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How To Pick An Effective Eating Disorder Therapist


About a year ago, I was looking for a therapist who specializes in eating disorders for a friend. I researched several professionals online and decided to call each office to speak with them over the phone. I called one office, and like I had with the others, asked the receptionist to speak with the psychologist. I explained that I had a few questions about her treatment practices and would take up several minutes of her time.

The receptionist’s answer? No. I was a bit taken back, so I repeated myself. But, according to the receptionist, the psychologist never speaks over the phone. That’s her policy, and that was that.

I was so turned off by this person and her policy that I’m still irritated. (Within seconds, I crossed her off the list.) Interestingly, the other therapists I contacted were happy to answer my questions and speak with me about their treatment methods.

Maybe you’ve had a similar experience. Or maybe you’re looking for a therapist and have no clue where to start. Or what a good therapist even looks like.

15 Comments to
How To Pick An Effective Eating Disorder Therapist

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  1. Re finding a therapist for eating disorders, a hypothetical question for the Psychcentral universe: Would anyone even consider seeing a very overweight therapist to treat an eating disorder?

    • @ TPG, healthy people come in all shapes and sizes. So someone’s appearance has nothing to do with their effectiveness as a therapist. As I always say, unless it’s in extreme circumstances, you can’t tell someone’s health by their appearance. For instance, when it comes to eating disorders, people who appear to be “normal weight” can have some of the worst health consequences. And, again, when it comes to therapists, their size has nothing to do with their ability to help you recover.

  2. Just my 2 cents but I wouldn’t necessarily limit my selection to PhDs or PsyDs. I know several LCSWs who are outstanding therapists, some with solid continuing eduction training and supervision in effective treatments.

  3. Thanks for this information. I’ve thought about seeing a therapist for a few years, but I’m always hesitant. I’m still not sure if it’s the right path for me, but I appreciate the information and resources you provide. (As an aside, when I clicked on the Google Reader app it had the title of this post shortened to “How To Pick An Effective Eating Disorder”. I was a little worried about you, Margarita, so I was glad when I clicked through and saw the correct title!!)

    • @ Susan, you’re welcome! If you’re not sure, you can always call several therapists and talk to them about your concerns and how they can help. That might help you figure out what you’d like to do.

      Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that was the shortened title. That’s terrible. But I’m glad you know me better than that. 🙂

  4. I loved this article. About six months ago I started seeing a therapist to get my head straight about body image. I lost over 100lbs and went from loving my body to overly criticizing it! It became very consuming (especially since fitness is my life now). I’ve always been a believer in getting a check-up from the head-up so I found someone who is great. This article, while after the fact for me, did confirm that I was lucky enough to find someone right. Thanks!

  5. Another red flag i if the therapist says “but you look great”. Ehhhhhh. Fuggedaboutit!!!

  6. Thank you Margarita for sharing Dr. Ravin’s information. I loved, and shared her post on this and will share your blog as well. Such important information for families trying to find competent therapists for their sick kids (sometimes these “kids” are over 21 but they are still their sick kids).

    I am appalled but not surprised to hear that one of the therapists you called wouldn’t even “waste” her time speaking with you. It is very short sighted and says a lot about that person’s ethics. It gives me an idea to have one of my interns call up all the therapists I have on my referral list and ask these questions. Anyone who won’t talk with my intern gets wiped off the list.

    Becky Henry
    Hope Network, LLC

  7. In response to @TPG- I wouldn’t necessarily refuse to see someone based on their weight. However, I might consider that as part of the whole picture. In college, I once had a professor for a Kinesiology class that was overweight. He began the first class by saying “Don’t misjudge my understanding of the material based on my physical appearance. I can describe how the body uses food- down to the molecular level. However, I hate exercise and love cheeseburgers, so I’m chubby.” I guess a good rule of thumb would be to consider their -understanding- of the recovery process, and their understanding of their own relationship with food or weight (i.e. if they are cognizant of potential transference issues related to their own weight frustrations, or that they aren’t a specialist in nutrition, etc).

    In response to @Asa– I would also add that if they say anything along the lines of “But you don’t *LOOK* like you have an eating disorder!” or “But you’re not that thin”, then -RUN-!!! Run away as fast as you can, and find someone who ‘gets’ it.

  8. I’d no sooner see an overweight therapist for my eating issues than I’d see a golf pro with a terrible slice for my golf issues, or an auto mechanic with a clunker that spits smoke for a car repair issue. I’m not that courageous.

    • @ Cynthia, many healthy people are overweight. Genetics plays a major role in how we look. That’s why you can have two people who eat the same thing and work out the same amount but look very differently. You can rarely tell a person’s health by their weight. Like I said, people can be very thin or normal weight and engage in disordered eating behaviors. And, of course, that type of therapist you don’t want to work with. You’re of course entitled to your own opinion, but judging a person based on their looks isn’t helpful when picking a therapist. That says nothing about their skills.

  9. @Margarita, you’re right…to a point. Not seeing a therapist because she or he is overweight or thin is a bit judgmental.

    That said, I would never see a grossly overweight (say, more than two-and-a-half standard deviations from the norm) or a serious underweight (who is obviously anorexic) therapist for an eating issue.

  10. May 2008, I realized I needed therapy because I was relapsing trying it on my own. I researched, I picked a method I felt would work for me, I researched more, I made contact via email with the therapist and, after several missives, made an appointment.

    My first clue that this was a mistake was when I was going to be late for the appointment so I called in, only to find that he had neglected to even make the appointment we agreed on. I made another appointment for the next day.

    At the appointment, he asked me what I was there for, as if we had not discussed this over several emails. While I was talking, he took a text message on his phone and replied to it as well. Can you guess that I’m not feeling the love at this point?

    After he shut the phone, he turned his full attention on me and there was no therapy involved. Instead, this bully began berating my “excuses” for not dieting and exercising, recommended several books on portion control and told me I just needed more self-control and that he saw himself as a motivator for this. This barely took 10 minutes and I walked out in tears then and there.

    After four years, I still haven’t had the heart to try again. I think I did it the right way and I still ended up with someone who cut me, pardon the pun, down to size.

    • @ LadyWriter, I’m so sorry for your horrible experience! It definitely sounds like you went about it the right way. But there’s nothing wrong with changing therapists. You can do all the necessary research and then when you meet face-to-face realize that you’re just not a good match. And that’s totally OK — and common. If you don’t feel like your concerns are being answered, you can fire your therapist and try a few others. Sometimes, you need to go through a few to find the right therapist for you. I know that sounds much easier said than done. But there are many wonderful therapists out there, and I hope that you give it another try. Again, I can understand your hesitation, but you have the right to “interview” every therapist and never come back if they’re that terrible. You could even relay your first experience to prospective therapists and what you don’t want. Hopefully, you can use that experience to help you figure out what type of therapist you want and help you in your search.


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