Exploring the Role of Individual, Group and Family Therapy in Eating Disorder Recovery

While receiving care at an eating disorder recovery center, patients can greatly benefit from attending individual, group and family therapy sessions. These varied therapies allow patients to explore and challenge the underlying causes of their eating disorder, develop coping skills and receive support on the path to recovery. When searching for an “eating disorder treatment center near me” one should look for a treatment center that provides individual, group and family therapy options. Each of these therapies will provide patients the opportunity to better understand the role of the eating disorder in his or her lives and develop positive coping skills to utilize in the future.

Types of Eating Disorders That Respond Well to Therapy

Individual, group and family therapy approaches can help patients work through barriers to reaching and maintaining a healthy self. Individual therapy allows for one-on-one in-depth discussions and exploration with a therapist, while group and family therapy opens allows for additional insights from peers and loved ones. These therapy options are often effective in treating different types of eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, pica and night eating syndrome.

Therapists will develop an individualized treatment, based on the individual’s unique diagnosis, history and co-occurring disorders. With an individualized treatment program, patients can utilize the support and resources needed to overcome any challenges that may arise while on the path to recovery.

Therapy Addresses Underlying Causes of the Eating Disorder

In most cases, a combination of social, biological and environmental causes trigger the development of an eating disorder at a young age. Skilled therapists utilize the most effective and evidence-based methods to help their patients identify the underlying causes of their eating disorder.

Therapists help patients reflect on their family background, personal temperament and other factors that may have influenced the shift to disordered eating patterns. Trauma and neglect can also have a powerful impact on a person’s propensity to develop an eating disorder. Exploring and understanding these underlying factors is a key element of recovery.

Goals of Individual Therapy

Individual therapy provides a direct therapist-patient connection to help individuals overcome major disruptive challenges in their lives. When recovering from an eating disorder, patients may meet with their therapist on a weekly basis, or more frequently, to begin the healing process. The total length of time patients remains in therapy for eating disorders depends on the individual’s needs.

The first individual therapy sessions allow patients to forge a connection with their therapist. Patients provide information about their current state of health (mental and physical), eating disorder struggles, past experiences and other factors that may be relevant to treatment and recovery. At subsequent sessions, a therapist will help patients delve deep into their challenges and the underlying factors of the eating disorder to begin the process of healing. Everything discussed in individual therapy remains private. The safe atmosphere and guaranteed confidentiality encourages patients to speak honestly about barriers to healing. The open communication lines between therapist and patient help facilitate a genuine relationship that supports and propels the recovery process.

Group Therapy Dynamics

In group therapy, patients can act as a soundboard for each other’s thoughts, feelings and concerns. The group typically meets on a weekly basis, if not more often, to discuss challenges and barriers to healing. While working with a group, therapists play an integral role in leading the discussions and facilitating healthy communication between group members.

The group therapy dynamic typically helps patients improve their ability to stay mindful and accountable during recovery. Members of the group are encouraged to talk about their journey toward becoming fully recovered from their eating disorders. The varied perspectives help many patients achieve personal growth and work through the barriers to their recovery.

A group therapy setting may help abate the sense of loneliness and isolation that can accompany the development of an eating disorder. Through the sharing of experiences, group members can lift each other up and offer encouragement with their own stories. An increased sense of support often arises in patients who attend group therapy on a regular basis.

Healing Through Family Therapy Sessions

While at eating disorder treatment centers, family therapy encourages the patient’s loved ones to participate in sessions. These intimate therapy sessions bring the family together to create a social network the patient can rely on while on the path to recovery. The sessions may also help family members learn healthy coping mechanisms in relation to the eating disorder and its impact on the family unit.

The family therapy sessions at eating disorder treatment centers aim to improve collaboration across the familial group to break down systemic issues. During these sessions, the patient, family and therapist set realistic goals everyone can work together to accomplish. The goals will frequently revolve around resolving underlying issues that may have contributed to the development and maintenance of the patient’s eating disorder.

