The challenge of attending school while in recovery may have some asking, “school and outpatient treatment: will it work for me?” Good news! It can. If you are interested, there is a way to balance school involvement without giving up on the treatment you need. 

What is Outpatient Treatment?

Outpatient treatment is a combination of services offered to individuals who would like to proceed with eating disorder recovery outside of the confines of a treatment center. For those who are interested and who must work or attend school, having the option of outpatient treatment can be an excellent way for them to still receive the care they need while managing the demands of other obligations. 

Keep in mind that outpatient treatment is typically reserved for those who are both medically and psychiatrically stable. Those considering outpatient treatment while attending school should also keep in mind the pervasiveness of diet culture and the demands of academics. 

The Stress of Academia

Your time in college is supposed to be some of the best days of your adult life! And while that may be true, along with the enjoyment of new friends, experiences, and freedom, the stress of completing assignments and preparing for your next steps in a career are also present. According to The American Insititute of Stress, 3 out of 4 students have experienced overwhelming anxiety at some point during their time at college.

Significant bouts of stress have been found to impact academic achievement, which sometimes leads to a student dropping out. With mental health centers located on most campuses, students have an outlet to help mitigate these impacts. Still, one should also be aware that increased stress is a normal part of the college experience, and having additional difficulties in adjustment can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety and depression. These can, in turn, impact how one handles recovery.

Is Outpatient Treatment Right for Me?

When eating disorder treatment is discussed, it is often done so in the context of inpatient treatment, which provides around the clock care. While the benefits of having on-call interventions are invaluable, they may not fit the needs of everyone, nor should individuals feel “punished” or receive less quality care due to pre-existing obligations. If you have an eating disorder and are interested in participating in outpatient care, consider the following factors:

  1. Can you manage your triggers? Managing triggers are a big part of eating disorder recovery. It’s no secret that on school campuses across the country, students are inundated with information that reinforces the toxicity of diet culture. For example, the Freshman 15 has been a longstanding “tradition” of sorts at colleges, with the expectation that first-year students gain at least 15 pounds in their first year. Foods defined as “healthy” are also in dining halls across campus with gyms and weight loss challenges near and far. One should question whether notions such as these, along with the stress of academics, would trigger them, and if so, what remedies they have to remain focused on their educational and disorder recovery goals.
  2. Your network of social support. Those who are in recovery from eating disorders attribute their success, in part, to the individuals and groups they found to be reliable during the process. If you are a student who would like to remain in classes, ask yourself if you have friends in school who would be around to support your recovery? Do you have individuals you can reach to bear witness with you in the event you are triggered? How reliable do you believe your network of professionals, family, and friends would be based on the type of support/s you need?
  3. What type of recovery services do you need? Inpatient services typically assist individuals whose recovery includes special attention to nutrition, medical needs, and therapy. Those interested in outpatient treatment should weigh the pros and cons of this because nutrition and medical attention are not usually offered. 

If you would like to inquire about possible options for receiving outpatient treatment, contact the Center of Discovery to speak to a recovery specialist today. After all, fall is a great time to start treatment

Joy Cox, PhD is a body justice advocate using her skill set in research and leadership to foster social change through the promotion of fat acceptance, diversity, and inclusion. She currently sits as the Chair for the Association of Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH), and hosts the podcast, Fresh Out the Cocoon which focuses on the lived experiences of Black fat women