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There are several different types of eating disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), each is categorized under the Disorder Class: Feeding and Eating Disorders. They are serious mental illnesses that are loosely characterized by abnormal, irregular eating habits, and an extreme concern with one’s body weight or shape. The three most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Eating disorders can be debilitating and can adversely affect a person’s emotions, health, and interfere with one’s ability to adequately function in his or her daily life. While eating disorders are life-long conditions, with proper treatment and support, a person can learn to effectively manage its symptoms.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidenced-based psychotherapy approach. It was developed in the late 1980s by Marsha M. Linehan, who was at the time a psychology/ suicide researcher at the University of Washington, as a means to help better treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Since its inception, dialectical behavior therapy has been and continues to be the gold standard method of treatment for individuals diagnosed with BPD. DBT can be effective for individuals of all ages, and although it was originally developed to treat individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, evidence has shown it to be a successful treatment method for individuals struggling with other mental health ailments, including eating disorders.

DBT Breakdown

Dialectical behavior therapy focuses on teaching four behavioral skill modules: core mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotion regulation. DBT is comprised of three different therapy settings, including weekly individual psychotherapy sessions, weekly group DBT skills training therapy sessions, and as-needed phone coaching to provide additional support between weekly individual and group sessions. Every individual is different and will require some form of customized treatment plan when it comes to eating disorders. Therefore, the individual therapy sessions are essential in creating a forum for the client to work on his or her own nuanced issues with one-on-one guidance from his or her clinician. Creating personalized behavioral plans and goals surrounding mindful eating are established in individual therapy sessions. These sessions are beneficial in empowering a client as they help to establish and nurture self-compassion, increase one’s sense of self-worth, and develop a positive self-image. 

DBT skills training group sessions are facilitated by a qualified mental health clinician who will adhere to lessons provided in the DBT curriculum, teach the DBT skills in each module, and facilitate activities to allow the participants to practice implementing the newly learned DBT skills. They can offer a safe environment to connect with other individuals experiencing similar life challenges. Furthermore, they allow individuals in recovery to engage in healthy interpersonal connections, while simultaneously cultivating a support network. Individuals have an opportunity to share their experience as it relates to their personal recovery process as well as offer support and insights to others in the group. DBT promotes acceptance and teaches skills to enable an individual to live in the moment and cope with emotional triggers that may otherwise perpetuate eating disorder symptoms and behaviors. 

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.

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