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Eating Disorder Awareness Week

For the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA)’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week (February 26-March 4), the theme is “Let’s Get Real.” The goal is to highlight the stories we don’t hear as often and to open the conversation to everyone.

For more info from NEDA, please go to https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/, and if you are concerned you might have an eating disorder, use their Helpline 1-800-931-2237 or their screening tool https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/screening-tool.

According to statistics provided by NEDA, 30 million Americans struggle with a “full blown” eating disorder, and countless more struggle with eating and body image concerns. Because of the stereotypes and stigma attached to mental illness and eating disorders, a lot of people don’t reach out for help.

Last year, the theme was “It’s Time To Talk About It” and Kelly Broadwater, LPA here at Chrysalis Center highlighted the high mortality rate, the lack of funding for research, the negative messages about food and weight we get bombarded with every day, getting help, and having hope. To read more from this blog post, go to http://chrysaliscenter-nc.com/its-time-to-talk-about-it/.

Truths About Eating Disorders

There are a lot of stereotypes about eating disorders. How many of those are even real? Instead of going through all the myths about eating disorders, here are some truths:

  • An eating disorder is not a choice; it is a mental illness with serious physical, cognitive, and psychological implications.
  • It is not possible to “just snap out of it.”
  • There is no one cause for an eating disorder, it is a different root for every person.
  • It is a big deal.
  • Anorexia is not the only eating disorder, even if it is the one we think of most often – bulimia, binge eating disorder, and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder are also serious, life threatening illnesses that need to be taken seriously.
  • Just because you don’t see it physically, doesn’t mean it’s not there or that you should ignore signs because it doesn’t fit the stereotype.
  • There are a lot of other issues linked to eating disorders, including anxiety, depression, and trauma.
  • People need their support system, including friends, family, and treatment team, to recover.
  • Men can have eating disorders, and the CDC found that about 1/3 of all eating disorder sufferers are male.
  • Children as young as five can develop eating disorders, and many people who struggle with eating disorders as a child or adolescent will continue to struggle with them as an adult unless they receive help.
  • It is not just about food.

For people with these disorders, one of the biggest obstacles is the secrets and shame that go along with those behaviors.

Say Something!

Too often, loved ones will see something wrong and not say anything – if we are going to “Get Real” that needs to change. People are afraid to bring things up, but that is one of the things that keeps the stigmas about mental health and eating disorders alive.

Why not ask, or express concern? What is wrong with talking about it, really? It can be a difficult topic, but if it is approached with concern, caring, and empathy, people will rarely shut down the conversation.

If this seems too stressful or delicate to do on your own, seek help from a professional (a therapist or dietician who specializes in eating disorders) to help you have the conversation.

As an eating disorder specialist, the most important message I want people to hear is that truth and honesty is necessary from everyone affected – the person with the eating disorder and their loved ones.

Don’t walk on eggshells – but don’t smash them either. If you try to get real, make sure you are coming from a genuine place of caring before you try to open the conversation. If it is approached with compassion, the conversation has a much better chance of being productive for the person with the eating disorder and their loved ones.

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There are a lot of different methods and theories of couples therapy. One of the best ones for treating couples, is the Gottman method. John Gottman, PhD and his wife Julie Schwartz Gottman, PhD have been studying couples’ behavior in Washington State, teaching clinical and direct workshops for therapists and clients, writing books, and providing couples’ therapy for over 40 years. They are internationally recognized for their contributions to what can be a very tricky area for therapists and clients. If you want to know more about them or the Gottman Institute, please check out https://www.gottman.com/.

The Gottman Method

Since becoming a Gottman Certified Educator in 2015, I have been running workshops and working with couples using their methods (as well as all of my other clinical experience). This method takes you beyond active listening and conflict resolution to focus on friendship, respect, and acceptance that not all problems can be solved – but they can be managed.

This is a very difficult thing for a lot of people to process – that problems need to be managed and compromised on, that they cannot always be solved. And it is just one of the seven principles of a “Sound Relationship House” that form the core of their treatment philosophy.

Why Couples Come to Therapy

Couples come to therapy for a myriad of reasons. It is a difficult and stressful thing to do – to recognize that your relationship needs work and that you cannot solve all of the problems in your relationship between the two of you.

