Therapy Aftercare and Eating Disorders
The process of recovering from an eating disorder is often challenging and long. Whatever type of eating disorder you’re suffering from – whether it be binge eating disorder, bulimia or anorexia – it’s important to remember that your problem didn’t begin overnight, so you should expect the process of recovery to also last for many weeks and months. If you’ve had inpatient treatment, you’ll have benefited from intensive input from specialists in eating disorders, receiving counseling and treatment that will help you to learn better ways of coping with the emotions and feelings that have resulted in your disorder.
While these strategies will form the foundation of your sustainable long-term recovery, it can still come as shock when you have to leave the in-patient facility or stop having regularly scheduled meetings at an outpatient facility and return home to your usual environment.
How will you continue to manage your disordered eating when you’re left to your own devices? Where will you get the ongoing help and support that you need if you’re having a tough time? The answer lies in getting the right eating disorders therapy aftercare.
Implementing Therapy Aftercare Plans
When you’re discharged from your inpatient facility, you must have a suitable therapy aftercare plan in place. If you return home with no solid plan to help you stay on track with your recovery the chances of relapse are much higher. This is because you won’t have had sufficient opportunity to practice your new coping strategies and to make them become a habit. Once you have to face the triggers and stressors you encounter in your home life, there’s a chance that you could all-too-easily end up defaulting to something familiar – your eating disorders’ behavior.
To be successful in overcoming eating disorders, you need to have continued accountability and structure to use and strengthen your coping skills, and having ongoing access to a qualified professional with expertise in eating disorders is important to ensure you stay on track. For this reason, your aftercare plan could include some time spent in a step-down or transitional program. This may be a PHP (Partial hospitalization program) or a day treatment program near your home. Alternatively, you may be stepped-down to an IOP (intensive outpatient program) before you transition to full outpatient care.
As part of therapy aftercare, the patient’s family should also receive assistance and support so that they know how best to help their loved one during their period of recovery.
Why Is Therapy Aftercare So Important?
For most people with eating disorders, the process of recovery is a lifelong journey. Therefore, having a properly thought-out therapy aftercare plan is absolutely essential. Without one, you cannot keep moving forward and progressing towards recovery.
Many eating disorder sufferers believe they’re able to recover from their disorder independently, yet this is often not the case. Up to 50% of people who deal with an eating disorder by themselves without medical support and intervention will relapse eventually. Getting treatment and following it up with therapy aftercare is important to help prevent relapse.
What Are The Benefits Of A Therapy Aftercare Program?
Aftercare is a term that’s used to describe everything you do after being discharged from your eating disorders treatment program. Specifically, it’s a term used to describe the elements that are put in place to support long-term recovery. These elements include:
- Medication management – this helps to treat mental health problems like depression and anxiety that arise following treatment or concurrently exist with your eating disorder.
- Individual therapies – these help you to gain a deeper ongoing understanding of your disorder.
- Group therapies – these offer you ongoing support so you can expand both your external and internal resources so you can maintain your recovery.
- Nutritional counseling – this helps you to overcome your dysfunctional relationship with food and eating and will also provide you with guidance about how to manage everyday challenges surrounding your disorder.
- Lifestyle changes – these help you to develop a stronger satisfaction and a better sense of purpose in your life.
When all of these aspects are incorporated into your therapy aftercare plan, you’ll stay more motivated, accountable and encouraged in the process of recovery. Each small success gives you a boost in terms of your self-esteem and well-being and shows you that you’re capable of staying on the path to recovery and achieving your long-term goals.
Which Core Issues Will A Strong Therapy Aftercare Plan Address?
A strong therapy aftercare plan increases your chance of long-term recovery from eating disorders. It should focus on the core issues that relate to your disorder. These issues include:
- Obsessive thought patterns – obsessive thoughts are often driven by anxiety and the result can be maladaptive compulsive behaviors that prevent you from functioning healthily and productively.
- Perfectionism – all too often, perfectionism is a catalyst for relapse, since it causes poor self-esteem.
- Inflexible thinking – rigidity of thought patterns resulting in self-limiting behaviors and thoughts as well as increased conflict with other people.
- Over-compliance – if you are over-compliant with figures that you perceive to be in authority you can become too passive and end up disregarding your own needs. This, in turn, leads to negative emotional and cognitive states and could trigger a relapse.
- Inhibited emotions – if you allow your emotions to become bottled up, further disordered eating patterns can arise as a way of releasing those pent-up feelings.
- Introversion, phobias and social anxiety – isolation, and avoidance often drive depression and this triggers disordered eating patterns.
Not only do these core issues present ongoing challenges during recovery, but substance abuse and weight gain are also two extra factors that could emerge as you progress through your recovery. Therefore, having a program and therapist capable of handling these issues is vital to staying well in the long-term.
Which Medical Professionals Should Be In Your Therapy Aftercare Team?
