How to Become an Eating Disorder Therapist

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Eating disorder therapists are licensed mental health professionals who use techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of psychotherapy to help clients overcome unhealthy eating habits.

As an eating disorder therapist you will counsel individuals struggling with behaviors that may range from eating too much, too little, purging and bulimia, anorexia, unnecessary fasting and obesity.

Some eating disorder therapists are also registered dietitians who specialize in nutrition and help their clients craft meal plans that aid in the treatment of eating disorders.

how to become an eating disorder therapist

In the United States it is estimated that 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives, according to the National Eating Disorder Association.  The statistics for women are much higher because of societal pressures that include a constant barrage of “ideal beauty” images on television, in fashion magazines and commercials and printed advertisements. Anorexia, for instance, is the third-most chronic illness facing adolescents. As many as 60 percent of all high school girls are dieting whether or not they need to be

Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights. Statistics show eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders, behind only by opioid addiction.

As an eating disorder therapist you can be instrumental in saving lives, improving the quality of life for your clients and helping them create positive body images of themselves while developing healthy eating habits.

Due to the prevalence of eating disorders, there is high demand for therapists in the field. The job outlook produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that employment opportunities for behavioral therapists will increase 22 percent over the next 8 years, much faster than the average rate for all occupations. Read on to learn how you can train and become certified to make an above-average income as an eating disorder therapist.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • How much money you can make as an eating disorder therapist
  • The required training and certifications
  • Professional groups to join
  • Employment opportunities for an eating disorder therapist
  • Finding clients
  • Plus helpful tips

How much money can you make?

The average annual salary for an eating disorder therapist in the United States is $88,349. A six-figure income is possible, although that usually requires 7-10 years of experience and running a private practice.

Training and Certification

The first step is to complete a bachelor’s degree, typically in psychology or social work. Most states now require therapists to hold a master’s degree as part of the licensing requirements.

There is one nationally recognized organization offering certification for eating disorder specialists. The International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals  offers a number of certifications for different specializations. Therapists must complete 2,500 hours of supervised patient care and a 1,500-word case study to earn the Certified Eating Disorders Specialist (CEDS) credential, as well as passing these online courses and an exam for each:

  • Types of eating disorders
  • Medical treatments for eating disorders
  • Nutrition therapy for eating disorders
  • Therapeutic treatments for eating disorders

You can review the complete syllabus for each course here.

training and certification for eating disorder therapist

Each course costs $125 (or $100 if you join the association). There’s also an application processing fee, and you’ll need a supervisor’s written confirmation that you’ve completed the required training hours.

Stay in touch with your favorite professors and maintain professional relations with employers, because you’ll also need three letters of recommendation to complete the application for certification.

While it might seem like a lot of effort, certification is the proven way to validate your expertise both with future employers and prospective clients.

What you’ll learn:

  • Abnormal psychology
  • Body image
  • Clinical psychology methods
  • Family therapy
  • Personality disorders
  • Psychoanalytic therapy

Professional Groups to Join

The International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals (iaedp) is currently the only organization dedicated to the advancement of this therapy profession. Benefits of joining include ongoing education opportunities, networking with other professionals, and a listing on the association’s online directory (so clients can find you). The association also maintains a jobs board, regular webinars for professional development and a bi-monthly journal. An individual membership is $200 per year. A clinical practice can buy a membership for $1,500 annually.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders. Joining this association can help you find clients and stay current in trends affecting the therapy profession.


Eating disorder therapists can find employment at clinical therapy centers, public health departments, school systems and private practice partnerships, in which a group of therapists share business expenses and the profits.

employment as eating disorder therapist

The advantage of being a salaried employee, especially when you’re just starting your career, is there is little to no overhead. You don’t have to pay for office space, assistants to help with record keeping (unless you’re willing to do it yourself), utilities, furniture and everything else that comes with running your own business. As an employee, your liability insurance is also usually covered by your employer.

Eating disorder therapists can also find opportunities in the local social services department and child services. Non-profit organizations and hospitals are other possibilities.

Use your membership in professional groups to connect with other clinical therapists and ask about job openings in their area. Keep in mind that if you move to another state you’ll need to be licensed as a clinical therapist by that state in order to practice.

Job search sites like Indeed, ZipRecruiter and SimplyHired will also yield job openings. Just keep in mind that moving to another state will require a new state license to practice.

Finding Clients

As you start a private practice, suddenly it becomes necessary to learn how to market yourself as well as take care of clients.

Let other professionals in the community know that you are available for referrals. Doctors and clergy who are aware of your private practice and know you personally are more likely to recommend your services for new clients.

finding clients as a eating disorder therapist

If your professional memberships include a listing in online directories, be sure to sign up. Organizations often maintain a searchable web page of members so potential clients can find you.

Your website should include the business name, address, city and state and phone number on every page, easily visible at the top. This helps search engines recognize your website as a match for people looking for a therapist in your specific city.

The content on your website should include your services and what clients can expect from therapy. You should also highlight your achievements and education, but most of your content should focus on how your services benefit clients. 

clients as eating order therapist

Eventually you’ll need to decide whether to accept insurance. Taking insurance payments can broaden your client base, but the insurance companies may offer a lower amount than you’d prefer to be charging. Keep in mind there’s paperwork, follow-up on payments and additional record keeping as well.

The advantage of taking direct payment from clients is you are paid immediately. Clients who are paying for therapy services out of their own pockets may also be more committed in their treatment.

Good to know:

Success as an eating disorder therapist may depend as much on your outlook and attitude as your training and skill. It’s a challenging profession with success rates that show mixed results. This is not intended as discouragement, but as information to be aware of. Your dedication is what will make the difference in professional success.

The statistics for eating-disorder recovery can seem grim. Published recovery rates based on scientific research vary widely, but may be as low as 20 percent for some eating disorders. Only 60 percent of patients with anorexia, for example, make a full recovery. These numbers are based on studies that only track patients who pursued therapy. Up to 20 percent of people with eating disorders will die without treatment. That can be a daunting reality when your professional goal is to help people. But help them you will, and those who recover become testimonials to your hard work and perseverance. Professionals with years of experience in this field say the work is challenging, but meeting the challenge is also what makes being an eating disorder therapist so rewarding.

If you enjoyed this article, check out some more great content that can help you grow your career as an eating disorder therapist. Here’s a great place to start.

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