Best Practices to Refer Clients to Treatment

by | Dietitian Supervision

Have you ever wondered how to refer clients to treatment? When working with clients in eating disorder recovery, it’s possible that we will need to recommend a higher level of care. As an eating disorder dietitian, recommending residential or other treatment comes with a lot of consideration. We always want to put our clients’ recovery journeys first. As well as their medical safety. 


Read our blog about how to assess for a higher level of care. Then, consider these steps that an eating disorder dietitian would recommend:


Develop a rapport with clients.

When clinicians know that a client needs a higher level of care, we feel the need to let the client know right away. It is important to be clear about treatment with clients. However, it’s also important to understand that this recommendation is very scary to clients. And their families. We need to learn about our clients and develop a relationship with them. Before we jump into making a recommendation. And that goes for any sort of recommendation! Clients and their families simply want to learn and do what’s best. So, if we’re patient in explaining the benefits of treatment (instead of forcing it), then clients will feel more comfortable making a decision. 

Do not threaten or present a final option.

Recommending a higher level of care should never be presented as a final option or a threat. Clients and their families might end up feeling defensive. They may even ignore the recommendation. It’s possible that some will seek out treatment with another provider. You could consider saying something like this: “I am worried about your overall mental and physical health. You have made some progress on an outpatient level, but I think you’d really benefit from a higher level of care. Would it be okay to talk more about treatment?” You can provide the client and family with examples of how/why treatment is helpful. 

Communicate with other members of the team.

An eating disorder treatment team usually consists of an eating disorder specialized dietitian, therapist and doctor. Each member of the treatment team handles different parts of the eating disorder. The dietitian covers the relationship with food and nutrition recovery. The therapist talks about underlying concerns/causes of the eating disorders. Lastly, the physician tracks medical safety. It’s important that all members of the team, including the client and their loved ones, communicate. Each member can provide information to the client and loved ones about why a higher level of care could be a choice to consider. And what the next steps are. 

Discuss options with the family.

Clear and consistent communication is key! Part of our role is to educate clients and loved ones about options. As well as the benefits of treatment options. If a client is new to treatment, they might not understand exactly what it is. Therefore, explaining the process and benefits is helpful. I also explain the waitlist process. I often ask clients in need of a higher level of care to get on a waitlist. When the treatment center has space and if the client is making progress, we can always pass on the open spot. 

Support clients with navigating phone calls and appointments.

Sometimes clients need support with making phone calls and assessments at different treatment centers. I’ve had clients contact treatment centers during a session. I have also encouraged them to sign a release. Then, I can speak directly with the team.

Do research for best options.

There are so many higher level of care options available! Each one has a different speciality. So, it’s a good idea to do some research. Recommend the options to your clients that are the best fit. For example, some treatment centers do well with co-occurring addiction and ED. Others do well with co-occurring trauma and ED. You know your clients’ needs best. By doing some extra research, you can be sure that your client is going to get good care while in treatment. 


Project HEAL

Project HEAL is a nonprofit organization focused on providing fair treatment access for eating disorders. Each of their 4 programs focus on breaking down systemic, healthcare, and financial barriers to eating disorder healing. Each program is listed as follows:

  1. Clinical Assessment
  2. Insurance Navigation
  3. Treatment Placement
  4. Cash Assistance

Project HEAL allows more people to access the eating disorder care that they need and deserve.  (Resource: Apply for support and schedule an evaluation with Project HEAL by following this link


Final Remarks

For more information, contact us at Courage to Nourish today. Our eating disorder dietitian nutritionists are located in College Park, Maryland. and Columbia, Maryland. As well as Alexandria, Virginia. Colorado. and Pennsylvania. Read more about the Courage to Nourish team. We’d love to support you in eating disorder recovery.

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Alex Raymond, RD, LD, CEDRD

Alex Raymond, RD, LD, CEDRD-S

Helping my clients cultivate meaningful connections and interests outside of their eating disorder is a true passion of mine. I like to think my clients and I are on a team to navigate recovery. I love working with high school and college students as well as athletes seeking to have a better relationship with exercise. I am a proud anti-diet dietitian and work with my clients through a Health At Every Size © and intuitive eating framework.

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