Engagement in Online Eating Disorder Treatment

One significant difference between the pro-eating disorder sites and a pro-recovery online service would be participation.

The people seeking out a community to discuss and facilitate their own eating disorder are caught up in their illness and eager to share and learn more about being sick. Although the purpose is hardly positive, the personal drive to engage on these sites is strong.

But many people go into treatment under duress, and even the most motivated are ambivalent. The inherent nature of recovery will leave most people as reluctant participants at best. Therein lies the biggest problem with online eating disorder treatment: how to get people to join and stay. 

The first place to start is to explore what makes people stick with eating disorder treatment. Eating disorders are all-consuming illnesses that become one's fundamental philosophy of life and, ironically, best friend. Even when that person begins to recognize the sacrifices an eating disorder requires, it's scary and initially unthinkable to let it go.

Accordingly, treatment needs to be very engaging, intense and personal to compete. Therapists need be ready to talk, listen and connect. Discussions around eating disorders and recovery are rarely fun and easy, and any clinician must be ready for meaningful discussions. Therapists need to be real people; therapy relationships need to be genuine.

Similarly, many treatment programs have created a community for recovery even after discharge in order to reinforce and continue recovery. These communities often have their own language, vocabulary and way of interacting to help the person differentiate between the disorder and recovery. The treatment center initiates much of the contact and reminders to keep people invested in their lives and to avoid drifting back into the illness. 

An online treatment model would have to find a virtual replacement for this level of engagement and connection. The purpose of a care liaison is to be sure the person knows someone cares. This endeavor cannot be a money-making venture but a website aimed to help people get well.

In addition, the monitors or facilitators involved in online groups, meal support and forums need to be invested in recovery, real and engaged. An online service doesn't need to create new concepts of eating disorder treatment. It only needs to replicate the model in a new, more available setting. 

Any clinician or program knows that keeping the person in treatment involved and invested is the most crucial step towards recovery. Fortunately, there are many professionals whose job it is to determine what keeps people checking and connected to a website. A small dose of the knowledge of website developers and online marketers would provide the experience needed to point an online eating disorder recovery website in the right direction.

The information is out there to engage people much more directly and regularly than is currently available through more typical eating disorder treatment. And I think the opportunity to create that resource is necessary to provide affordable options for those in recovery. The combination of eating disorder treatment resources with website development and marketing can create a service that can really engage people in a new, available and meaningful way. 

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