Many people find continuing family therapy outside of the eating disorder recovery center setting helps reinforce the skills learned while working toward recovery. Sustained family involvement helps improve the communication and support within the family unit overall, and for the individual working toward recovery.

Types of Individual, Group and Family Therapy

There are many evidence-based therapy methods utilized today. The leading approaches for eating disorders include cognitive behavioral therapy, emotion-focused therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing or EMDR therapy.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps patients remain mindful of their thoughts and feelings and challenge their maladaptive belief systems. At an eating disorder treatment near me, patients will have the opportunity to share their formative life experiences, including potential instances of trauma, with their therapist. During this process, the therapist will help patients make a list of conquerable goals, potentially outside of their comfort zone, while providing positive coping skills to address any potential triggering thoughts. The goals usually center around activities, thoughts or feelings that cause the patient immense distress. Patients must utilize the coping skills learned in therapy to address and work through the feelings of stress or discomfort.

Emotion-Focused Therapy

Patients with strong avoidant behaviors can have a difficult time addressing the emotions behind their eating disorder behaviors. Emotion-focused therapy directly addresses the tendency to avoid situations and ignore emotions when faced with stressors. This therapy was originally developed specifically for eating disorders, and continues to help patients on the path to recovery. The three-step process halts negative emotions, restructures the situation and activates the appropriate emotions. Patients tend to develop more positive thought patterns while remaining mindful about their emotions and verifying they are appropriate for the situation.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Patients follow a five-step process. Patients begin with the training phase to learn behavioral skills that can reduce their reliance on maladaptive coping methods. The second stage includes individual, group and family therapy. The third stage focuses on teaching clients how to more positively react to stressors or triggers. The fourth stage is often optional, though helpful for many working toward recovery. This stage focuses on finding a spiritual meaning of life.

When actively participating in the best eating disorder treatment, patients will have access to a wide range of effective therapy options, including those mentioned above. An individualized treatment approach allows therapists to determine the therapy type and arrangement that would work best for each patient.

How a Multi-Faceted Therapy Approach Improves Recovery from Eating Disorders

When used as part of a comprehensive eating disorder treatment plan, individual, group and family therapy all have the power to help patients overcome their greatest challenges. Therapy acts as a powerful tool that helps reveal the inner workings of the brain and strengthens the mind-body connection.

While at eating disorder treatment centers, patients receive support with body and mind acceptance. The ability to accept new, more positive perspectives often requires completion of many different types of individual, group and family therapy sessions.

Acquire the Support You Need at an Eating Disorder Recovery Center

Effective eating disorder treatment centers integrate individual, group and family therapy into their programs. These three therapy types help patients challenge their beliefs and develop coping skills in both a group and individual setting. Therapists play a vital role in promoting productive, positive interactions throughout the sessions. The best eating disorder treatment directly addresses the patient’s unique needs while in treatment and on the path to recovery. Individuals with eating disorders can receive the support they need by reaching out to our team at 888-228-1253. We continuously strive to help our patients find the best level of care for their needs at our eating disorder treatment center.

Part One: Do’s and Don’ts of Supporting a Loved One in Eating Disorder Recovery

Monte Nido Rivertowns Clinical Director Gillian Tanz, MSW, LCSW has almost ten years of experience treating severe mood and anxiety disorders in multiple settings. In part one of her series, Gillian shares some of the do’s and don’ts she has learned through the years from families and loved ones supporting those in eating disorder recovery. Read on to learn more about how you can support your loved one on their recovery journey.

Supporting a person with an eating disorder can be a very tricky thing to do. How do you know whether what you are doing is supporting your loved one in their recovery process, or enabling their eating disorder to retain its grip? This is a theme that comes up again and again at Monte Nido Rivertowns. Below are some helpful guidelines, as told to me by families, clients and staff engaged in the process of recovery.

