Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy What Should I Expect from Residential Eating Disorder Treatment?

What Should I Expect from Residential Eating Disorder Treatment?

Published: Last updated:
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Eating disorder treatment centres are intimidating to many people. After all, they’re places for people with serious mental problems to go where they’ll be poked and prodded by psychiatrists and punished for their disorder, right?


It’s natural to have some fears and trepidation when it comes to entering an eating disorder treatment centre, but a quality facility will have some characteristics that make the reality of eating disorder treatment clear. Individuals who have bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and other types of eating disorder need help. Letting preconceived notions about what a treatment facility experience will be like prevent them from getting that help is counterproductive.

Here, we’ll outline what people should expect from a modern eating disorder treatment programme.

A safe, comfortable setting

Eating disorders are mental health disorders, and by definition, an eating disorder treatment center is a mental health centre. Unfortunately, many people have a skewed idea of what a mental health facility is really like. Movies and TV have sometimes put forward an image of sterile, hospital-like hallways with linoleum floors and fluorescent lighting, where people sleep on cots, and so on.

Residential treatment centres in this day and age couldn’t be more different.

Ample consideration of the client’s comfort and safety is central to the design of a quality eating disorder treatment centre. Bedrooms will be well-appointed and comfortable, and there is usually a common eating space and kitchen where clients can eat and cook together as part of their therapy. The grounds are often in naturally beautiful settings, beachside, or in the woods, which makes outdoor activities a viable option.

Modern therapeutic methods

In the past decade or so, the methodology of therapy has changed for the better with the embrace of modern, evidence-based therapeutic techniques. “evidence-based” in a psychotherapy sense, means the method used is based around empirical evidence. The results of each therapeutic method are tracked and noted, and the ones that are more successful are used again. Over time, with enough cases, the most effective methods become standard practice.

These evidence-based therapies are often geared towards specifically addressing disordered behaviours like the urge to eat excessively that comes with binge eating disorder. A prime example of evidence-based therapy is the technique known as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). DBT employs mindfulness training and emotional distress tolerance to ‘retrain’ the way an individual’s thought patterns work, replacing disordered thoughts with objective ones.

Through training and discussion with the eating disorder counsellor, the individual getting treatment learns to process the negative emotions which help to cause eating disorders. Once identified the individual can work with the counsellor to replace the disordered thought with one that is healthier and non-destructive.

Experiential therapies

Experiential therapies fall outside the traditional definition of psychotherapy in that they consist of activities instead of talk sessions with a therapist or group. Often, they aren’t directly related to eating disorders, body image, or emotions, but instead put the mindfulness techniques being taught to a real-world application. One of the most-used types is art therapy, in which the client draws, paints, or sculpts to help them express emotions they keep deep inside. 

People doing art therapy are often surprised by through the simple act of creating art, they learn something about themselves they didn’t know. Often, feelings and ideas which couldn’t be expressed through normal means come flowing out when applied to paper or canvas.

Exposure therapy is a more directly focused form of experiential therapy that can be applied to eating disorder treatment. With exposure therapy, an individual is encouraged to attempt the behaviours they feared or avoided because of their eating disorder. A great example of this would be excursions to a grocery store to go shopping for a balanced diet. Normally, a certain level of progress should be made before beginning exposure therapy, since it can be triggering if the individual isn’t ready.

Don’t let preconceived notions prevent eating disorder treatment

Anxiety about getting mental health treatment is normal. Even if you don’t think the centre will be something out of Girl, Interrupted, it’s a huge commitment and a life-changing experience. You should expect the best from your eating disorder recovery programme – including a safe, comfortable setting, evidence-based talk therapy, and a variety of different experiential methods to ensure the best chance at a long-term, recovered life.


Image credit: Freepik

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg. He interviews people within psychology, mental health, and well-being on his YouTube channel, The DRH Show.


© Copyright 2014–2034 Psychreg Ltd