their profile came up in search results.

Therapists typically list their credentials and areas of practice on their websites as well.

There are several types of licenses, all permitting an individual to provide counseling. Names of licenses may vary from state to state.

Below are a few common ones:

  • LCMHC (Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor)

  • LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker)

  • LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor)

  • PsyD (Clinical Psychologist)

  • Psychiatrist (MD, physician)

Counseling and clinical social work licenses require a master’s degree or higher and 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience.

Psychologists typically have a PhD or PsyD. Certain specialty psychologists can work with a master’s degree and additional certification and licensure. Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MDs) who complete a residency in psychiatry. Psychiatrists can also prescribe medication. In certain states, psychologists can also prescribe medication after undergoing additional training.

There is no one license better than the other. All are qualified to provide psychotherapy.

The focus is to find a practitioner who specializes in treating individuals with eating disorders.

Look for an Evidence-Based Therapist

There are myriad psychotherapies used to treat mental health disorders:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

  • Cognitive remediation therapy (CRT)

  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

  • Interpersonal psychotherapy

Just to name a few.

Research your potential therapists. Find out what “school of thought” they subscribe to. One type of therapy does not treat every mental health disorder. If the therapist practices one type of psychotherapy for every client, you may want to keep looking.

Eating disorders require evidence-based intervention. Not all therapies are evidence-based and not all therapies work for eating disorders.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy are the most established, evidence-based treatments for bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.

There are several other therapies that have been found to be effective in treating eating disorders.

A mental health clinician who approaches treatment from an evidence-based practice model is one who applies research-based treatments rather than treatments based on subjective experiences or informal clinical impressions.

If the therapist doesn’t have this information in their directory bio or on their website, call their practice and ask.

Work with Someone Who Respects Your Experiences, Needs, and Values

After you’ve done your research and have found a qualified therapist, book a session with them. Use this first session as an opportunity to ask additional questions, further explore their therapy modalities, and see if they’re a good fit.

Therapists are human, too. And just like anyone else in your life, you may not click. That’s ok!

But don’t give up on therapy if your first session wasn't what you envisioned. It’s acceptable to shop around.

Finding the right therapist is a personal matter. This is your journey. You want someone who respects your experiences, needs, and values.

You’ll greatly benefit from working with a professional you can connect with and feel comfortable talking to.

As an eating disorder dietitian, I encourage you to add a therapist to your treatment team.

If you’d like to discuss how a dietitian and therapist can help you on your journey to eating disorder recovery, give me a call and we’ll set up a time to talk.

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