How CBT Is Used in Eating Disorder Treatment
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How CBT Is Used in Eating Disorder Treatment

CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is an approach used at eating disorder treatment centers that looks at negative thought patterns and behaviors in an effort to change unwanted behaviors. While CBT is used in a wide variety of settings, it is particularly useful when practiced by an eating disorder psychologist working with those who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder. It is a successful therapy when it is implemented correctly and can be a very effective treatment for eating disordered individuals to reach a full recovery. CBT is foundational and provides a strong base on which to grow in recovery from an eating disorder.

CBT and the Focus on Thoughts That Contribute to an Eating Disorder

Thoughts are important, and when negative thoughts about self-image, weight, or appearance begin to manifest, these thoughts can contribute to an eating disorder. Thoughts can become obsessive. For a person who is a perfectionist, paying close attention to detail when studying a course in school can benefit the person greatly. If the same level of attention is given to trying to look “perfect,” this can lead an individual down a dangerous path of an eating disorder. Perfection is generally unattainable, yet the eating disordered self may try to be perfect as a way to feel better about their own self-worth.

CBT takes a look at the thoughts that lead to the negative actions often associated with eating disorders. A client living with an eating disorder can work with a therapist to identify the negative behaviors associated with an eating disorder. Together they will develop strategies to deal with the stress that will come with doing the hard work of trying to change negative behaviors and thought patterns. As the behaviors are identified and eating patterns become more stabilized, it's time to move on to the next phase of treatment.

Changing Thought Patterns as CBT Treatment Progresses

CBT treatment goes in phases. While the first phase is to identify problem behaviors, the next phase is to begin working on changing negative thought patterns. A CBT psychologist might start with one specific statement, "Nobody likes me because I'm unattractive," and begin to work with the individual about changing this way of thinking. A new statement could be, "I feel like no one likes me because of my looks", which would generate a discussion about feelings of self-worth. As the eating disorder treatment center’s staff and the individual work together, the goal is for negative thoughts to be changed into more positive, actionable thoughts that make better sense.

Relapse Prevention in CBT Treatment

It can be difficult to maintain a positive body image and to stay focused on changing thoughts. Once an individual has made positive strides in treatment, it's time to consider relapse prevention strategies. One important goal of relapse prevention is to identify stress triggers and look for ways to reduce these triggers. Learning new ways to cope with stress will help an individual who has an eating disorder and is working to recover. Relapse prevention will involve maintaining progress in areas that haven't been focused on yet.

Treatment for an individual with an eating disorder often takes a multi-dimensional approach, but CBT is generally a significant part of treatment. CBT is helpful when the practitioner is skilled, and it can make a big impact on the life of the individual who needs treatment. CBT can be used in other settings as well as eating disorder treatment, and it is effective treatment for those who struggle with anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions when used correctly. CBT helps to remove negative thinking and promotes a more positive self-image. This treatment gives individuals the tools necessary to fully recover from an eating disorder in order to live a fuller, more rewarding life.