Bringing Support Persons into the Healing Process
Posted on October 12, 2020
Far too often, traditional family therapy is not prioritized after the age of 18, including when it comes to eating disorder recovery. I get it - including support persons, like family, friends, roommates or romantic partners, has the potential to bring uncomfortable roadblocks into the recovery process.
However, at Renfrew we know no matter what age a patient is, involving support persons in the recovery process increases recovery success rates. No one is meant to do this alone!
Within a support system, like a family or friend group, there isn't a single person to blame for one's development of an eating disorder - and we know eating disorders are far more complex than that, too. However, people in a supportive role can feel unequipped to help, often citing fear of saying the wrong thing or making things worse as barriers to reaching out; this can lead support persons to behave in ways that inadvertently maintain their loved one's eating disorder.
And for those in treatment or recovery, they may experience a variety of barriers to asking for help as well, like fear of burdening their support persons or feeling relief at not "complicating" their recovery by involving others.
But what if I told you there are effective and practical ways to equip those in your support system to better help you? Read five considerations below for involving support persons in recovery, and think about how these may fit into your recovery journey:
- The science of healing: neuroscience research shows us oxytocin, a feel-good neurotransmitter, can be released when we experience interactions with others we care about. Science proves having caring, meaningful, growth-fostering relationships is good for us!
- Lasting benefits - for everyone: support persons help sustain recovery for their loved one, no matter their age. The benefits can include improvement in quality of life and reduced stress and conflict for everyone involved.
- Learning about emotions: involvement of loved ones provides structure for support persons to learn about their own emotions, too. Support persons can be taught how to use validation and how to label emotions with their loved one.
- Forget the blame game: there is no single person at the focus when within a support system, which means there is no single person at fault. It's a no-blame approach!
- Add mindfulness to everyone's life toolbox: everyone benefits from increased awareness and recognizing avoidance strategies - yes, even your support persons! When they learn how they may be maintaining an emotional avoidance cycle, support persons can allow themselves to be more present, helpful and emotionally available.
What we have seen to be true is if support persons may be contributing to the maintenance of eating disorders, they can also contribute to the healing. It's the quality, and not quantity, of the support that matters. Support persons must learn how to name their own fears and doubts, so they can venture not only into the emotional territory of their loved ones, but of their own as well.
And with embracing family therapy focused on emotions and the art of validation, the power of that support can go a long, long way.
Angela Kaloudis, LMHC, NCC, is a Clinical Training Specialist for The Renfrew Center. She received her Bachelor's degree in Psychology and Gender Studies from the University of Rhode Island and her Master's degree in Mental Health Counseling and Behavioral Medicine from Boston University School of Medicine. Prior to joining Renfrew, Ms. Kaloudis served as an Outpatient Therapist at Lahey Health Behavioral Services in Beverly, MA. She specializes in the treatment of eating disorders and trauma; and is a member of the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) and the Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association (MEDA).