People struggling with eating disorders have a new place to turn for help in Western New York.
The Buffalo Centre for the Treatment of Eating Disorders, a facility modeled on a similar center in Syracuse that has been open for five years, opened its doors nearly two months ago in Amherst.
The local center -- which offers intensive outpatient programs that bring clients together for six hours a day, five days a week -- is designed to help clients 14 years of age and older deal with eating disorders so that they do not have to enter a hospital for treatment.
"There's a huge gap here in Western New York," said Tracy N. Welchoff, Ph.D, executive director of the new facility. "People have been sending [eating disorder sufferers] out of town, out of state, for treatment. The fact that we have a huge waiting list already just speaks for itself."
The center's opening marks an important milestone for Western New York, which since the closing of the Avalon treatment facility in December 2009 has lacked a place where those suffering with eating disorders could go for comprehensive outpatient treatment on a daily and weekly basis.
The new Buffalo Centre is conceived as an intensive daily "partial hospitalization" program, said Welchoff, a licensed psychologist with a doctorate in counseling psychology. The center's staff includes six full-time and four part-time employees, she said.
"You get the same type of treatment you would get in an inpatient hospitalization program, but you can go home at night and sleep in your own bed," Welchoff said. "This allows us to treat everybody -- where they are in their own lives."
In Syracuse, one of the directors of the Centre Syracuse for eating disorders said that the facility in that city has treated more than 600 people since it opened in 2005.
"We have achieved consistent success at helping people reduce their symptoms," said Ronald C. Fish, Ph.D, director of development at the Syracuse facility. "Where weight needs to be gained, [they are] gaining weight, learning what they need to do to stay healthy, developing improved coping skills and understanding and working through the issues behind their eating disorder."
People who enter the Buffalo Centre's program usually stay a few weeks, or longer if need be, and can return for more than one course of the program if they need to, Welchoff said.
The local program, which is open to both males and females, currently has 10 participants. Up to 18 will be in the program at any one time, Welchoff said.
More interested families are currently on a waiting list, she said.
The Buffalo-area center, located near UB's North Campus in Amherst, occupies a suite that includes counseling and therapy offices, a spacious room filled with cozy pod chairs and soft blankets for group therapies and art sessions, and a sunny cafeteria/kitchen area where clients learn to plan their daily menus, choosing meals -- with staff guidance -- according to their caloric needs.
Each client gets a personal microwave and refrigerator to store food items and drinks, and most clients are given the responsibility of preparing their own meals, with oversight by the staff.
At the center, clients eat two meals -- lunch and dinner -- and also have a snack, so that they consume all the calories they need for the day during session hours.
The goal, said Welchoff, is reintroducing a healthy relationship with food.
"This isn't just about getting food into people," said Welchoff. "These are therapeutic meals. We do a lot of practicing, a lot of exposure to 'fear foods,' things like fats and desserts. What we do here is, we want to teach people the entire process of eating, from beginning to end. By the time somebody's discharged from the program, they've been making their meals for several weeks."
"There is so much laughter coming from the kitchen during meals, you wouldn't believe it," Welchoff added.
In between meals and nutritional work, clients participate in therapy sessions, including psychotherapy, art therapy, and therapy related to family issues, food and body image, Welchoff said.
Exercise is not a part of the program, since eating disorder sufferers need to heal their bodies before they can exert themselves through physical fitness, Welchoff said. However, yoga and meditation/mindfulness sessions are used to provide fitness and healing, she said.
The center works with many local insurance companies to arrange coverage for clients, Welchoff said. Private-pay arrangements can also be worked out, she said.
The Buffalo treatment center is located at 95 John Muir Drive in Amherst and can be found on the web at www.buffalocentre.com, where an application form is available.
They can also be reached by phone at 276-6939.