Your therapy aftercare team should be made up of several medical professionals. These include:
- A psychiatric nurse practitioner or psychiatrist to help with anxiety-related or depressive disorders or substance abuse. If you have an untreated mental illness, you are more likely to relapse and will struggle to follow your therapy aftercare plan properly.
- Individual therapists to offer you the CBT and other therapies that you need to determine the cause of your eating disorder and the triggers and patterns associated with it.
- A group therapist helps those suffering from social anxiety to learn new coping skills and to build up an interpersonal trust that will extend eventually beyond that group and into wider society. In the group therapy environment, you’ll be in a supportive space where the other people will understand your problems and won’t judge you.
- A nutritionist will help you to learn more about healthy nutrition. Often, feelings and thoughts about food are distorted or inaccurate and therefore need to be dealt with during therapy. Your nutritionist can then help you to incorporate healthy foods into your daily diet and aid you with experimentation with food in a way that you probably wouldn’t be able to manage alone.
The Importance Of Peer Support In Therapy Aftercare
Peer support is very helpful in achieving long-term recovery and therefore, the best aftercare plans will incorporate peer support groups.
Why is peer support so important?
- It helps you to realize you aren’t alone and that recovery is possible.
- It supplies a safe environment free from any judgment and with ongoing support from other people who have a clear understanding of what you’re going through.
- It helps to teach you new techniques that other people have used successfully in their own recovery.
- It can help to provide you with a sponsor or mentor who will be available to you if you’re feeling triggered or discouraged.
Like other kinds of therapy aftercare, it’s important to find the options that work for you. Not all groups will be equally helpful so it’s important to choose the group that works best for your needs. You may need to try several different ones before you find one that’s right for you, so don’t be too discouraged if it takes you a while to make your final choice.
Getting Support For Everyday Life
If you thought that inpatient treatment was hard, you’ll be amazed by how much harder it’ll be when you’ve left your treatment facility and gone back to your old life. In your treatment facility, you had a structured and safe environment in which you could exclusively focus on getting better and overcoming your eating disorder, and you’ll have access to the support that you need 24 hours a day. When you leave that safe setting, you’ll probably be shocked by how anxious and afraid you’ll feel. Yet, if you add everyday life support strategies into your therapy aftercare plan, you’ll find that the transition is easier and more positive.
Most treatment facilities will get you to think about planning your aftercare several days or even weeks before you’re discharged. Your daily schedule will also be structured to include therapy, nutrition counseling, groups and other activities to reduce your stress and help you with your ongoing recovery. Some of the everyday life support activities that you should be adding into your therapy aftercare plan include:
Finding employment – getting a job might be a trigger or it could help you to stay on track. You shouldn’t take on any work until you feel ready, so talk to your treatment team to get their opinion. If they believe you’re ready and you do too, you can consider either returning to work or getting a new job to boost your self-esteem. You may be able to get some support with creating your resume and making applications for posts either from your insurer or a local employment agency. Take care, though, to ensure you don’t take on a role that will make you unduly stressed.
Therapies – setting up group, nutritional and individual therapies before your discharge is going to give you a better chance of success.
Recreational activities – finding new hobbies and activities is very important to improve your physical, spiritual and mental well-being during recovery. Follow-up care on its own isn’t sufficient. You need to begin getting satisfaction and pleasure from life. There are lots of excellent stress-relieving activities for you to choose from such as meditation, yoga, Zumba, tai-chi, walking, hiking, swimming, acupuncture, massage or Reiki. Anything that helps to make you more rejuvenated and relaxed will be helpful and if you can find a pastime that you enjoy without being a trigger for your eating disorder, it can greatly enhance your life.
Community and social involvement – some people find that the best path to recovery is by helping other people since it can reduce your focus off your own worries and problems. Think about causes that you’re passionate about, whether those be helping the elderly, children, animals or the environment. Once you’ve made a choice, look for a cause where you can spend a few hours helping out every week.
When drawing up a therapy aftercare plan, take care that you don’t overwhelm yourself with an over-booked, over-busy schedule. Putting too much pressure on yourself in this way may impede your recovery and actually make you more likely to relapse. Start off small then, as your energy and confidence grows, you can add more into your schedule. Your happiness and well-being are absolutely essential, so bear these key factors in mind and take good care of yourself by coming up with the aftercare plan that works for you and that gives you the best chance of a successful long-term recovery.
Getting The Right Therapy Aftercare For Your Eating Disorder
If you’re leaving inpatient treatment, it can be a worrying time. However, with the right therapy aftercare plan in place, it’s possible to overcome eating disorders effectively and successfully. Consult with your treatment providers to help you draw up the best long-term plan for you and make sure that you have an effective schedule of activities and therapies arranged before you return to your regular life so that you will have minimal chance of relapse and the best chance of staying strong and positive during your recovery.