Digital help for eating disorders

Landshut University of Applied Sciences is conducting nationwide research into digital counselling services in the field of eating disorders and wants to support professionals and those affected with the help of guidelines

Eating disorders have increased in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who already suffer from an eating disorder also often report an intensification of the symptoms. At the same time, the availability of assistance was and still is limited in many cases.
Online counselling can fill these gaps to some extent, which is why many counselling centres have significantly expanded their digital services. However, this was often done with limited time, financial and human resources, leaving little time for networking and exchange.

The DigiBEssst project at Landshut University of Applied Sciences now aims to systematically examine digital counselling services in the eating disorder field and develop guidelines for those affected and professionals. The two-year cooperation project between Landshut University of Applied Sciences, headed by Prof Eva Wunderer, and the Bundesfachverband Essstörungen BFE e.V. is funded by the Federal Ministry of Health with a total sum of approx. 250,000 euros.

Digital offers increasingly important

Professional counselling centres are often the first point of contact for children and adolescents suffering from eating disorders, as well as for their relatives. "However, the services of these centres in Germany have hardly been researched so far," reports Prof Wunderer. The psychologist, systemic couple and family therapist and professor at the Faculty of Social Work at Landshut University of Applied Sciences has been researching the topic of eating disorders for years. In addition, there were few digital counselling services until a few years ago. "Now in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the relevance of email, chat and video counselling is particularly evident," she says, "especially as eating disorders are particularly prevalent among adolescents and young adults for whom online activities are an essential lifestyle."

Nationwide survey


The project team at Landshut University of Applied Sciences also includes Anna Hofer and Cäcilia Hasenöhrl. Anna Hofer completed her Master's degree in Clinical Social Work at Landshut University of Applied Sciences and is in charge of the project as a research assistant; Cäcilia Hasenöhrl just completed her Bachelor's degree in Social Work in Landshut. "With the support of the BFE we are interviewing as many counselling centres as possible throughout Germany and asking them about their previous experiences with digital services: What have they already tried out? What works well? Where are there problems?" is how Anna Hofer describes the research design. At the same time, the researchers talk to young people and adults suffering from eating disorders and their relatives and ask about their needs: Which services do they prefer to use? What helps them? What do they want from the counselling centres?

Guidelines from practice for practice
From this evaluation, the research team ultimately derives best practice and develops quality guidelines for professional, digital counselling. "With this, we want to give the professionals material that helps them in their daily work," Anna Hofer reports. Cäcilia Hasenöhrl adds: "If there are guidelines for counselling centres on the topic of online counselling, they have so far tended to deal with general topics such as data protection, but little with specific topics relevant to eating disorder help." The team hopes that this will further professionalise online counselling and create networks. "In the end, this could help all parties involved: the professionals, the people affected and their relatives," says Prof Wunderer.

About the project
The project "DigiBEssst" – Digital counselling services of professional counselling centres for eating disorders: Participatory stocktaking, evaluation and development of quality guidelines" will run until November 2023. Prof Eva Wunderer from Landshut University of Applied Sciences is responsible for the overall project management. The project partner is the Bundesfachverband Essstörungen BFE e.V. The Federal Ministry of Health is funding the project with a total of about 250,000 euros.

Project name:

Digital counselling services of professional counselling centres for eating disorders: Participatory stocktaking, evaluation and development of quality guidelines (DigiBEssst)

Project partners:

Landshut University of Applied Sciences, Prof Eva Wunderer

Bundesfachverband Essstörungen BFE e.V., Sigrid Borse, Andreas Schnebel, Sabine Dohme

Overall project management:

Prof Eva Wunderer

Funding of Landshut University of Applied Sciences:

154,700 euros

Total sum:

Approx. 250,000 euros

Funding:

Federal Ministry of Health