Eating Disorders are a Family Disorder

How much does the support of a family play into Eating Disorder recovery? You may be surprised…

Some of my most difficult moments here have been watching a family hand over their daughter, sister and mother to us. Often times the client is screaming, crying and pleading the typical statements of, “This is a mistake! I do not have a problem!” and “Please don’t leave me here! I’ll eat! I swear!” The clients behavior is typical for anyone who would be scared and frightened of giving up their disease and being left in this new place with all of these new people (who are allegedly going to take away the disease that gives them the only aspect of control that they have.) Having worked in the field I know that the clients are going to be more than okay.  That actually this is the best place in the world for them and in just about 48 hours they will realize that too and will be hugging and periodically laughing and yet still crying soon.

The difficulty for me has always been watching the parents leave. Their usually crying and sad as well, but it’s the looks on their faces that kills me. I can only describe it as the look on someone’s face if their home of the past 30 years was just demolished by a tornado. You can’t see a tornado coming, you are shocked, heart broken and at a loss for words at the devastation in front of you… but, they can’t do anything about it now… but just walk away and start over.  It’s in the “walking away” part that there is a fine line… “how far exactly should the parents walk away?”

Parents usually take two routes. Route 1: Helicopter Parent. Out of love they want constant contact with the client, out of fear they question the therapeutic process and the staff, out of anger they are impatient with the recovery process of their loved one.

Route 2: The family expects that the staff “fix” the client. They don’t want to show up for, Family Week. They don’t want to be bothered with updates on the clients progress. They just want the bill and the date to pick up their “fixed” loved one. These families aren’t “bad” or “insensitive” people, in fact they are very sensitive. They are in so much pain that they can’t bare to witness the healing process because it means they might have to get some healing themselves and healing usually involves a lot of pain to walk through before you get to the other side.

I would like to show you some stats that are pretty impressive regarding how the family plays a part in Eating Disorder Recovery:

One study involving 80 teens with bulimia put about half in a treatment program that included family therapy and the others in more traditional psychotherapy. Six months later, the success rate for those given family therapy was twice as great as it was for the others.

About 40 percent of teens whose families participated in their treatment had stopped bingeing and purging, compared with 18 percent of those treated without family involvement. The study was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Another study, published in the journal Eating Disorders, followed 32 teenage girls with anorexia and found that 75 percent of them were in full remission three years after treatment that had included family therapy.

So if you really want your loved one to recover long term you’ll show up for every therapy session and Family Week right? Well, half right… Right in YES, show up, as Woody Allen says, “90% of success is just showing up.” The other half is you have to show up WILLING to also look at how you as a FAMILY have played a part in the Eating Disorder. I remind you that Eating Disorders are genetic. It’s no one’s fault, just like Bipolar Disorder is no one’s fault… it’s a psychological disorder… however, environment factor and FAMILIES greatly trigger these disorders… meaning every woman out there with Eating Disorders, yes all 10 million in the United States alone, have a family that also needs to be in therapy. That family needs to change their own family dynamics, boundaries and values while the client is re-feeding themselves and trying to combat the most fatal disease of all psychological disorders.

All that to say, I hope see you at Family Week. It’s hard. It’s not pretty. It will be exhausting. It will be painful. It will be shocking. It will also be the difference between the girl you love living the life she was put on earth to live, or dying and becoming another statistic. Choices… we all have choices. Make yours a good one.