When joining the treatment team at the Delray Center’s Eating Disorder Program, a majority of loved ones first ask, “What can I do?” Although family members cannot control the treatment, there are many ways they can offer support in a variety of roles, and become a catalyst for change. Here are a few important ways families can take part in treatment:
The set of factors that contribute to eating disorders are complex and multifaceted. For this reason, a patient’s family can be one of the most valuable resources within the treatment planning process. Families are able to provide invaluable information as historians and observers.
Family education is a crucial step in making sure our patients achieve long-term recovery. Because of the complexity of eating disorders, it may take three or four sessions to help families look beneath the “distraction” of the eating disorder and examine the emotional turmoil and specific struggles that will evolve as a part of the treatment process. We aim to make sure our families can hold their loved ones accountable and be there for them in times of need, in an educated and informed way. While it is not the family members’ role to change the eating disordered behavior, they can learn ways to support their loved one while simultaneously taking care of themselves.
Support a Healthy Relationship with Food
Being the “food police” detracts from a supportive relationship. Still, out of fear, many families fall into the trap of monitoring the amount and type of food eaten around the family dinner table. Another trigger point is falling into fad diet discussions and body talk. Family therapists help the family understand the negative impact that preoccupations with appearance and calories can have on all family members. Although tough to master, family interaction around food can be neutral. That is, food is not the enemy, nor is it the cure for emotional struggles.
As families “grow in the know” regarding eating disorders, they become more aware of unproductive language used in their family culture. From assertive communication to boundary setting, family coaching can help to create an environment where open and direct discussions can take place. Family members can learn “hot topics” such as appearance that need to be avoided, and they can practice healthy ways to respond when their loved ones engage in unproductive language.
Engaging in Structural Family Systems Therapy
Every family is dynamic in nature. For this reason, the structure of family therapy is dynamic. Our experienced treatment team carefully determines the structure of family therapy based on the system and the individual needs of the client. The therapist may join with the family as an educator, family coach, or counselor depending on the level of intervention needed. At times the whole family or a sub-system within the family may find themselves in the session. This type of family therapy is a multifaceted process, and a more intensive level of intervention than supportive and educational interventions.