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Occupational Therapy for eating disorder treatment

Updated: Apr 19

Across our leading eating disorder clinics and hospitals in the UK, Schoen Clinic provides an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to eating disorder treatment and Occupational Therapy is a key part of this approach.

In this way, we can respond to and meet the physical, psychological and social needs of each individual patient. Read on to find out how Occupational Therapy plays an integral part in the recovery process. Please feel free to contact our team today if you need support.

two friends discussing something while sat in a school library

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy is concerned with the activities, or occupations which we engage in during everyday life.

Our occupations are divided into three groups:

  • Self-care

  • Productivity

  • Leisure activities.

Occupational therapists look at how people manage in these three areas of occupation. They support people to explore how their motivation, habits and skills have an impact on their day-to-day activities within their home and social life.

The occupational therapist will support an individual in identifying the barriers to a healthy and balanced lifestyle to identify and work on positive changes.

The occupational therapist will educate individuals on the importance of the balance between self-care, productivity and leisure activities, which is important for our overall wellbeing.


Why is occupational therapy helpful in the treatment of eating disorders?

Occupational therapy is a well-established, practical approach to helping people with a wide range of difficulties, including those with learning disabilities and physical and mental health challenges.

Occupational therapy is considered to be very valuable as part of an integrated eating disorders treatment programme. People with an eating disorder are likely to have a marked imbalance in their daily activities.

To take leisure activities as an example, a young person who has anorexia may over-exercise very excessively, rather than take part in exercise as an enjoyable leisure activity.

The young person will not engage in regular, enjoyable leisure activities, such as going out for a meal with friends, because of the impact of their eating disorder.

Occupational therapy, in combination with other therapeutic approaches, provides a way of helping the individual to rebalance their activities into a more healthy and balanced pattern.

It harnesses the motivation of each individual and helps them to develop the skills needed to live a more balanced life.


Occupational therapy at Schoen Clinic

Occupational therapy activities during eating disorder treatment can vary, this image shows an outdoor book club as an example

“Group activities within the community help young people to build their social skills and confidence in a safe and supportive environment. These activities are designed to help in their transition back to their local community and social life.” - Janet Tighe, senior occupational therapist, Schoen Clinic Newbridge.

When an individual arrives at Schoen Clinic for eating disorder treatment, they will meet the Occupational Therapist and discuss their daily routine and interests with them. The aim is to integrate each person’s interests and daily routine into their activities throughout treatment. The Occupational Therapist will build up an understanding of what they enjoy and their motivation.

For example, they may enjoy spending time with their friends but regret not being able to join them when social activities involve food. Occupational Therapy provides a way of building on motivation and providing the individual with new skills to help achieve a better balance of activities.

Occupational Therapists run and contribute to a range of groups, covering lifestyle rebalance, social skills and art-based groups.


What do occupational therapy groups involve?

The leisure group provides an opportunity for each patient to return to physical activity gently, whilst building confidence in accessing the local community. They are encouraged to consider the difference between appropriate and excessive exercise and enable a balanced range of activity. Activities vary regularly but include badminton, table tennis, rounders, swimming and tennis within the local community.

The social eating group is used to facilitate a graded approach to eating snacks, progressing to meals out in the community. The group uses the experience of outings into the community, for example visiting cafes, parks and shopping centres, to enable each individual to adjust and adapt to eating away from Schoen Clinic. Progress is made incrementally, reflecting the needs of each individual and the stage they have reached. A meal out is a goal which will be achieved very gradually, taking account of the individual’s progress in the treatment programme and individual needs.

  • An older individual, or someone who will go on to independent living at university, for example, will progress to focus on life skills training around meal planning, shopping and cooking skills, in preparation for life after discharge.

  • A younger person, who may be returning home to live with their parents and will not be responsible for day-to-day cooking, will focus on different life skills.

When working with younger people, our Occupational Therapists will work closely with parents to ensure they can provide support to sustain their lifestyle changes after discharge.

The creative art groups provides a creative outlet for individuals, an opportunity for distraction and a means to develop interests and hobbies. In addition, it can be used by the therapist as a method of assessment of areas such as motivation, communication and interaction.

Our facilities enable Occupational Therapists to work to maximum benefit. Schoen Clinic Newbridge, Schoen Clinic Chelsea and Schoen Clinic York have occupational therapy kitchens, enabling patients to cook and eat meals as they would do at home and a large craft and activity area.

How do you qualify as an Occupational Therapist?

To qualify as an occupational therapist, it is necessary to study for a three-year degree. During this time, students will undertake a range of placements in healthcare, adding up to 30 weeks of practical experience. Occupational therapists are trained in both physical and mental healthcare.

If you're interested in a rewarding career at Schoen Clinic, visit our careers page today to find out more.

Please reach out to our caring team at Schoen Clinic if you need support for yourself or a loved one. Our specialists in London, Birmingham and York offer highly specialised treatments for children, teens and adults.

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