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25 Signs A Loved One May Have Binge Eating Disorder

When it is suspected a loved one may have an eating disorder, it is crucial to watch for the signs and symptoms so they can enter treatment at a binge eating treatment center and begin on the path to binge eating recovery. There are many symptoms besides the more obvious physical signs; individuals with binge eating disorder may exhibit a variety of mental, emotional and behavioral symptoms. Some symptoms may not even be apparent until an individual has entered eating disorder treatment. The first step in identifying possible symptoms of binge eating disorder is understanding what the disorder actually is.

What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder is a serious mental health disorder where an individual will consume a large amount of food within a short period of time; at times the individual will feel unable to stop themselves from eating. During a binge episode, food consumption may become out of control and occurrences will often become more frequent. Over time, binge eating can lead to a variety of related health conditions as well as changes in mood and behavior. While binge eating disorder can get progressively worse, it is treatable at an eating disorder treatment center.

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

Symptoms of binge eating disorder vary from person to person and while some are easier to spot, others may be difficult or may not fully be understood. Most people will notice the physical and behavioral symptoms, though the mental and emotional symptoms may be more difficult to decipher. It is important to remember someone with binge eating disorder may only show a few of the symptoms listed below, but the problem should still be addressed.

Physical Symptoms 

When observing for signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder, the first and most obvious signs noticed are physical. These symptoms are typically a result of the quick over consumption of calories. Some of the physical symptoms that can be found with binge eating disorder are:

  • Fluctuations in weightMany people with binge eating disorder will be overweight, typically with rapid and frequent fluctuations in weight, especially around frequent episodes of binging.
  • Overeating: Regular episodes of overeating is often the most noticeable behavior. These instances involve rapid eating and eating past the point of being full. This symptom may not be noticeable to everybody as the behavior may be done in secret.
  • Eating until becoming ill: Since an individual with binge eating disorder has difficulty controlling how much food they are consuming, they may eat until they feel physically ill.
  • High blood pressure: Binge eating disorder involves the over-consumption of food and, oftentimes, processed or snack foods high in sodium. Extra weight can lead to higher blood pressure, and once blood pressure is elevated, these higher sodium foods can further increase an individual’s blood pressure. Symptoms of high blood pressure can include flushing in the face, especially after activity.
  • High cholesterol levels: Cholesterol levels are often higher when an individual is overweight, and if the excess food they are consuming during a binge is high in trans or saturated fat, cholesterol levels can be further elevated, increasing the risk of clogged arteries.
  • Coronary disease: High cholesterol and high blood pressure can lead to a narrowing and blocking of the arteries resulting in a number of heart-related complications. If these complications are present, they should be immediately addressed to prevent further heart-related issues.
  • Painful joints: As weight increases, it can become more difficult for the body to support itself. This additional pressure can often affect the joints, causing pain and achiness, especially with increased movement.
  • Gastrointestinal problems: Eating too much food, or large amounts of food that are processed or high in fat, can lead to a number of gastrointestinal problems. This can include bouts of constipation, diarrhea or even gastrointestinal bleeding.
  • Type II diabetes: Being overweight or consuming high levels of sugar can result in problems with the body controlling insulin which can lead to the development of Type II diabetes. Diabetes can result in the need for insulin and can lead to a host of medical issues including nerve pain and numbness.
  • Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea is caused when the soft tissue toward the back of the throat collapses occasionally while at rest. When this occurs a person will experience short periods of time where their breathing is interrupted. Sleep apnea occurs when the body has excess weight, especially around the neck area. The condition not only interrupts restorative sleep, but can also lead to heart complications.

