Issue 43 | Eating Disorders Training

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NEDC e-Bulletin

Issue 43

Editor’s Note:

Welcome to the forty-third edition of the NEDC e-Bulletin. Research shows that health professionals feel training and development opportunities in the field of eating disorders are limited. This month we explore the scope of eating disorders training in Australia, give insight into recent NEDC regional forums and provide information on upcoming professional development opportunities for those looking to develop their skills in supporting individuals with eating disorders.

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  1. The Scope: Eating Disorders Training and Professional Development in Australia
  2. Snapshot: NEDC Regional Forums

The Scope: Eating Disorders Training and Professional Development in Australia

For early intervention and timely treatment to occur, it is essential that professionals working with those at high risk of eating disorders proactively identify symptoms and engage people in help seeking. However, a review conducted by the NEDC in 2013 showed that 97% of general clinicians interviewed had little or no sufficient training in the field of eating disorders (NEDC, 2013). This may be due to the fact that in Australia, eating disorders are not included, or sufficiently included, in undergraduate qualifications to enable health professionals to confidently treat patients with an eating disorder (The Butterfly Foundation, 2015, p.9). Such findings raise an important question - What eating disorders specific training is available for Australian Health Professionals and how could we further develop a national approach to this?

Tertiary Education and Continuing Professional Development

Research indicates that professionals lack confidence in treating eating disorders and findings highlight an urgent need for increased training in screening, diagnosis, referral and early treatment of eating disorders (Hay, Darby & Mond, 2007; Brownlow, Maguire, O’Dell, Dias-da-Costa, Touyz & Russell, 2015). Currently, eating disorders education within Australian Universities is limited and appears to rely heavily on particular research interests of University faculties (NEDC, 2013; Wallace & Ransom, 2012). In addition to this, ongoing eating disorders training for health professionals is currently disseminated through state and national organisations. Access to such training is at the discretion of employers and is often voluntary participation, rather than mandatory (NEDC, 2013). Further barriers include cost, time availability and location of training. Such challenges in accessing specific training, may support the finding that although there has been a significant increase in eating disorders presentations, approximately 50% of health professionals reported receiving no formal training in 2013 (NEDC, 2013, p.7). A particular Australian study revealed that many professionals found eating disorders difficult and time consuming to treat (Hay, Darby & Mond, 2007). There was also a view by professionals that they had to specialise in eating disorders to provide effective support (Hay, Darby & Mond, 2007; Walker & Lloyd, 2011).
In response to this need and the potential barriers, Brownlow et al. (2015) evaluated the effectiveness of an online eating disorders module developed for health professionals in Australia. The study showed that after the completion of the online program, professionals reported a significant increase in their confidence and clinical skills in assessing and treating eating disorders (Brownlow et al., 2015). A reduction in stigmatised beliefs towards eating disorders was also noted.
The recurrent themes of lack of confidence, stigma and limited training highlight the need for eating disorders education to be included in Tertiary Education and Continuing Professional Development. This would increase the knowledge of all health professionals, enabling a collaborative approach to diagnosis and early treatment of eating disorders.

Competency Standards

The implementation of core competencies for health professionals is a national priority to effectively address eating disorders. This is consistent with the Fourth National Mental Health Plan, which encourages a streamlined National Mental Health Workforce (Priority Area 4, Fourth National Mental Health Plan, 2009). At present, in Australia, there are no defined competency standards for professionals who treat eating disorders (NEDC, 2013, p.83). Implementing practice standards will promote a coordinated and consistent approach to professional development and service improvement (Australian Government Department of Health, 2013). Williams and Haverkamp (2010) argue that given the serious nature of eating disorders, clinicians who practice beyond their level of competence may actually do so at the client’s physical, mental and emotional detriment. A Delphi Study, focusing on current literature and participant input, identified five key competency domains for meeting a minimum level of psychotherapeutic competence in treating eating disorders - knowledge and skills, interdisciplinary teamwork, specialised therapeutic relationship skills, professional responsibility and therapist characteristics (Williams & Haverkamp, 2010, p.105). Self-assessment through systematic criteria was also deemed valuable in identifying and developing professional competence. The Butterfly Foundation (2015) acknowledge the potential financial benefit of standardised practice through proposing that an adoption of best practice approaches to eating disorders early identification and treatment would contribute to productivity benefits and other gains to the economy of around $15.1 billion (NPV) by increasing rates of sustained recovery and reducing the need for intensive and recurrent treatment’ (pp. 12 – 13)
The Fifth National Mental Health Plan is currently in development by the Commonwealth Government and due to be released in the coming year. This document will highlight the future direction for mental health and may reinforce core competencies as a priority in the field of eating disorders. The development of competency standards would establish a skilled workforce and streamline the treatment of eating disorders to ensure a consistent, evidence-based approach.


