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The Reality of a Residential Eating Disorder Treatment Stay for Adolescents

Many adolescents who need eating disorder treatment, and their families, have a sense of trepidation when it comes to re-enrolling in a residential program.  A residential program disrupts school, activities and social life.  Prospective patients might want to create some kind of cover story for their absence, to avoid their peers and teachers knowing they’re undergoing mental health treatment.

Despite the drawbacks of treatment at a residential facility, it shouldn’t be dismissed. Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa count among the most dangerous disorders known to modern medical science.  Anorexia nervosa, the deadliest, can have a fatality rate of 5 to 10 percent if left untreated.

If you’re a parent of an adolescent who’s showing the signs of an eating disorder, you can’t afford to let natural reservations about entering a facility hinder your decision.  Instead, you should try to debunk the fears that could be holding your teen back from getting help for eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia nervosa, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), or others.  Residential treatment doesn’t have to be frightening; here are a few reasons why:

1. It’s More Like a Home Than a Hospital

When most people picture a mental health facility, even one that’s specialized for eating disorders, they tend to imagine a sterile, hospital-like facility, that might even have guards or barred windows.  This One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, a modern residential eating disorder facility will be designed to provide as comfortable and warm a setting as possible to facilitate a sense of safety and ease during recovery.

The grounds are usually in a location of natural beauty, with available outdoor areas perfect for hikes or beach days.  Whether alone or with roommates, the bedrooms should be well-appointed and comfortable, and the facility should include full kitchens and pantries to encourage cooking and eating – essential for a full recovery from an eating disorder.  When researching a residential center near you, make sure to get a virtual tour or arrange to go in person.

2. Keeping Up With School Won’t Be a Problem

TO be fair, this might be a parent’s concern more than a teenager’s.  Residential treatment programs normally start at 30 days, and often go to 90 days more in severe cases, and continued therapy on an outpatient basis may go on for years.  During that time, teens’ schoolwork can suffer, or they may even get left behind.

The good news is that most residential eating disorder centers will have made some kind of accommodation for academic upkeep. These might include standardized curricula and regular classes.  At the top, adolescent-centric facilities, the education programs are more complete.  Students getting treatment for eating disorders at one of these centers can expect regular, even daily, classes with licensed teachers, and coordination with their schools and teachers to keep themselves on track.

3. It’s Not All Classes and Therapy

OK, let’s be honest – so far it sounds like a bit of a grind; nothing but classes and therapy. Even though eating disorder treatment can save people’s live, they have to do something else over the course of 30 to 90 days.  For that reason, several forward-thinking centers introduce “life-enhancing activities” as part of the program.   These activities include both external excursions or activities within the facility itself.

These might include museum trips, nature walks, beach trips, or even something as simple yet applicable as cooking classes or grocery shopping.  It’s great practice for “life after treatment.”  Within the center, there could be movie nights, music therapy, dance classes, and a variety of art and drawing classes.

Don’t Hesitate – This Is the Most Important Step You’ll Take

If your child needs help with an eating disorder, you can’t let anything get in the way of early intervention.  Hopefully, the points we’ve discussed above can help alleviate some of the common fears teenagers have about going to a residential treatment center. Of course, some nervousness is natural, but the health risks and long-term consequences of an untreated eating disorder can’t be glossed over.  Talk to your son or daughter today if there’s a problem – and get them started on a better life without disordered behavior.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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CARRIE HUNNICUTTWith 20 years of behavioral health business development experience, Carrie combines world-class marketing, media, public relations, outreach and business development with a deep understanding of client care and treatment. Her contributions to the world of behavioral health business development – and particularly eating disorder treatment  – go beyond simple marketing; she has actively developed leaders for her organizations and for the industry at large.

Photo by Hemanth Nirujogi from Pexels

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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1 thoughts on “The Reality of a Residential Eating Disorder Treatment Stay for Adolescents

  1. Franklin White says:

    I’m glad that modern eating disorder facilities are made to be as comfortable and as warm as possible to help patients with recovery. I think a lot of people just assume these facilities are creepy and don’t actually help people. I wish movies would stop making these facilities look so bad and instead would show how they actually help people.

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