This is a very controversial subject in my mind and before I share with you my personal thoughts I want to remind you that I am not a doctor nor professional. I think how I will “answer” this question is to give you a brief look into what I experienced.
I had been struggling with anorexia for about 6 months before I found myself on a plane to my first residential treatment center. This was a blessing and a curse. I loved and hated residential treatment and it helped and hurt me. I loved that I met new friends, realized I wasn’t alone in my struggle, the safety, the structure and the escape from my home life. I hated the rules, certain patients, the weight gain and being away from my parents. It helped me because after 4 months of treatment I was at a healthy weight, I was eating in a completely normal manner and amount, I had more confidence, I felt better about my body image, I had a lot more knowledge about eating disorders and what was expected of me in terms of calories and exercise and I was able to stay out of the hospital and treatment for 3 years after my discharge.
On a darker note, entering residential treatment hurt me too. I can think of two main reasons going to residential treatment was a negative thing for me, but those two reasons are significant. Since it was my first real exposure to eating disorders, many things about the program came as a shock. I learned many new harmful tips and tricks from girls who were struggling that I otherwise would have never been exposed to. I also learned a lot about eating disorders in general, which I just really wasn’t aware of. The second and last way I feel residential treatment hurt me was that I loved it a little too much. Because it was safe and because I met a lot of similar girls who became friends (which I desperately craved), it led me to want to be sick in order to go back to that environment that residential treatment centers can provide. I cried when I entered treatment and I cried when I left.
So this is a hard question for me to answer and I personally believe it is a very individual case basis as to whether this level of care could be beneficial or not. I also believe it greatly depends on how long you’ve struggled with an eating disorder, what other levels of care you have tried and your age. Sometimes I believe that if I had gone to a lower level of care or simply found other ways to regain my health other than being directly exposed to very sick and some experienced eating disorder patients that I might have had a different outcome. Sometimes the less you know the better.
It is my personal opinion that if you are young and have not been exposed to a great deal of eating disorder people and information that you try and recover with residential treatment being a last resort. On the other hand, I know many people who credit residential treatment centers for saving their life. There is a part of me that questions whether I would have gone down the road I did had I not been exposed to residential treatment so early on. Sometimes I believe if I would have just done an outpatient program my eating disorder “life-span” could have been closer to 1 year vs. 10 years. With that being said however, I would not go back and re-do any part of my life because it has made me the person I am today and has given me a strength, passion and insight that I never would have found otherwise.