Outpatient Treatment for Your Teenager: Helpful Insight and Advice

Contributor: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC, President, Founder at Eating Disorder Hope

dandelion-54314_640Let’s face it, many of us look back on our teenage years as painful, awkward and confusing where just surviving the agony of adolescence was more than enough to deal with.

So, imagine dealing with all that angst coupled with a debilitating eating disorder that robs you of vitality, health and even a desire to live? More importantly, where do you even begin to find help for your child?

The Demographics of Eating Disorders in Teens

We know that 2.7 % of teenagers are struggling with anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder today {1}. In real numbers, that equates to 27 students at the local 1000 student Jr. High School.

Break it down further, and 10 of those 27 students will be struggling with anorexia nervosa {2}. Anorexia is all around us: our kids, their friends, fellow athletes, club members and neighbors may be dealing with this issue without many of us realizing that they are engaged in a life and death struggle with this disease.

The Factors that Prevent Treatment

Sadly, only about one third of those embroiled in anorexia, hence a battle with their bodies, weight and food will receive treatment {3}. This is due to multiple factors, but a few of the more common ones are:

  • Teenagers may hide their weight loss by baggy and loose clothing (though not all that struggle with anorexia appear emaciated)
  • Busy lifestyles may allow the teenager to hide their food restriction or excessive dieting behaviors
  • Friends, coaches and teachers may not be aware of common signs of anorexia and fail to recognize or reach out to the sufferer with support and help

Fear in Parents

beach-500588_640Anorexia strikes fear in parents as they imagine or actually witness their child increasingly restrict their eating, lose weight and often become emaciated. They may also be pained to experience their child’s abandonment of once loved activities, hobbies and friendships.

Tensions may mount as various efforts are made by the family to get their loved one to eat. Frustration, resentment and fear may stranglehold the family in the face of this intimidating and life threatening disease. Now what?

Getting Help from a Therapist

You realize that you need professional help with this situation, and the decision is made to get outside help. Let’s find an expert and turn this thing around! The best starting place is a therapist who specializes in treating eating disorders. This therapist can assist you in:

  • Assessing the severity of the condition
  • Suggesting the appropriate level of care
  • Recommending a nutritionist, physician, psychiatrist and other treatment team members
  • Provide support for the parents and siblings, in addition to the sufferer.

A Team Approach

If the therapist advises that outpatient treatment is an option, he or she will likely suggest a team approach for the teenager. This will involve working with a nutritionist and physician, in addition to the therapist.

Depending on the health of the sufferer, a psychiatrist and / or cardiologist may also be included in the eating disorder treatment team.

Ideally, the three professional will communicate regularly about the care of your child and work closely with the family. There may likely be family therapy involved, too.

The Time Commitment

early-morning-299735_640Typically, the teenager will meet one to two times a week with the therapist, one time a week with the nutritionist and as needed with the physician, psychiatrist or cardiologist. This takes a large commitment of family resources for an extended period of time.

However, the sacrifice can mean the difference between an ongoing protracted battle with anorexia or a successful early intervention and a hopeful prognosis.

The Cost

Cost is going to be a challenge for most families. We are all careful with our hard earned dollars and the fees for the various eating disorder specialists can add up quickly and substantially.

Those of us in the field are acutely aware of this challenge and most do our best to offer services at reasonable fees or even on a sliding scale for those with tight budgets. Even with that help though, it makes a lot of sense to maximize your insurance coverage.

Getting Help with Insurance

If finances are a concern, it is wise to contact your insurance company as you begin the exploration for a treatment team. They will likely be able to give you local names and numbers of providers that are covered under your insurance benefits.

Armed with those resources, it is wise to speak with each potential provider and find the best fit for your loved one. Once the provider is found, you will want to schedule an appointment immediately as it is important to determine the severity of the anorexia and access all appropriate medical care necessary.

castle-442545_640If you do not have insurance, it is a good idea to talk to your local county health association about any potential help they can offer.

Additionally, there are organizations that provide scholarships and help to those suffering from anorexia without the means to pay for treatment. Two of these to consider are the Manna Fund and The Kirsten Haglund Fund.

It may take some time, years possibly, but the possibility of real and lasting recovery is far more likely if you act on your concerns right away and find the support and care for your child to flourish.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What is your experience with obtaining outpatient treatment for your teenager? Choosing a treatment center? Following up with insurance?


  1. The National Institute of Mental Health: Eating Disorders: Facts About Eating Disorders and the Search for Solutions. Pub No. 01-4901. Accessed Feb. 2002.http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/nedspdisorder.cfm.)
  2. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from http://www.anred.com/stats.html
  3. Hoek and van Hoeken,2003. Review of the prevalence and incidence of eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 386-396.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 31st, 2014
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com