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.
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."
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 and the Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA), 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?
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.
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.
MEDICA.de; Source: Landshut University of Applied Sciences