Behavioral Symptoms

Behavioral symptoms of binge eating disorder may not be immediately apparent, but are behaviors that may become more noticeable over time. Most of the behavioral symptoms involve hiding food or the act of eating. Behavioral symptoms to watch out for are:

  • The disappearance of large amounts of food: If there is an abundance of food in the home, or multiple people who utilize it, this behavioral symptom may be more difficult to notice. While binge eating can occur with any food type, it is sometimes easier to take snack foods or other similar items without them being as easily noticed when they disappear.
  • Hidden food in rooms: Since binge eating often occurs when someone is alone, a behavioral symptom maybe regularly finding food hidden in bedrooms or living areas. This can include under the bed, in drawers or closets or any other place where food would not normally be stored.
  • Large quantities of empty containers or wrappers: There may be stashes of trash from consumed food hidden in the bottom of trash cans or more unusual places, such as drawers and under the bed. This is often the result of a binge eating episode, and the evidence may often be hidden until it can be disposed of without being seen.
  • Consistent eating throughout the day: While regular snacking can be common, continual and recurrent eating throughout the day can be a sign the eating is more a result of compulsion than actual hunger.
  • Stockpiling of food: Binge eating disorder is marked by the constant urge to eat. To make eating in private easier, someone with binge eating disorder may purchase large amounts of snack food and stockpile it in their room so they can have it available for a binge.
  • Excuses for meal absences: Since many people with binge eating disorder wish to eat in private they may make a variety of excuses to avoid family mealtimes; this can include the need to study or to meet up with friends. If skipping meals becomes routine, it may be cause for concern.
  • Periods of fasting: When someone who eats fairly frequently suddenly stops consuming food for a long period of time, it could the result of a periodic fast that occurs due to feelings of guilt.
  • The desire to eat alone: With binge eating disorder, secretive eating can be a common behavior. This can include consuming meals in their room or avoiding social situations where food will be involved.
  • Withdrawal from social activities: Due to the need to be in control of the environment for a potential binge episode, and fear of having to eat around others, many people with binge eating disorder will begin to isolate themselves from normal social activities they once had participated in. When these social activities involve food, this can become even more pronounced.
  • Perfectionistic tendencies: Binge eating disorder can provoke a feeling of lack of control. Because an individual may feel the food is taking control of their lives, he or she may find having control over other aspects of their life very empowering. This can result in tendencies to want to create perfection in everything they do. This can include being particular about the placement of items in their room, taking time to choose the perfect ensemble every day or working obsessively on homework or outside projects.

Emotional and Mental Symptoms

Emotional and mental symptoms associated with binge eating disorder can be the most difficult to determine. These symptoms are typically uncovered after binge eating disorder recovery at a binge eating treatment center has begun, though these symptoms may be obvious to someone who is a close confidant. Some of the emotional symptoms associated with binge eating disorder are:

  • DepressionThe inability to control situations, emotions or eating patterns can lead to feelings of depression. The individual could have also been suffering from depression before the binge eating began.
  • Distorted body image: Since binge eating disorder can result in fluctuations in weight, it can also come with a dissatisfaction in one’s appearance. This negative view of one’s body size or shape can increase episodes of binge eating.
  • Feelings of shame: Binge eating episodes are often accompanied by feelings of shame. This symptom can be particularly hard to notice unless the person with the disorder has someone they confide in about how they are feeling.
  • Anxiety: Since binge eating disorder is something that often occurs in private, there may be anxiety associated with food in general. Family gathering, holidays or parties where food is a main part of the celebration can lead to stress and even panic attacks.

When Should Treatment Be Sought

Since many of the symptoms of binge eating disorder can be difficult to see, or may not initially present, treatment at an eating disorder treatment center should be sought even if only some of the above symptoms have been observed. While overindulgence can be common, persistent occasions of over consumption should be considered a possible sign. If observed, it is important to research treatment options and begin on the path to binge eating disorder recovery.

When is the Right Time for Treatment?

Monte Nido’s Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia Primary Therapist Kate Funk, MS, MFT shares some of her personal recovery journey in this week’s blog post. She explains that there might not be a “perfect” time to enter into treatment and to not let that stop you from seeking the support and help needed. Read on to learn more from Kate’s personal and professional experience…

Ambivalence is a common part of eating disorder recovery. Getting better can often feel terrifying and overwhelming which makes people question if they even want to recover. There is often a thick layer of denial and fear that can also make people question if getting better is truly worth it or if it’s the best time to start on the journey to recovery.

