Strategies for Therapists to Enhance Comfort and Support for Patients with Eating Disorders

  • Home
  • /
  • Blog
  • /
  • Strategies for Therapists to Enhance Comfort and Support for Patients with Eating Disorders
Strategies for Therapists to Support Patients with Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are devastating and often fatal conditions. Patients who suffer from anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and more need the support of their therapists as they work toward recovery. 

According to Down To Earth, people suffering from eating disorders have a mortality risk six times higher than that of the general population. They are also five times more likely to make a suicide attempt.

Anorexia, in particular, has the highest mortality rate among psychiatric illnesses, with roughly 10% of anorexia patients dying within 10 years after the onset of the disorder.

How can you help your clients better cope with their condition? Here are some strategies that will make them feel more comfortable in therapy sessions and at home:

Develop a Strong Therapeutic Alliance

Developing a strong therapeutic alliance with patients with eating disorders is important. A strong therapeutic alliance is one in which the patient feels safe, understood, and supported by their therapist. 

It can be difficult for patients with eating disorders to trust their therapists. It’s up to you as a clinician to make sure that you are doing everything possible for them to feel comfortable opening up about sensitive issues such as body image concerns and disordered eating behaviors.

The easiest way to do this is by asking open-ended questions related specifically geared toward understanding where they’re coming from. Like: what led them down this path? How did their relationship with food change over time? What makes them feel good about themselves now versus then? 

The information you get at these initial stages of treatment will help you better tailor your treatment plan.

Use Non-judgmental Language

To help your patients with eating disorders, you must understand that eating disorders are not a choice.

Your words and actions will have a significant impact on their recovery process. To help ensure that your patients feel comfortable and supported in your therapy sessions, use non-judgmental language. 

Avoid using words like “should” or “must” when discussing food, weight, and exercise habits.

Instead, use more neutral terms such as “can” or “may.” For example, instead of saying, “You need to eat more,” say something like, “What is the best way for you to meet your nutritional needs?

Understanding the Patient’s Unique Needs

1011 Now states that almost 30 million people in the US struggle with eating disorders, which can impact individuals of any age, ethnicity, or gender. Various factors can trigger such disorders, such as anxiety and having a close relative with a similar issue. 

Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder are among the most prevalent eating disorders. In the US, binge eating disorder is the most widespread, affecting 3.5% of women and 2% of men.

Even with the high prevalence of the condition, therapists should be aware of the patient’s unique needs and attitudes about eating disorders. For example, some patients may want to focus on the physical aspects of their illness, while others are more interested in learning about the mental aspect. 

It’s also important for therapists to understand how patients feel about their bodies and what types of coping strategies they use when dealing with challenges related to eating disorders. 

Additionally, it is crucial for therapists who work with people who have anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa (or both) because these conditions often co-occur with depression or anxiety disorders, which can make treatment challenging if not handled properly.

Encourage Self-Compassion

You can help your patients by understanding their unique needs and encouraging self-compassion. Self-compassion refers to being kind and supportive toward yourself, even when you make mistakes or experience failure. It involves:

  • Recognizing that you’re human means you have flaws like everyone else.
  • Being gentle with yourself when things go wrong instead of beating yourself up for it (which only makes things worse).
  • Being kinder than others would be in similar situations (e.g., when someone else fails at something).

Promote Body Positivity

Body positivity is the idea that all bodies are good, healthy, and worthy of love. It’s not about weight or size but rather accepting yourself as you are and being comfortable in your skin.

Therapists can help patients with eating disorders embrace body positivity by encouraging them to:

  • Permit themselves to eat when they’re hungry instead of waiting until they feel “full” or “satisfied.”
  • Honor their hunger signals so they don’t go too long without food or calories (which can lead to binging).
  • Find non-food ways to cope with stressors that don’t involve eating large amounts at one time (e.g., exercising).

Use Evidence-Based Therapies

When working with patients who have eating disorders, it is important to use evidence-based therapies. This means that the therapy has been shown through research and clinical trials to be effective in treating the disorder. 

According to Discover Magazine, Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), and acceptance commitment therapy (ACT) are the most widely recognized treatment methods for eating disorders. 

The various treatment levels available range from outpatient services to intensive outpatient programs, partial hospitalization, residential treatment, and inpatient hospitalization. These programs are tailored to suit each patient’s individual needs based on the severity of their eating disorder.

Therapists need to use these types of therapies because they are effective in helping people recover from their eating disorders.

Foster a Sense of Empowerment

To foster a sense of empowerment in patients with eating disorders, you can:

  • Help them see their current situation as a challenge and an opportunity for growth.
  • Provide support that allows them to experience their value and worthiness as human beings.
  • Encourage them to make choices about their recovery process, such as how much information they want from you or which coping strategies seem most effective for them right now.

Make the Therapy Sessions More Convenient and Smooth with the Use of New Tech

Therapists can help patients by making therapy sessions more convenient, smooth, and affordable. The use of new tech has helped many people with eating disorders access the care they need from home or on the go.

Patients can use apps like Mindfulness Coach or Headspace to learn about relaxation techniques at their own pace. There are also several video chat platforms that therapists can use to connect with patients over video calls, including Zoom and Skype.

These apps allow for more flexibility in scheduling and provide a space where individuals feel comfortable sharing their experiences in detail because there’s no physical presence needed.

In addition, many therapists use mental health billing services for better client service. Mental health billing software can benefit clients in several ways. Firstly, it simplifies the billing process, making it easier for clients to understand their insurance coverage and any out-of-pocket costs. 

This can help reduce stress and anxiety related to the financial aspect of mental healthcare. Additionally, billing software can help ensure accurate and timely claims submissions, which can prevent payment delays and disputes. 

This ultimately allows clients to focus on their mental health treatment and recovery without the added burden of managing complex billing and insurance processes.


We know that eating disorders are complex and difficult to treat. We also know that the best treatment for these conditions is therapy with a professional who understands how to help you overcome your eating disorder. 

The goal of this article has been to provide some tips on how you can make your therapy sessions more comfortable and supportive so that they lead to better outcomes for patients with eating disorders.

About the Author

Jared Levenson is a former binge eating wrestler turned Zen Buddhist Monk, Internal Family Systems counselor and nutrition wellness coach. He's helped hundreds of people through universal meal principles and internal family systems to make peace with food, stop binge eating, and find true health and wholeness.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}