Extensive research shows that effective treatment of eating disorders requires a multidisciplinary team (Hay et al., 2015; De Jesse & Zelman, 2015). In light of this, there is an increased need for peak bodies and professional disciplines to openly communicate and attend cohesive training in order to streamline research, knowledge and treatment approaches (Fourth National Mental Health Plan, 2009, p.32). De Jesse & Zelman (2015) explored the professional relationship between mental health providers and nutritionists and found that despite both having similar projected client outcomes, their collaboration is often challenged due to different training and treatment philosophies. Professional disputes commonly result in broken professional relationships, consequently jeopardising effective treatment of clients. In order to overcome such challenges, two possible approaches have been identified – implementing mandatory training in professional communication, negotiation and collaboration and inter-professional training, where conjoint training sessions are held for students and professionals within different disciplines (De Jesse & Zelman, 2015). The proposed strategies would ensure a collaborative and consistent approach to early intervention and treatment of eating disorders.

As seen, the current scope of professional development opportunities for health professionals in Australia is limited and presents many challenges. The implementation of mandatory tertiary education and CPD, the development of core competencies and collaboration between professional bodies, would allow professionals to be equipped with adequate knowledge, skills and critical thinking to proactively engage in eating disorders training. A competent and subsequently confident workforce would result in a consistent, national and evidence-based approach to the treatment of eating disorders.


Australian Government Department of Health. (2013). National practice standards for the mental health workforce, 1–26.

Brownlow, R. S., Maguire, S., Dell, A. O., Dias-da-costa, C., Touyz, S., & Russell, J. (2015). Evaluation of an online training program in eating disorders for health professionals in Australia. Journal of Eating Disorders, 1–6.

Butterfly Report. (2015). Investing in Need - Cost-effective interventions for Eating Disorders, 1–74.

Commonwealth of Australia. (2014). Fourth National Mental Health Plan - An agenda for collaborative government action in mental health 2009-2014.

Dejesse, L. D., & Zelman, D. C. (2013). Promoting Optimal Collaboration Between Mental Health Providers and Nutritionists in the Treatment of Eating Disorders. Eating Disorders : The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 21(3), 37–41.

Hay, P., Chinn, D., Forbes, D., Madden, S., Newton, R., Sugenor, L., … Ward, W. (2014). Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of eating disorders. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 48(11), 977–1008.

Hay, P., Darby, A., & Mond, J. (2007). Knowledge and beliefs about bulimia nervosa and its treatment: A comparative study of three disciplines. Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings, 14(1), 59–68.

National Eating Disorders Collaboration. (2013). Gap Analysis: A Nationally Consistent Approach to Eating Disorders.

Walker, S., & Lloyd, C. A. (2011). Barriers and attitudes health professionals working in eating disorders experience. International Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation, 18(7), 383–391.

Wallace, L. M., & Ranson, K. M. Von. (2012). Behaviour Research and Therapy Perceptions and use of empirically-supported psychotherapies among eating disorder professionals. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 50(3), 215–222.

Williams, M., & Haverkamp, B. E. (2010). Identifying critical competencies for psychotherapeutic practice with eating disordered clients: a Delphi study. Eating Disorders, 18(2), 91–109.

Snapshot: NEDC Regional Forums

The NEDC have been extremely busy travelling around Australia, providing free professional development forums in regional areas. During the 2015- 2016 financial year, the NEDC have delivered 11 multi-sessional regional forums in a variety of physical locations and multiple virtual environments to a broad audience including primary health care professionals, psychologists and social workers, GPs, allied health workers and health administrators in both public and private settings, as well as education professionals, community workers and others involved in mental health service delivery. Approximately 33% of regional forum participants were directly involved in education settings, including teachers, school counsellors, principals, welfare and pastoral care, sporting coaches and nurses.