Some couples come because they don’t really interact with each other anymore – maybe they are empty nesters, maybe they have had family crisis(es) that leave them having to put out fires all the time instead of nurturing their relationship. Whatever the case, a lot of couples who come into my office do not know each other very well anymore – sometimes after only a few years of marriage! It takes energy to keep up with people – in our busy lives, we all know how difficult it is to keep in touch with friends and relatives – but you also need to keep up with your spouse, your partner, the person who you (hopefully) have some downtime with.

“Love maps” are the Gottman method’s way of getting to know each other again – drawing a map of what makes your significant other tick and keeping up with it as it changes. I also like Table Topics to generate discussions in couples or families.

Couples also come to therapy when there has been infidelity. There are a lot of potential reasons for this, but infidelity (emotional or physical) is the opposite of “Turning Towards” your relationship. When one partner is unfaithful, they have turned away from their partner and towards someone else. A “sound relationship” is one where each party can rely on and trust the other. That means that if one person is struggling with something, they turn to the other for support, guidance, opinions, or a port in their storm.

If you love, respect, and admire someone and you have a disagreement, you try to see their side and validate their point of view even when you don’t agree. You do not give in (which will just cause resentment), you do not turn away, and you do not blame the other person. Forgiveness is an aspect of “fondness and admiration” as well as “turning towards” and the “positive perspective.” You do not always have to forgive, but if you want to stay in a relationship after infidelity, you both have to forgive each other for whatever transgressions have brought you to that point.

Another reason couples come to therapy is that they argue all the time – I call it “kitchen sink” arguing when you start arguing about one thing (usually something minor in the scheme of things) and end up throwing all your other resentments, hurts, problems, and unhappiness into the argument. There is no way to win that kind of argument. You know that you are there when you do one of the “Four Horseman” of relationships. These are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling (see left). Whenever you get to the point of complaining about unrelated things, arguing about semantics, name calling or just not talking at all, you have done one of these.

There are a lot of other behaviors that you do with each of these, but it is important that every time you do one, you have to do at least five positive things to counter the damage to the relationship. With contempt, it is 20 to 1! Relationships cannot survive constant arguments like this. There are a lot of things – Gottman calls them “repair attempts” – that you can do to try to fix it, but it is MUCH easier not to do these in the first place. No one wins in these situations.

The average couple comes to counseling six years after the problem begins in their relationship – that is a lot of negativity to counter. There is no quick fix or shortcut to building a healthy relationship. Everyone argues, everyone disagrees, and everyone has to figure out the best way to manage their relationship. It is a puzzle that requires both partners be interested in change. It requires that both people be willing to learn and grow to make a relationship healthy. There is no shortcut to learning to listen, argue well, compromise, and value each other.  But sometimes, there is help along the way.

 

Kendra Wilson, LCSW, CEDS

Kendra is a Gottman Certified Educator and teaches Couples Enrichment Seminars at Chrysalis Center periodically. If you are interested in attending a seminar, please email Chrysalis and we will let you know when the next set of seminars will be scheduled.



The journey towards recovery can take many forms, but every person has to follow their own path towards health and make choices along the way. Some of these choices may come in the form of different treatment centers or levels of care to address the difficulties someone is having at that stage of their recovery. Every person’s process is different.

Eating disorders are very complex illnesses that require specialists to treat not only the emotional and behavioral facets of an illness, but the medical one as well. For these reasons, the American Psychological Association (APA) established guidelines for appropriate levels of care with eating disorders.

Chrysalis Center is an outpatient program and will soon be adding intensive outpatient (IOP) services. The other levels include partial hospital (PHP), residential, and inpatient levels; these last two are sometimes combined into an “IP-Res” format. To see the full APA criteria for eating disorders, click here. There are some other resources for eating disorder treatment in North Carolina, including Veritas Collaborative, Carolina House, and UNC’s Center for Eating Disorders.  Other treatment centers around the country specialize in eating disorders as well, and sometimes these other programs are a better fit for clients in terms of their individual needs and experiences.  Though not for eating disorders, there are several other levels of care in the Wilmington area for adolescents and adults in general psychiatry.

Usually, these difficult conversations start when we as clinicians recommend a higher level of care for someone who we do not think is appropriate for outpatient or IOP treatment. To be appropriate for outpatient or IOP, a person must be:

  • Medically and psychologically stable to the point that they are not a danger to themselves or others
  • Motivated to recover
  • Cooperative
  • Self-sufficient
  • Able to control their thoughts and behaviors using appropriate social support

 

When someone needs a higher level of care, they are usually:

  • Medically compromised (by weight, bloodwork, EKG, etc.)
  • Unable to manage their behavior
  • Un- or under-motivated
  • Not functioning in their lives in some significant way (work, family, relationships, etc.)
  • Unable to manage a co-morbid condition (psychological or medical) because of their eating disorder

Levels of care indicate how much structure, support, and observation a client requires at that stage in their recovery.

