Throughout the United States, at least 30 million people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds suffer from eating disorders. And in a city as populous as the Big Apple, there is no doubt that there are countless New Yorkers struggling with the negative effects associated with eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. These severe (and sometimes fatal) conditions can cause significant eating disturbances to individuals affected and also come with the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
Eating disorder treatment typically involves the combination of nutritional intervention and different types of psychotherapy or counseling. Of all the available options for therapeutic treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT) has often emerged as the most effective. CBT can provide a host of benefits for many mental health conditions, including serious eating disorders. Let’s take a closer look at this type of therapy and why it’s often used to treat these conditions.
What is cognitive behavioral therapy?
The American Psychological Association defines cognitive behavioral therapy as a highly-effective form of psychological treatment that is based on several core principles. Those principles include the ideas that psychological problems are partially based on faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking and on unhelpful, learned patterns of behavior. Those who practice CBT believe that those who suffer from psychological problems are fully capable of learning better coping mechanisms that will allow them to find relief for negative symptoms and lead better lives.
In CBT sessions, clients learn how to recognize their faulty thinking patterns and how these patterns influence their problems and their version of reality. It’s the hope that treatment will allow individuals to apply new problem-solving skills to deal with trying situations they face, both during therapy and beyond. Essentially, clients eventually learn how to become their own therapists, taking on assignments to identify their problematic emotions and behaviors and acquiring new and healthy ways to cope.
Among countless experts, CBT is considered to be the gold standard of psychological treatment. Not only is it the most researched form of therapy, but there has also been no other type of therapy that’s been shown to be “systematically superior,” according to recently published research. It’s one of the most recommended forms of therapy for those with depression, anxiety, substance abuse disorders, mental illness, and eating disorders, though just about anyone can benefit from the concepts conveyed in these therapeutic sessions.
Treating eating disorders with CBT
Many people believe that eating disorders are simply caused by the desire to be thin. However, those who struggle with disordered eating are often looking for a way to control their emotional and physical state. What’s more, those with eating disorders have a high likelihood of experiencing “co-occurring” mental health conditions, such as generalized anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, PTSD, and substance abuse disorders.
In other words, it’s not usually enough to provide nutritional training and to focus solely on what’s keeping a particular patient from wanting to eat normally. It’s essential for healthcare providers to ensure that treatment also covers any co-occurring conditions. Otherwise, progress may be short-lived and recovery may be incredibly difficult to obtain.
What’s more, the psychopathology of virtually every type of eating disorder is marked by an obsession with the importance of shape or weight, as well as the personal control one has over either or both of those factors. Unlike those with healthy habits, those who struggle with eating disorders tend to place nearly all of their self-worth on their ability to control how much they weigh or how they look. These faulty, unhelpful, and dangerous thought patterns can often be recognized and changed through CBT treatment.
When individuals pursue treatment for eating disorders through a provider of NYC cognitive therapy, they will often learn more about the factors that allow them to maintain these conditions, as well as the consequences. Many therapists will work with patients to plan and record their meals, track progress made, improve self-esteem, develop new strategies to alleviate disordered eating behaviors, challenge the “rules” the patient has set in place for their eating, and identify relapse prevention strategies. CBT for eating disorder treatment may also involve exposure to foods the client fears, as well as other behavioral experiments.
Because of the special challenges eating disorders can pose, therapists who practice CBT are in a unique position to help patients who are struggling with these disorders. In fact, health guidelines in the United Kingdom recommend CBT as the first treatment for adults with bulimia and list it as one of three potential treatments for adults with anorexia. In addition, studies have found CBT to be one of the most effective options for those experiencing disordered eating behaviors.
Each client is different, and there’s no one form of therapy that’s a guaranteed cure for any mental health condition. That said, New Yorkers who are seeking help for an eating disorder may do well to consider cognitive behavioral therapy as a potential option.