It Takes a Team to Support Eating Disorder Recovery

Photo by Fiona Conway Summer 2014
Photo by Fiona Conway Summer 2014

Earlier this week a colleague and I gave a presentation on eating disorders to a group of mental health professionals in Idaho Falls. It was a whirlwind of information crammed into a relatively short span of time but it felt important. I welcome opportunities to share what I’ve learned about eating disorders – including the treatment process and recovery journey, with both the public and other professionals. Each time I engage with a group about this work, I walk away wanting to do more, wishing we had more time and more resources to empower more mental health, nutrition and medical professionals to identify patients and clients who need support around the most basic of human needs: food and connection.

As we prepared for the eating disorder talk I also realized how powerful it is to partner with a colleague with both experience and a deep understanding of this difficult work we do. I have struggled since my return to private practice to recreate some of the magic I experienced as an integral part of a cohesive multi-disciplinary team in an outpatient clinic devoted to eating disorder treatment.

I now realize that what was special about being part of such a team was that in addition to our increased effectiveness in treating our patients in an environment of ongoing team communication and a strong foundation of knowledge surrounding these complex disorders, we knew innately how to support each other in our work. Whether it was tears, laughter (that could seem inappropriate to an outsider at times), a well-placed hug, or a simple nod of understanding, I felt a little less alone in the often tumultuous sea of treatment and recovery we were helping our patients to navigate.

The outpatient setting presents many challenges for both clients and practitioners. The amount of services covered by insurance is often inadequate and there are many environmental factors that make eating, exercise and body image a daily struggle. Though clients who are appropriate for this more minimalistic level of care are less acutely sick, patching together adequate support for them is often difficult. For those of us committed to working with eating disorders in this less-than-ideal outpatient setting, recognizing when we need support ourselves and being good models of self-care for our clients is essential. I am grateful for my new colleague and friend in this work and look forward to what we can offer our community as a team.