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Exercise Therapist

Learn about the Exercise Therapist Career for Eating Disorder Treatment

A growing body of evidence, including a study by Duke University, supports the link between exercise and improvement in mental health (American Psychology Association). Many people can attest to this apparent link, whether it be from the calm they experience while practicing yoga, the euphoria they experience while running, or the pleasure they gain from walking.

Like the general population, people with eating disorders can also improve their mental health through exercise. However, individuals with eating disorders often need guidance to help them determine what exercises are healthy and best for their condition. Exercise therapists provide this guidance, and in combination with mental therapy, can help people gain the self-confidence and body awareness necessary to get well.

The treatment of people with eating disorders is largely based on psychological therapy, which aims to resolve mental issues underpinning the disorder. One component of eating disorder psychological therapy is to foster a healthy relationship between the body and mind of a patient. While traditional talk therapy is effective in developing this relationship, exercise therapy can also be useful.

Exercise therapy can be used as an alternative outlet for expression. An exercise therapist can teach a patient to use movement and exercise to get in touch with emotions relating to their eating disorder. For example, a patient may struggle in talk therapy to verbalize his or her feelings, but through movement or exercise she or he may be able to express these feelings in a physical way, and then feel more comfortable to discuss them with a therapist.

In addition to helping eating disorder patients get in touch with underlying emotions, exercise therapists teach patients how to exercise in a healthy way, and to develop body awareness. Many people with eating disorders have a distorted body image, that is to say, they have a negative opinion of their body appearance even though this negativity is not warranted. For example, someone with anorexia or bulimia may think they are overweight, when they are actually underweight or at a healthy weight.  These distorted opinions can lead people with eating disorders to engage in unhealthy physical exercises, which they believe will allow them to reach their desired level of thinness. 

To help patients resolve distorted body image problems, exercise therapists use movement therapy to teach eating disorder clients to respect and accept their bodies. Exercise therapists help clients determine what exercises they may enjoy, such as walking, hiking, yoga, running, aerobics, or swimming.  They may also design exercise plans, and ask their clients to keep an exercise log. Exercise logs are used to monitor the effectiveness of therapy, and to make adjustments to a client’s exercise plan.

Patients who learn to accept their body types, and to express the negative feelings underpinning their eating disorder, have a higher chance of recovering from their eating disorder.  Therefore, exercise therapists play an important role in helping people with eating disorders to get well, and stay well.  Most exercise therapists have a passion for physical exercise and psychology.  To work as an exercise therapist, a background in physical fitness is preferred, and a degree in movement therapy, or some form of mental therapy, is required.  Many exercise therapists are licensed mental counselors, while other have MA’s in psychology, or other related fields.  

If you have a desire to help people with behavior and emotional disorders through the use of exercise and movement, a career as an exercise therapist may help you to achieve your professional goals.

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