How to Become an Eating Disorder Therapist

Overview

The eating disorder therapy career path has become a point of interest for many psychology students in recent years. Eating disorder therapists help individuals avoid maladaptive eating patterns. The primary goal of an eating disorder therapist is to ensure that their counseling encourages patients to partake in healthier eating habits.

Unfortunately, eating disorders are all too common in our society. Although teenage females tend to be the most likely suspects for eating disorders, anyone (including men) can acquire this disorder at any point in their life. As a result, it’s safe to say that eating disorder therapists play a very important role in helping society function and progress forward.

What Does an Eating Disorder Therapist Do?

Eating disorder therapists use a variety of techniques and approaches in order to lessen, or even eliminate, maladaptive behavioral patterns that involve food. Usually, an eating disorder therapist may be asked to treat patients who are experiencing anorexia, bulimia, or morbid obesity. They may be required in conducting family therapy (in order to determine where the patient’s bad eating habits stemmed from).

Some forms of treatment that an eating disorder therapist might use include sensorimotor therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or psychodynamic therapy. Eating disorder therapists generally work with a very diverse group of professionals, ranging from psychiatrists to dieticians. This is so that these professionals can deliver the best possible care for their patients.

Where Does an Eating Disorder Therapist Work?

As an eating disorder therapist, expect to work in either an out-patient (where you go see the patient) or in-patient setting (where the patient comes and sees you). As you become more experienced, you will probably be asked participate in research studies or even work at a research facility. Upon retiring, some eating disorder therapists go on to teach at community colleges and universities.

Related: Becoming an Eating Disorder Psychologist

What are the Requirements to Become an Eating Disorder Therapist?

Education

First and foremost, students need to acquire their basic bachelor’s degree before they can take the steps necessary for becoming an eating disorder therapist. Remember that you’ll need to obtain a minimum of a master’s degree in order to apply for most serious and high-paying positions. Students should study areas like group dynamics, family therapy, personality, body image, and psychoanalytic therapy.

Most experts recommend acquiring a doctoral degree in psychology, as this may drastically increase job outlook upon graduation. In order to increase the chances of getting accepted to the graduate school of your choice, it’s recommended that you take (and pass) both the psychology and general GRE examinations. In order to acquire a doctoral degree for eating disorder counseling, you will need to successfully write and submit a dissertation.

As for the actual application process is concerned regarding graduate school, it will vary from institution to institution. Generally, there are two types of programs that you can choose from counseling psychology. They include: PhD and PsyD. The “PsyD” programs involve much more clinical work, and is generally recommended for pursuing a PhD.

Other programs are considered “straight programs” because you’ll basically be applying directly for a PhD program out of graduate school. Once an individual acquires their Master’s degree, they can once again apply for a PhD program to receive their Doctorate. If you choose the latter, it’s important to join a lab so that you can get some hands-on experience as to what to expect from this career.

Training

In order to pursue a career as an eating disorder therapist, you will be required to partake in, and complete, and clinical internship. This will generally be a supervised internship in which you will be able to work individuals who are suffering from eating disorders. Not only is this a requirement but it’s also a great way to gain experience about the field and develop first-hand knowledge about how people think.

Related: Becoming a Nutritional Therapist

Interns will generally work at low-cost clinics but in other cases, may end up working in state hospitals. Other work experience that you’ll be able to gain includes developing a treatment plan for people who are suffering from an eating disorder, as well as make crucial decisions about how to care for specific patients. You’ll be expected to work with a clinical treatment team as well as attend meetings when necessary. In addition to being directly involved with patients, internships can also use this opportunity to build up their record-keeping skills.

Licensing

The specific licensing requirements associated with becoming an eating disorder therapist will vary from state to state. The International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals provides the certification. However, this certificate may or may not be required to work in the field depending on where you are trying to get employed. Instead, eating disorder therapists will need to meet the same requirements for licensed clinical psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, or licensed professional counselors (this depends on what their educational background is).

What Skills are Required for an Eating Disorder Therapist?

As an eating disorder therapist, you’ll need to be firm, parental, compassionate, and empathetic. Eating disorder therapists need to have a solid understanding about various health boundaries, as well as be experienced in recognizing important clinical modalities. As an eating disorder therapist, you’ll need to have the ability to interpret the behaviors of a patient, as well as understanding the underlying reasons for why they think and behave the way that they do.

Due to the unique nature of their profession, eating disorder therapists should not only maintain a healthy body weight, but also be free from mental health disorders themselves including anxiety, depression, or PSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). In order to become the best eating disorder therapist possible, you’ll need to have good communication skills, be persuasive, and above all, be very patient. This combined skillsets will allow you to find more work as well as treat patients more effectively over the long run.

What is the Salary for an Eating Disorder Therapist?

As of May 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors earned an average salary of $39,270 per year. Counselors employed by junior colleges earned the highest mean salary of $63,860. Keep in mind that as the level of education increased, so did the average salary, indicating that it’s a good idea to acquire a Doctorate degree if provided the opportunity as this will open up many more career opportunities (that are also higher paying).

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