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Bringing Support Persons into the Eating Disorder Healing Process

mother and daughter suppor

Far too often, traditional family therapy is not prioritized after the age of 18, including when it comes to eating disorder recovery. I get it – involving support persons, like family, friends, roommates, or romantic partners, has the potential to bring uncomfortable roadblocks into the recovery process.

However, at Renfrew, we know no matter what age a patient is, involving support persons in the recovery process increases recovery success rates. No one is meant to do this alone!

Within a support system, like a family or friend group, there isn’t a single person to blame for the development of an eating disorder – and we know eating disorders are far more complex than that, too. However, people in a supportive role can feel unequipped to help, often citing fear of saying the wrong thing or making things worse as barriers to reaching out. This can lead support persons to behave in ways that inadvertently maintain their loved one’s eating disorder.

Those in treatment or recovery may experience a variety of barriers to asking for help as well, such as fear of burdening their support persons or feeling relief at not “complicating” their recovery by involving others.

But what if I told you there are effective and practical ways to equip those in your support system to better help you? Read five considerations below for involving support persons in recovery, and think about how these may fit into your recovery journey:

  1. The science of healing: neuroscience research shows us oxytocin, a feel-good neurotransmitter, can be released when we experience interactions with others we care about. Science proves having caring, meaningful, growth-fostering relationships is good for us!
  2. Lasting benefits – for everyone: support persons help sustain recovery for their loved one, no matter their age. The benefits can include improvement in quality of life and reduced stress and conflict for everyone involved.
  3. Learning about emotions: involvement of loved ones provides a structure for support persons to learn about their own emotions, too. Support persons can learn together with their loved one how to use validation and how to label emotions.
  4. Forget the blame game: there is no single person at the focus within a support system, which means there is no single person at fault. It’s a no-blame approach!
  5. Add mindfulness to everyone’s life toolbox: everyone benefits from increased awareness and recognizing avoidance strategies – yes, even your support persons! When they learn how they may be maintaining an emotional avoidance cycle, support persons can allow themselves to be more present, helpful, and emotionally available.

We have seen that if support persons contribute to the maintenance of eating disorders, they can also contribute to the healing. It’s the quality, and not quantity, of the support that matters. Support persons must learn how to name their fears and doubts so that they can venture into their own emotional territory as well as their loved one’s.

And with embracing family therapy focused on emotions and the art of validation, the power of that support can go a long, long way.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: Angela Kaloudis, LMHC, NCC, is a Clinical Training Specialist for The Renfrew Center. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Gender Studies from the University of Rhode Island and her Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling and Behavioral Medicine from Boston University School of Medicine. Prior to joining Renfrew, Ms. Kaloudis served as an Outpatient Therapist at Lahey Health Behavioral Services in Beverly, MA. She specializes in the treatment of eating disorders and trauma and is a member of the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) and the Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association (MEDA).

The Renfrew Center has been the pioneer in the treatment of eating disorders since 1985. As the nation’s first residential eating disorder facility, now with 19 locations throughout the country, Renfrew has helped more than 85,000 adolescent girls and women with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and related mental health problems move towards recovery. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, day treatment and intensive outpatient programming has temporarily shifted to a virtual platform, fully accessible to patients from the safety and comfort of their homes. Renfrew is accepting patients at its residential facilities in Philadelphia, PA, and Coconut Creek, FL and has put necessary procedures in place to ensure the continued safety and well-being of patients.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

February 22-28, 2021

This week is National Eating Disorders Week, intended to raise awareness, spread a message of hope, and support those affected by eating disorders. The theme of this year’s NEADA Week is Every Body Has a Seat at the Table to welcome marginalized communities in “conversations on raising awareness, challenging systemic biases, and sharing stories from all backgrounds and experiences.

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios only.

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