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Eating disorders

Psychology and counselling

Therapeutic services and interventions delivered by an appropriately skilled workforce

What is it?

Psychology and counselling services are generally delivered by allied health professionals such as psychologists, counsellors, social workers and occupational therapists. It focuses on the psychological aspects of an eating disorder and can support you to work towards recovery and address underlying problems.

Psychology can also be referred to as psychotherapy, focused psychological strategies or focused therapeutic interventions.

What can someone expect?

An allied health professional who provides psychology or counselling will often form part of your care team. You can access psychology or counselling alongside other aspects of your treatment for the physical, nutritional and functional aspects of an eating disorder.

Allied health professionals often have different skills and perspectives, and use different psychological strategies to suit your needs and preferences. Providers of psychology and counselling can include:

  • psychologists (registered) and clinical psychologists—focused on evidence-based psychological therapies, developing treatment plans to address issues associated with eating disorders (e.g. body image or weight), undertaking assessments and making a diagnosis
  • social workers (mental health accredited)—focused on identifying and addressing wider social and emotional issues through referrals to services and linking with community resources
  • occupational therapists—focused on developing and maintaining daily living skills in a person’s environments, such as food preparation and consumption or overcoming sensory aversions
  • mental health nurse—focused on supporting you to talk about your experiences, planning and coordinating your treatment, providing information/education and monitoring your progress, often as part of an inpatient or outpatient treatment program
  • counsellors—focused on clarifying problems, exploring options, increasing self-awareness and developing helpful strategies.

Allied health professionals have professional qualifications and should be registered with the appropriate professional body. Not all allied health professionals will have specific training in working with people with eating disorders, so it’s best to confirm this before booking an appointment.

There are a range of evidence-based therapeutic approaches that your provider might use to support you, such as:

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
  • dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)
  • person-centred therapy
  • trauma-informed practice
  • feminist therapy
  • narrative therapy
  • family-based treatment (also known as Maudsley Method).

In addition to psychological therapies and counselling, allied health professionals often provide information and education to help increase your knowledge about eating disorders—this can be called psychoeducation. They can also undertake assessments, develop a recovery plan with you, run group sessions, and provide case coordination/management if you’re accessing services from a range of providers.

Psychology and counselling services can be delivered in primary healthcare settings, as well as through helplines, schools and universities, workplaces, faith communities (e.g. chaplains, pastoral care) and community services.

Some providers will request a referral from your doctor, while others don’t require one.

A referral can influence the funding options available for your treatment. You can talk to the provider about the costs involved and available funding options. These options may include:

  • Medicare—You can claim Medicare rebates for psychological services if you have an Eating Disorder Treatment and Management Plan (EDTMP) or a Mental Health Treatment Plan (MHTP) developed by your doctor. You will generally have to pay in full after each appointment then claim a rebate from Medicare. You will often still have an out-of-pocket cost after receiving a Medicare rebate.
  • Private health insurance—If you have private health insurance, your policy may cover all or part of the cost of accessing psychology and counselling services.
  • NDIS—If you’re an eligible participant in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), your package may include funding for therapeutic supports and/or psychosocial recovery coaching.
  • Queensland Health funding—The statewide Individual Structured Psychological Therapy services delivered by Eating Disorders Queensland (EDQ) offer up to 20 fully funded sessions for eligible clients. This service experiences high demand and has a waitlist.
  • Self-funding—You can generally access psychology and counselling privately if you wish to pay the full cost of the service. This includes situations where you or your provider aren’t eligible for the funding options above or you have used all the funded sessions available to you.

Involving your carer or family members in your treatment can be helpful. Some providers will only offer support directly to the person with an eating disorder while including family members in communications where possible. Other providers offer individual sessions and support to carers and key supports as well, and some providers offer joint sessions, where both you and your carer/key support are actively involved in the session.

Who is this for?

If you’re experiencing an eating disorder and have other support in place (e.g. GP, dietitian), you may be interested in available services and supports for the psychological aspects of an eating disorder.

Psychological therapies may not be effective during a period of being significantly malnourished or medically unstable.

How can someone access it?

Your doctor (e.g. GP, psychiatrist, paediatrician) will often provide a referral for you to access psychological therapy as part of a treatment plan they develop with you. Your doctor may recommend providers they know or allow you to find and select a provider yourself.

There are several online service directories where you can search for health professionals who provide psychology and counselling for people with eating disorders.

EDQ provides psychology and counselling services specifically for people with eating disorders and supports them through a range of funding options including Queensland Health funding, NDIS and Medicare. Contact EDQ’s Care Navigator for information on available services by emailing or calling 07 3844 6055.

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