Questions To Ask Before You Send Your Child to Local Eating Disorder Therapists or an Eating Disorder Treatment Center, by John Levitt, PhD

Questions to ask before you send your child to local eating disorder treatment or an eating disorder treatment center, by John Levitt, PhD-2

If you have a kid with an eating disorder, then you probably have a lot on your plate. Finding the right healthcare providers is critical to helping your child recovery, but it can be challenging to identify which professionals or treatment centers will be most helpful.

Unless it is medically prohibited, it’s a good idea to begin your child’s eating disorder with local resources that allow you to maintain a regular home and school environment for your child during eating disorder treatment. Beginning with your local treatment providers allows you, as a parent, to learn the skills necessary to support recovery at home. These skills are critical to full recovery, because while inpatient centers can treat the symptoms of eating disorders very well, there is a long tail of true recovery. Even if the eating disorder behaviors and symptoms get under control in a few weeks-months, there may be many more months, or even years, required to achieve remission and, ideally, full recovery.

Questions To Ask Your Child’s Eating Disorder Therapist

There are many professionals who are available to guide and support you in helping your child recover from an eating disorder. It is very important, however, to make sure that the professionals you choose are actively trained and experienced in treating eating disorders in particular vs. those that are generalized psychotherapists. While well meaning, general practitioners of psychotherapy may not have the specific knowledge that may be necessary to help your child heal as quickly and completely as possible. Here are just some of the questions to ask therapy providers:

  • How long have you been practicing psychotherapy?
  • What is your licensure?
  • How long have you been treating eating disorders specifically?
  • What has been your eating disorder treatment training?
  • What is your experience treating eating disorders?
  • What is your treatment approach and how does it apply to the treatment of eating disorders?
  • What are your typical treatment outcomes with the eating disorder patients?
  • In your experience, how long does it generally take you to see symptom/behavior recovery?
  • Why do you believe that you can you help my child more effectively than someone else?
  • If you don’t have much experience in eating disorders, who do you consult with?
  • How are you getting training and experience in this field?
  • When you organize therapy, what do you do to organize your approach to treatment? That is, what is your general treatment plan? This goes beyond the form of therapy (CBT, DBT, etc.) this is about having a treatment plan with specific goals toward eating disorder recovery.
  • How are you going to include me, the parent(s), in treatment and recovery?
  • What resources or guidance will you provide me with to optimize the recovery process?

The most important thing for parents to know about these questions is that they should be welcomed and expected by your child’s therapists. Parents are a critical part of eating disorder recovery, and they have both a right and a need to ask meaningful consumer questions about what they can expect from the therapist who is working with their child. Don’t abdicate responsibility for this. Setting up the right therapy for your child makes all the difference in their recovery path.

Questions To Ask Yourself When You Are Considering Sending Your Child to an Eating Disorder Treatment Center

I recommend being judicious about anyone sending their child away from home. Before making the decision to even seek a treatment center, consider these questions:

  • Why do I think my child should be in a treatment program?
    • Is this my idea or a recommendation from the therapist?
    • Has the therapist/parents sought second opinions or consultation on the child’s treatment progress?
  • What makes me think this is the best next step to take?
  • Have I done adequate research into the pros and cons of the treatment centers/programs?
  • Do I have a realistic understanding of what treatment centers/programs can and cannot achieve?
  • If the local therapist isn’t succeeding, does that mean I need a treatment center, or just a different therapist?
  • Has my child’s therapist involved me in my child’s treatment?
    • Do I understand the skills I need to have to help my child heal?
  • Have I followed my child’s therapist’s recommendations regarding changes in the home and in my parenting?
  • What is truly motivating this decision?
    • Frustration? Our child’s well-being? Not knowing what else to do?

Questions to Ask Eating Disorder Treatment Centers

If you believe that an eating disorder treatment center/program is essential to your child’s recovery path, then consider asking the following questions of the treatment center:

  • What is your treatment approach? On what evidence is your treatment approach based? What is the data suggesting the effectiveness of your program?
  • Specifically how do you treat people with my child’s type of eating disorder? What is the general treatment plan/approach?
  • What is the daily schedule, and who specifically will be working with my child?
  • Can I see my child’s clinical team’s credentials and interview them?
  • In addition to the clinical team, who else will be working with my child? What are their credentials?
  • How do you control for the fact that sometimes eating disorder treatment clinics are learning opportunities for how to become better at eating disorder behavior? What control systems do you have in place to avoid this?
  • What is your success rate in terms of full recovery after a person leaves the treatment center? What are your extended outcomes? What is your relapse rate?
  • How do you involve parents in treatment? What are we to do while the child is in treatment?
  • What are we expected to do in order to prepare for our child’s return home?
  • How will you know when what you’re doing with my child isn’t being effective? If such a situation were to arrive, what are the alternatives?
  • How do you ensure that a person who goes through your program is successful beyond the program?
  • How much does treatment typically cost? How much is usually the parent’s share of costs? What happens if we are unable to afford the treatment or continued treatment?

Treatment centers and programs are generally run by very good people who are trying to do very good work; but without parental involvement and ongoing treatment after the child returns home (or leaves the program), the rate of relapse may be quite high. Parents, as consumers of these programs, need to be thoughtful about their reasons behind sending their child to the program and realistic about their expectations. Parents need to remember that they are employing the program/providers to treat their child.

Finally, parents should try to keep in mind that the treatment centers/programs represent a lot of money and a lot of time, and a lot of heartache and concern for one’s child. The parent definitely wants to make sure that they understand what they are getting for their your financial, emotional, and loving investment and commitment.

What I want parents to think about before sending their child to an Eating Disorder Treatment Center, by John Levitt, PhD  A Perspective on Eating Disorder Recovery_ From a therapist who has been in the field for 40+ years, by Dr. John Levitt


Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 9.27.21 PMJohn L Levitt, PhD, CEDS, FAED, FIAEDP, is the coeditor of the book, Self-Harm Behavior and Eating Disorders: Dynamics, Assessment, and Treatment , and was on the Editorial Board of Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention Email: levittj@aol.com Phone: (847) 370-1995

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