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Treatment Options for Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is one of the most common and well-known eating disorders, affecting millions of people across the United States. When someone is diagnosed with this disorder, effective treatment is essential. Without treatment, many people who have anorexia nervosa will face serious complications that can continue to progress over time. Fortunately, a variety of treatment options are available to individuals with anorexia nervosa at eating disorder treatment centers throughout the country.

Choosing the right approach to treatment involves comparing all options carefully to determine which facility, program and approach fits best with the individual client’s needs and preferences. Below is some information to help potential clients and their loved ones better understand anorexia and the different treatment options that may be available.

About Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that is typically defined when an individual has a very low body weight. Individuals with anorexia nervosa tend to be obsessed with maintaining a low weight and often experience an intense fear of gaining any weight. They may also have a distorted perception of their weight, believing themselves to be heavier than they are in actuality.

The symptoms an individual may experience are related to a lack of adequate nutrition and calories. Common symptoms include very low weight, dizziness, fainting, fatigue, swelling in the arms and legs, dehydration, low blood pressure, difficulty tolerating cold temperatures, dry skin, thin brittle hair and the absence of menstruation. Friends and family may also notice the individual eats very little or exercises excessively. Psychological symptoms of anorexia nervosa include social withdrawal, lack of emotion and irritability.

When anorexia nervosa is left untreated, it can lead to severe and even fatal complications. The lack of adequate nutrition over time may cause health problems such as anemia, electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal problems, kidney dysfunction, loss of muscle, loss of bone and heart problems. In the worst cases, these complications can cause death.

Treatment Program Structures for Anorexia Nervosa

Treatment programs at an eating disorder recovery center come in several different forms. Choosing the right program structure is important for any individual working toward recovery. The two main structures available are residential and day treatment programs. A residential program provides continuous twenty four hour per day care for the duration of treatment. The client will complete all therapies and live in a supported home-link environment at the eating disorder recovery center. In a day treatment program, clients visit the treatment center only when they are actively participating in the program. When they are not in treatment, they are permitted to leave the facility and continue everyday activities.

Both residential and day treatment programs have advantages for clients and their families. In a residential treatment program, clients with anorexia nervosa benefit from more structure and a more intensive treatment experience. There is also typically a higher level of compliance, which potentially increases the likelihood of achieving a successful eating disorder recovery.

Day programs may not be as intensive, but instead provide a needed level of support to clients stepping down from a residential program or those in outpatient therapy that need a higher level of support. When a client is enrolled in a day treatment eating disorder recovery program, he or she can continue to work and live at home. If any triggers or difficult situations arise, the client has the support and structure of the day treatment program to help them remain on the path to recovery.

Length of Treatment

The amount of time an individual will need to spend in treatment to recover from an eating disorder will vary. While some clients may only need a few weeks of intensive treatment, others may need to complete a lengthy residential treatment program and then transition to a day treatment program.

Approach to Treatment

Different treatment programs employ different treatment approaches for anorexia nervosa. Some of the approaches that may be utilized include:

  • Holistic treatment programs:Holistic treatment programs aim to address every aspect of an eating disorder. These programs view the client as a “whole person”, and include therapies designed to treat the client’s mind, body and spirit as he or she recovers from anorexia nervosa.
  • Co-occurring programs: In some cases, an individual who has anorexia nervosa will also suffer from another disorder, such as a substance use disorder or another mental health problem. Co-occurring treatment approaches are designed to treat both disorders at the same time, as these disorders can perpetuate one another.
  • Alternative treatment programs:Some treatment programs have developed their own unique approach to the treatment of anorexia nervosa and may focus on alternative treatments not commonly used by other facilities, such as adventure therapy.