When someone needs a higher level of care, it can be a very difficult discussion between provider and client. Sometimes, we all know it is coming and have been trying to avoid it but it just is not working. Other times, clients may take a sudden turn. This could be for many reasons, but the important thing is that clients get the help that they need to recover from their eating disorder and co-occurring disorders. Our goal is always to help our clients and keep them focused on living healthy and productive lives, and we try to balance all their individual needs while keeping the goal of a full recovery foremost in our minds.

It is important to use the right tool to complete a task, and sometimes that tool needs to be a higher level of care in order for someone to truly recover. Often, IP-Res levels of care can get clients back on track faster than outpatient could and sometimes that is necessary for someone’s well being or even survival. PHP and IOP levels can provide support to keep someone out of the hospital or they can provide support as a step-down program. The transition between inpatient and home can be very stressful and there are a lot of facets to consider including social, family, academic, or work stressors. All of these are affected by or contribute to eating disorder behavior. A person cannot live in a vacuum so all of these need to be managed before someone goes back to their regularly scheduled lives.

By adding IOP services, Chrysalis hopes to provide a bridge for clients on their journey in recovery. It is an important stage or facet in that process. If you need us, we will be honored to work with you on that journey.

 

Kendra is a Senior Staff Therapist and soon to be Clinical Director of Chrysalis’s new Intensive Outpatient (IOP) program with 13 years of experience working with eating disorders in various settings, including inpatient, PHP, IOP, and outpatient treatment facilities.



There are many different approaches that we use as therapists, and most of us use more than one to make sure that our clients get the treatment that is the best fit for them. You may have heard some of the many acronyms – CBT, DBT, ACT, MI, MBSR, TF-CBT, RO-DBT, EMDR, ERP, SFBT, IPT – to name a few. For many years CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) has been the modality of choice and the basis for most therapists’ education.

When Marcia Linehan published a book on DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) in 1993, it was part of the first wave of different therapies based on “evidenced based practice” that has become the gold standard for treatment of mental health disorders since. DBT incorporates cognitive behavioral therapy with elements of mindfulness and acceptance from Zen Buddhist practice. The goal of DBT is to help the most difficult clients and situations feel better and to learn skills that manage reactivity more effectively. Originally developed for borderline personality disorder or highly suicidal clients, it has found to be effective amongst a much wider variety of populations and concerns.

The Mindful Living Group at Chrysalis is based on DBT, but also builds in concepts from ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) such as values identification and acceptance. The goal of group is to teach skills to clients, but also give them a framework for communication and problem solving that they can use throughout their lives.

The different skills of Mindful Living and DBT are Distress Tolerance, Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, and Interpersonal Effectiveness. Each of these builds on and overlaps with the other skills sets. Distress Tolerance helps you develop skills that let you make decisions about what you want to do instead of reacting to situations. Mindfulness helps you be aware of what is going on with yourself and the world in a way that is non-judgmental. Emotion Regulation helps you identify and manage your emotions effectively. Interpersonal Effectiveness helps you be assertive and set boundaries with others so that you can negotiate and get your needs met in all of your relationships.

Using DBT as a therapy or going to Mindful Living Group does not mean that you have borderline personality disorder. The therapy has expanded over the years to treat eating disorders, depression, and any kind of negative reactivity. There is even a subset of DBT called Radically Open DBT that was developed specifically for working with anorexic and anxious clients.

I choose DBT as my primary modality because it emphasizes the importance of genuineness, openness, and honesty in the client/therapist relationship and those values are incredibly important to me in both my professional and personal life. Sometimes, this makes for a more confrontational or directive relationship, but I find that most clients appreciate a direct approach. DBT pushes you to challenge yourself and your beliefs about the world so you do not get stuck in a rut.
The Mindful Living groups at Chrysalis run for 12 consecutive weeks. Building upon the curriculum, we also offer an 8 week Advanced Mindful Living group. If you are interested in joining one of these groups, please call to find out more about the schedule.

 

Kendra is a Senior Staff Therapist and soon to be Clinical Director of Chrysalis’s new Intensive Outpatient (IOP) program, where Mindful Living will be one of the groups offered. She is currently completing her DBTNCAA certification and has been working in this modality since 2004.


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