Parents Guide to College Eating Disorders: How to Find the Right Help

You knew when your child came home for the holidays, something wasn’t right.

Their weight wasn’t right. The way they ate (or didn’t eat) your home-cooked meals wasn’t right. And they way they dodged your questions wasn’t right either.

And now you know why. Your child needs help. College eating disorders aren’t to be ignored or wished away. You’ve seen enough talk shows, news stories, and medical websites now to know better than to wait any longer.

Unfortunately, your child is no longer a child. They are a young adult, away from home, and you’re going need to approach this threat differently than you would have a few short years ago.

So. How does a parent find the right help to save their college student’s life?

Take a breath and prepare

How will you find the best and most experienced professionals? How will you afford what it takes to see it all through? Will your child recover quickly or will this be a long journey?

Finding the right help probably feels confusing, daunting, scary. But you can do this. There are viable options out there for college eating disorders. You just don’t  know yet which will meet your child’s needs and work well.   

As a parent, you want the answers now. You want to fix your child’s pain right away. That’s understandable. But first, take a moment to accept what is, educate yourself, and gather personal support. Then you can persistently dig into the process of finding appropriate treatment for your child.

Get started now

What’s the most important thing you can do right away to find your child the help they need?

See that they are evaluated by a professional immediately and are medically cleared by a physician. Early intervention improves the chance of full recovery. Thus, expert evaluation is crucial. Encourage your child to visit an eating disorder treatment specialist who will have other resources on hand. 

Remain diligent in these first steps

While it’s true that college eating disorders are challenging because you can’t force your young adult to seek help, you can do what you can to put a consistent stream of support, advisors, and connections in their path. This way, your child knows that others are aware of their struggle and are willing, without judgment, to provide support.

For your part, stay calm and proactive, shower your child with love and unconditional support. Offer to listen and set up appointments. Simply be there for them as much as you can. Remain vigilant. If you see that the problem is escalating quickly be prepared to suspend tuition and welcome them home to get better.

Finding the right help requires knowing your options

Following your student’s initial evaluation, a treatment recommendation for care will be made. There are five core types of college eating disorder treatment as detailed by the National Eating disorders Association:

  • general outpatient treatment: involves weekly individual psychotherapy, nutrition support, and family or group therapy sessions. Medical stability and a moderate level of motivation are required.
  • intensive outpatient (IOP): involves a few hours of care for several days each week.  Support and some supported meals are provided for medically stable patients. Care includes nutrition instruction, personal therapy, and group work.
  • partial hospital-(aka “day treatment”) involves more daily structure for medically stable clients.  Meals are supervised. Group therapy is mandatory for several hours a day. Partial hospital general acts a slow, transitioning program following residential treatment.
  • residential treatment- involves needing full-time structure and therapeutic support to help arrest eating disorder symptoms. The eating disorder sufferer lives at the facility. Depending on the severity of the situation, patients generally stay between 6 weeks and 3 months. Group therapy, monitored meals, nutrition support, and medication are handled in-house.
  • inpatient hospitalization- involves intense care, usually no more than 3 weeks to stabilize and monitor the patient. Patients suffering from any co-occurring mental health issues or those that pose a risk to themselves may begin treatment with inpatient hospitalization.

 Ask the key questions

It’s important to be as knowledgeable about your therapist and clinician training as you can. Get as clear as possible about treatment offerings before engaging your student or family.  The following questions can be particularly helpful. 

  • Do you specialize in college eating disorder treatment? How long have you treated eating disorders patients?
  • To outpatient providers: How closely do you work with other eating disorder experts and professionals?
  • What is your training? What research models inform your practice?  
  • How successful is your approach to college eating disorders?

Consider the Costs

The costs associated with eating disorder treatment can be a source of worry. It’s important to be as informed and proactive as possible. Which financial considerations apply to you? Your answers will guide how you find the right help.

  • Do you have the resources to cover the cost of treatment without insurance? If so, you may have more options for treatment. Be sure to find out whether you can or should use insurance early in your conversation with treatment providers.
  • Do you have a reliable plan with “out-of-network” benefits? If so, options may be available since you receive reimbursement for a percentage of treatment costs paid “out of pocket.”
  • Does your student have insurance that limits them to a specific network of providers?  If so, obtain a list of “in-network” therapists and eating disorder facilities ensure treatment is covered best.

Don’t give up

Finding the right help can be challenging, but keep the goal in mind.  You are doing a phenomenal thing for your child and your family. Take measures to stay strong mentally and physically. Encourage your student to do the same. Seek support to keep you strong and focused.

College eating disorders are treatable. Stay the course, sound the alarm, and keep searching for help. You can do this. You will find the right people with the right balance of skills and compassion to help your child recover.

f you would like extra support and are are seeking an eating disorder specialist, please contact me here for a free 30-minute consultation to learn about how I can be of service.

To find out more about my services click here: Eating Disorder Treatment

About The Author

April Lyons, MA, LPC is a somatic psychotherapist and currently owns a private practice in Boulder, CO. She specializes in PTSD, eating disorders and bipolar treatment. April is trained in EMDR Therapy, Trauma Informed Care, and is certified as a Eating Disorder Intuitive Therapist. To find out more about April click herePsychotherapy Boulder.

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