People have been flocking to teletherapy in the past few years for numerous reasons. Online counseling has adapted to social distancing and quarantine periods, and telehealth is more accessible for people with busy schedules and long commutes to therapy offices.
This quick exodus out of the office and to a virtual platform has left many people wondering if therapy is effective for their unique needs and conditions. Among them, eating disorders. If you’ve asked yourself if teletherapy for eating disorders works, the answer is yes. Here’s why.
What is teletherapy?
Telehealth is the term used to refer to any counseling or therapy platform that occurs virtually, through phone or video conferencing. This allows people to access services for physical and mental health without being in the same physical location as a healthcare professional. The word teletherapy refers specifically to mental health therapy that is delivered online.
Teletherapy works by offering psychotherapy from the comfort of your own home. While the location is different, the content is exactly the same since this form of therapy relies on conversation. For this reason, teletherapy is known for its convenience and effectiveness for routine sessions, but can it be used to treat complex mental health issues like eating disorders?
How does teletherapy for eating disorders work?
Treatment for eating disorders doesn’t follow one standard schedule. Due to the variety and severity of eating disorders, treatment plans for every individual will look completely unique. Some eating disorders will require hospitalization or inpatient services to start. The nature of these services require intensive in-person care.
Others may start with outpatient care, and this can be delivered virtually. Outpatient services focus on changing thoughts and behaviors and building a new relationship with food. These services rely on psychotherapy, whereas inpatient services usually require medical intervention that can’t be administered through a screen.
Online counseling for eating disorders, either in a group or one-on-one will focus on:
- Understanding the symptoms of eating disorders:
- Figuring out the root cause of the disorder;
- Addressing your own self-perception;
- Building constructive coping skills;
- Discussing triggers;
- Problem solving through real-life scenarios.
Is teletherapy for eating disorders effective?
A 2012 study published in the journal Eating Disorders Review followed 116 patients who were either randomly assigned to enrolled in in-person eating disorder treatment or teletherapy for eating disorders. The study found that treatment outcomes for the two groups were comparable. Moreover, patients did not have a strong preference for either type of therapy, the suitability of treatment or the likelihood of success.
The researchers concluded that the patients were primarily concerned with the fact that they were receiving treatment at all, and where or how they were attending treatment was of less importance. This provides strong support for teletherapy as an effective eating disorder treatment modality.
Another study was conducted in 2017 and published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders. This study focused specifically on family-based treatment for anorexia nervosa and found that teletherapy proved effective in producing satisfactory clinical results and was shown to be a feasible method of service delivery.
While research on online counseling for eating disorders is somewhat limited, these studies demonstrate success when it has been used in the past.
Benefits of teletherapy for eating disorders
Eating disorders are complex mental health disorders and in some cases require in-person care. However, teletherapy can be an effective tool in treating all eating disorders at the outpatient level of care. Here are some of the benefits of online eating disorder treatment.
Eating disorder treatment is a highly specialized area of medicine. It can be hard to find a treatment location within driving distance. Teletherapy eliminates distance barriers since you can attend online sessions from home, even if the physical treatment center is located hours away.
Teletherapy makes it easy for you to access treatment. You just need an electronic device that connects to the internet. Additionally, some online therapists maintain flexible schedules so you can easily fit in a session after normal business hours. Teletherapy is a great option for someone who is unable to take time off of work or school to seek treatment.
Same Quality of Care
Although the platform is different, online counseling for eating disorders offers the same quality of care as in-person treatment. With video chatting capabilities, you can meet with a therapist one-on-one or participate in a group setting. You can also receive nutritional counseling and real-time meal support— all the same services provided at a traditional eating disorder clinic.
When in-person treatment is necessary
While virtual eating disorder teletherapy is a great option in some cases, it’s never the best option when someone’s situation requires immediate mental health and medical intervention. This is especially pertinent for eating disorders where a person is malnourished or underweight.
A residential treatment center or even hospitalization may be necessary if an eating disorder has taken over control in a person’s life. In these cases, an inpatient facility with round-the-clock medical monitoring is the best option for recovery. Virtual services are best utilized after a person’s condition is stabilized. A level of care assessment will let you know the best place to start receiving treatment.
Taking advantage of teletherapy for eating disorders
If you or someone you know is seeking treatment for an eating disorder, teletherapy might be for you. Seeds of Hope . has treatment for adults and eating disorder programs for teens. Call now to set up your first session.