Our forums often engage eating disorders services or specialists to deliver training and/ or presentations. Recent forums have included EDOS, CEDD, CEED, CCI, WAEDOCS, as well as Dr Elizabeth Rieger, Associate Professor and Clinical Psychologist in the Research School of Psychology at the Australian National University and Dr Lisa Miller, Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Perth, and Head of Clinical Services, Western Australia Eating Disorders Outreach & Consultation Service (WAEDOCS). In order to meet the needs of the particular regional communities visited, forums delivered in the past year focused on:

  • Introduction to Eating Disorders for Health Professionals
  • Introduction to Eating Disorders for School Professionals
  • Introduction to Eating Disorders for School Counsellors and Guidance Officers
  • GP Eating Disorders Information Evenings
  • Community-based and Integrated approaches to Eating Disorders
  • Professional Health and Education Network Opportunities

In last 12 months, NEDC Regional Forums were delivered:
• In every State and Territory
• In over 50 sessions
• To approximately 1000 participants

Fun Fact

Over 40,000+ kms transited in rolling out the regional forums

So where have we gone?

Below is a snapshot of recent forum locations and participants:

Ballarat (VIC): focusing specifically on those engaging with young people through school networks and Ballarat Headspace; 57 professionals attended across 4 sessions.

Alice Springs (NT): focusing on a broad range of services from school professionals and mental health clinicians to GPs and Centrelink staff; 62 people attended across 5 sessions.

Canberra (ACT): focusing specifically on those engaging with young people through school networks; 110 people attended across 3 sessions.

Gippsland (VIC): focusing on delivering follow up CBT-e training in collaboration with CEED; 30 people across a full day session.

Launceston and Hobart (TAS): a wide range of sessions to groups working in both health and education, delivering introductory information as well as extended therapeutic intervention training across two regional forum sites in Tasmania; 107 people attended 8 sessions.

Broken Hill (NSW): a range of sessions to groups working in both health and education including the facilitation of a session in conjunction with NSW Health to progress the LHD Eating Disorders plan; 80 people attended over 6 sessions.

Broome (WA): a range of in-depth sessions delivered in collaboration with Western Australia Eating Disorders Outreach and Consultation Service (WAEDOCS); 45 people attended over 7 sessions.

Murray Bridge (SA): a range of sessions provided to local education, youth mental health and GP professionals; 56 people attended over 6 sessions.

Wyndham (VIC): as part of Victorian CEED project “Operation Eat” addressing eating disorders capacity building, sessions were provided to several local schools; 26 people attended across 4 schools.

Rockhampton (QLD): in conjunction with EDOS training programs and services, provided introduction and treatment specific workshops to 161 education, health and community professionals.

In addition to these regional forums, four nationally focused forums have been conducted with:
Department of Defence (Canberra); 16 Health Professionals supporting a wide range of personnel across defence.
Department of Veterans Affairs (Sydney with national telelink); 77 counselling professionals supporting veterans and their families.
headspace; 20 Headspace and e-headspace professionals
Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health Webinar; approximately 250 participants from youth mental health.

Overall, the NEDC regional forums have provided necessary training and education to a broad range of professionals. Feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive, with a particular emphasis on the benefits of no-cost opportunities delivered in communities. The recent use of video conferencing has expanded the scope to reach outlying areas of a region and benefit a broader audience.

The NEDC would like to thank all those who were involved in the forums, both participants and support services. We think it is safe to say, the NEDC has been making its mark across Australia!


See also

Issue 28 | Prevention for Young People

NEDC e-Bulletin Issue 28 Introduction: Welcome to the twenty-eighth edition of the NEDC e-Bulletin.

Read more

Issue 25 | Comorbidity: Eating Disorders, Depression and Anxiety

NEDC e-Bulletin Issue 25 | October 2014 Introduction: Welcome to the twenty-fifth edition of the NEDC e-Bulletin.

Read more

Issue 10 | Eating Disorders and Body Image Concerns in Men

NEDC e-Bulletin Issue 10 | April 2013 Editors Note: Welcome to the April edition of the NEDC e-Bulletin.

Read more

Issue 19 | Disordered Eating in Sport

NEDC e-Bulletin Issue 19 | February 2014 Editors Note: Welcome to the February edition of the NEDC e-Bulletin.

Read more

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