“My client has an eating disorder. What do I do next?”
At this point, you may be wondering how to best support a client with an eating disorder.
As clinicians in a helping profession, we know that it’s really difficult for our clients to reach out and ask for support. For instance, making that initial phone call to a therapist or a dietitian is extremely brave. Maybe you are a therapist who doesn’t “specialize” in eating disorders, but you’re finding that you’re seeing more clients who struggle with their relationships with food. In this case, you might feel a little stuck as to what to do next. This blog is for you.
Here are 5 ways to support a client with an eating disorder:
1. Properly Screen
If you’re reading this blog about referring out, that means you must be screening on some level for disordered eating behaviors. That’s awesome! However, if you’re noticing ED symptoms in just a handful of clients (or even 1 or 2 clients), you may be mistaken. In other words, it’s highly possible that more clients are struggling than you think. Therefore, I would recommend to screen most, if not all, clients for eating disorders.
Are you looking for screening tools? If so, read our blog on How Therapists Can Screen for an Eating Disorder and check out our screening tool.
2. Build a Network of Trusted Referrals
When referring a client, you want to of course feel comfortable with who you are sending them to. First, build a network of trusted eating disorder referral sources. It can be small. Even starting with 2 or 3 professionals that you know and trust.
You may be thinking, “How do I find this network?” Here are some resources I would recommend:
HAES Community: Use this to search for local HAES aligned clinicians; many of them also see eating disorders.
International Federation of Eating Disorder Dietitians (IFEDD): You can search for local ED RDs on their treatment finder. Additionally, reach out to the organization directly to find a dietitian in your area. You can even join the group if you’re interested in learning more about treating and advocating for eating disorders.
Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD): This organization can point you or your client in the direction of eating disorder clinicians and support groups in your area.
Also, feel free to reach out to us at Courage to Nourish. If we are licensed in your state, we’d be happy to work with you and your client. If we’re not, we’d be happy to direct you to a local resource.
3. Explain to the Client Why You’re Concerned
Many of those struggling with an ED think they are “fine.” It’s fairly common for clients to minimize. Keep in mind that your client trusts and values your opinion. However, at the same time, they might feel scared to address the eating disorder.
Before addressing your concerns about their disordered eating, I would recommend getting curious about their relationship with food. For example, ask questions about food rules, body image, exercise…etc. Try to determine whether their relationship with food negatively impacts their life.
As you begin to build rapport, you can begin to discuss your concerns with the client and ask if they would be open to talking to an eating disorder dietitian. Next, make a referral to a client offer to connect them via email. For this reason as well, it’s important to have a close network of trusted professionals. With this in mind, you’ll give the client some confidence to reach out because they know you trust the clinician.
Despite having resources and a reliable network, your client might not feel ready or comfortable to reach out right away. That’s okay. Give the client some space to think about your recommendation.
4. Continue to Have Conversations about Working with a Team
As mentioned above, your client might not be ready to reach out right away to a dietitian. In sessions after the initial recommendation, it could be helpful to have conversations about the client’s reservations. Perhaps discussing a pros and cons list. Encourage the client to at least do a “discovery call” with their new treatment team member; it doesn’t mean they have to make an appointment.
Moreover, I would continue to gently remind your client why you’re making the recommendation and encourage them to reach out.
5. Collaborate with the team
Once your client is working with an ED dietitian, it’s time to collaborate! Your insight is extremely valuable. Exchanging regular emails or phone messages to the dietitian on the team can be super helpful.
Want more resources? Check out our Eating Disorder Resources for Providers page. You can download our screening tool and much more. Also, sign up for our client or clinician newsletter!
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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.