Background Eating disorders are psychiatric illnesses with potentially life-threatening consequences. Inpatient treatment is typically required for the most severely ill patients, who are often emaciated or significantly malnourished. A core therapeutic objective is to normalize eating patterns and facilitate weight gain. These goals guide the efforts of milieu therapeutic staff working with this patient group, who support renourishment through the positive manipulation of a structured environment, as well via relational aspects. However, there is a lack of empirical research exploring inpatient staff members’ perspectives concerning various aspects of this work. This article explore staff’s teamwork during mealtimes on inpatient eating disorder units. Specifically, we investigated the collaborative strategies employed to support core therapeutic goals of meal completion and normalized eating behavior, while concurrently maintaining a supportive, friendly atmosphere during mealtimes. Methods This was a exploratory qualitative study. Data was collected through 20 semi-structured in-depth interviews with staff members working on a specialized eating disorder unit. The interviews were performed after the conduction of meal time support. Cultural historical activity theory was used as the key theoretical tool for analysis. Results The analysis revealed three main themes: 1) strategic seating arrangements mediates division of labor, 2) the use of verbal and nonverbal communication as collaborative tools, and 3) the importance of experience as a collaborative resource. Conclusions The present study found that mealtime collaborative strategies on inpatient EDUs were mainly of non-verbal nature, with level of experience as an important premise for staff collaboration. Greater awareness about how collegial collaboration is practiced may help staff members to learn routines and regulate scripts for mealtime practices.
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