Specific Therapies

Regardless of the basic approach to anorexia nervosa treatment used at an eating disorder treatment center, most treatment programs employ more than one therapy to help clients overcome their disorder. The exact selection of therapies used will vary by facility. However, some of the most common therapies that may be used in the treatment of anorexia nervosa include:

  • Individual therapy:Many eating disorder treatment programs offer individual therapy, which involves meeting with an eating disorder therapist one-on-one to discuss issues related to the disorder, such as the factors that may have led to the development of anorexia nervosa, or exploring coping skills for dealing with potential triggers.
  • Behavioral therapies:Some eating disorder treatment centers use behavioral therapies to help clients change irrational or negative behaviors that have contributed to the development or the maintenance of anorexia nervosa. The most common examples of behavioral therapies include cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy.
  • Group therapy:In group therapy, clients with anorexia nervosa interact with one another to discuss their disorders, provide and receive support. Group therapy sessions are moderated by a trained eating disorder therapist.
  • Family therapy:Anorexia nervosa treatment is often more successful when the client’s family and loved ones are involved in the treatment process. Family therapy involves inviting family members to the facility to participate in therapeutic sessions, either with or without the client. The purpose of family involvement may be to educate family members, discuss relationship issues or teach family members how to provide effective support to their loved one both during and after treatment.
  • Experiential therapies:Some eating disorder treatment programs include experiential therapies, which are alternative therapies that allow clients to express their creativity. Some of the most common examples include dance, art, music and psychodrama therapies.
  • Nutrition education and counseling:Most clients with anorexia nervosa have nutritional deficits. The purpose of nutrition education and counseling is to help clients address their nutritional deficits and adopt appropriate eating habits that will continue even after they leave treatment. Nutrition education will also teach clients to better understand and meet their bodies’ needs.
  • Mindful movement:Mindful movement is important for everyone, but many individuals with anorexia nervosa are either too weak to participate in these types of activities. Mindful movement, such as nature walks or yoga, are slowly re-integrated into the client’s lives and teach the clients to connect with their bodies and appreciate the different forms of movement. For clients who have a history of excessive exercise, the dietitian will work with the client to recognize the difference between mindful movement and excessive exercise.
  • Spirituality:Individuals with anorexia nervosa may benefit from therapies and other activities designed to enhance and support their spirituality. Examples include yoga, meditation and religious experiences.
  • Life skills and career counseling:Life skills and a reliable career can add stability to an individual’s life, which can be helpful for clients with eating disorders. Life skills training in treatment is designed to help clients develop these skills. Career counseling may also be available to clients who could benefit from this service.
  • Medical care:For many clients, anorexia nervosa can lead to serious health problems. Many anorexia nervosa treatment facilities offer medical care as an essential component of treatment. Medical care may include nursing care, visits with a physician, psychiatric services and medication management.

It is important to look for an anorexia nervosa treatment program that will customize the treatment experience to meet the needs of the individual client.


After completing treatment, many clients will benefit from ongoing eating disorder support. This support, sometimes referred to as “aftercare,” is not available at every treatment facility. Some eating disorder treatment facilities will offer more aftercare services than others; examples of aftercare services may include day therapy, support groups and related services.

Why You Should Be Selective About Eating Disorder Treatment

With so many programs available, it can be overwhelming for potential clients and/or their family members. However, being selective about eating disorder treatment is an important step as high quality anorexia nervosa treatment can support your loved one on the path to recovery. To make the best choice, potential clients and their family members should carefully review the program structure, approach to treatment and specific services available. Clients and their families should also consider the location of different facilities and the payment options available. In addition, clients planning to enter anorexia nervosa treatment should research the reputations and success rates of different facilities to learn more about the quality of care provided.

Monte Nido is a full-service eating disorder treatment facility. We offer both residential treatment and day treatment to meet the needs of each client and all of our treatment programs are customized to maximize effectiveness for each individual we treat. For the convenience of clients and their families, we have locations in California, New York, Oregon, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. To learn more about treatment at Monte Nido, please contact our facility today.