Occupational Therapy in the Recovery of Eating Disorders

What is an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational Therapy (OT) is a healthcare role which involves improving individuals’ ability to do everyday activities. They help people with:

  • Disability

  • Someone recovering from an illness or operation

  • Mental health issues

  • Individuals who are getting older

They work with people of all ages and look at the individuals’ work life, school life, and home life.

How does an Occupational Therapist help with eating disorders?

For those who are struggling with an eating disorder, there are many obstacles to engaging in the occupations that will enhance their well-being.

OT focuses on enabling people to increase their abilities and independence in these daily living tasks that may have been lost or diminished during the course of an eating disorder.

Eating disorders can impact an individual’s occupational performance for example, meal preparation and socialisation. Low body weight and malnutrition can affect an individual’s memory, cognition and concentration, making work or study more challenging. This leaves the individual’s quality of life declining.

An Occupational Therapist will work with patients/ clients around meals, managing stress, emotional stress, independent living, self-care, promoting a healthy routine, trying new hobbies, body image improvement, and relapse prevention.

Occupational Therapy can be offered when the individual has had a lot of therapy and would like to try a different approach. A model used in contemporary OT. The Model of Human Occupation (MOHO) is a common theory that is quite often used. It is made up of three components which are:

  • Volition (motivation)

  • Habituation (habits, roles and patterns)

  • Performance skills (communication and interaction, and motor skills)

  • Environment (space, social environment)

The Model of Human Occupation allows you to connect with patients or clients on a deeper level by learning what motivates them and how their lifestyle is.

Study shows that over 80% of Occupational Therapists use the Model of Human Occupation.

What skills are needed?

There are several skills needed for an Occupational Therapist

One of the skills needed is communication skills. This is a crucial skill to have as they will be working with assistants to create plans for patients as well as working with other professionals.

Another skill that is needed is organisational skills. As an OT, they will be given out confidential information like insurance forms, schedules, records and charts, and treatment plans. This is important for schedules and having the information needed for other professionals.

Empathy and patience is a third skill needed. Patients would need more time to adjust to what OT’s are telling them to do. Often, they are affected by medication that they are put on. OT’s need to make sure that they are making their patient feel comfortable and can do things in their own time, without being rushed.

The gap in treatment

However, there are some issues with getting treatments. Treatments are only effective
to people who can access it. Some reasons to why treatment is hard to access is:

Location/ transportation – If you don’t live near a city it can be difficult to find high-quality treatment providers.

Insurance – There is a struggle to get insurance to cover treatments for eating disorders.

Financial cost – Even with high-quality insurance, the cost of treatment can be a heavy burden.

Time – An individual seeking treatment must be able to afford to take time out of their daily life.

Clinical requirements – In order to be admitted, most treatment programs set very specific parameters around factors such as weight, treatment history, food allergies, other medical conditions.

Waiting lists – During busy seasons, an individual may have to wait a month or more to receive urgently needed care

Contributed by Alyssa Daniel