Family Involvement in Eating Disorder Recovery

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By: Darlene Graham, MA, LMHC, Family and Primary Therapist Families are systems. Although the lone client struggles with the eating disorder, …

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By: Darlene Graham, MA, LMHC, Family and Primary Therapist

Families are systems. Although the lone client struggles with the eating disorder, it impacts the entire family in a variety of ways. Treatment which focuses only on the client is incomplete, and can result in quick deterioration if the client is sent back to an environment where loved ones do not fully understand the disorder, are unsure how to support their loved one, or manage their own issues of dealing with a loved one with an eating disorder. Family therapy provides a platform for addressing the needs of parents, siblings and spouses.

What is the benefit of family therapy for the client and the family members?

The most significant benefit of family therapy is education, not just regarding eating disorders in general, but how it manifests in the loved one’s life. Family therapy also helps loved ones learn how to support a client during recovery, as supporting someone in recovery is not intuitive. Typically, the family and loved ones when attempting to help is the opposite of what is needed, for example, “food policing.” Food policing is when the family asks a barrage of questions such as: “Have you eaten?”, “What did you eat?”, “How much did you eat?” Family therapy is a vehicle by which the family learns what to do and say as well as what not to do or say, which can be very complicated. We do not want families to walk on eggshells around loved ones in recovery, which is why family therapy and treatment in general also consists of empowering the client to share their triggers and valuable supports.

What is the family therapy at Selah House?

Selah House invites each member of the family to tell their story. In weekly family sessions, they share their concerns, fears, impacts, and hopes. Ultimately, these sessions culminate in an intensive on-site family therapy day.  On that day, families participate in discussions regarding asking for and receiving forgiveness and actions and behaviors they like about each other.

Family therapy at Selah House is an opportunity to invite dialogue, understanding, and restoration with the help of a professional family therapist who can see the family dynamics objectively. Family therapy provides an opportunity to have much-needed conversations about past, present and future issues. Although families routinely have issues that need addressing, they also have substantial strengths that can be harnessed to further their loved one’s recovery.  We want to highlight and celebrate those with the family as well. Bringing forth and discussing family dynamics are never for blame, but for restoration, understanding and forward movement.

What role does the family therapist play?

The family therapist is that objective third party trained to uncover and constructively redirect family dynamics that have not served the family effectively.  The family therapist invites a new way of seeing and doing.  I encourage families to agree to do things differently moving forward; to own or take responsibility for their actions and to learn from the past without allowing it to affect the future negatively.  These concepts are easily said but challenging to do.  However, with consistent practice, moving forward in a new direction can be accomplished.

How does the family therapist work with the treatment team?

The family therapist is closely integrated with the interdisciplinary treatment team.  The family therapist advises the team of larger dynamics that may contribute to the eating disorder, as well as receiving insight from the treatment team to help enlighten our approach to addressing dynamics within the family system.  For example, the primary, or individual therapist will invite clients to write and share their life stories with peers and staff.  As a family therapist, when I hear the timeline and the details of family life, several mini revelations sprout that are useful within the family therapy framework.

Someone once said that it is in relationships that people are most likely wounded, and it will be in relationships that they will most likely be healed.  Family involvement in the treatment of eating disorders can become the catalyst for that healing.

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And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28

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