Yesterday evening, September 25th, marked the first “unveiling” of the work-in-progress support center: “A place of our own”. The Eating Disorder Foundation, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado, has been providing education and support for those affected by eating disorders and their families since 2005. Now, in February 2012, the EDF will open a state-of-the-art support center where people struggling with eating disorders and presenting with varying degrees of recovery can come and hang out in a safe place. ”A place of our own” will be the first of its kind in the nation and is blazing the trail for increased advocacy, education, and awareness in eating disorder treatment and recovery.
I have been volunteering with the EDF for the past two and a half years, participating in projects such as educational presentations in schools and organizing outreach events, but most of my time has been spent in facilitating the weekly ANAD support group for those struggling with eating disorders (Tuesdays, 6:30-8pm; free. Contact me for more information). Through this group, I have been honored to be invited into the lives of the members in an intimate and supportive way, and I have developed deep relationships with group members as well as other volunteers involved with the foundation. Toni Saiber, the founder of EDF, has tirelessly put the word out about the need for attention and education towards eating disorder recovery. She and the 300 people who attended the fundraiser yesterday evening plus other supporters are saving lives every day.
Are you a professional or someone with interest in volunteering with the Eating Disorder Foundation? We need volunteers at our new support center! We are looking for facilitators to help out with a plethora of new groups and classes: you could facilitate and educational class or a movement group, you could run a support group, conduct a workshop, present a town hall meeting, or lead a recreational activity. The purpose of the support center is to “help people integrate what they learn into their everyday lives, thus increasing the chances for longterm change.” By giving to others, our lives are forever touched and changed.
Classes and groups are not meant as treatment, but as resources to help build resiliency and skills to support recovery. ”A place of our own” will be a place where people can come and hang out, with no expectations or pressure – something that is often foreign in the world that eating disorders create. It is a safe place where you will not be judged for who you are or where you are on your journey towards recovery. It is a positive, healthy space where members can inspire and encourage one another. When I think about this idea, my heart skips a beat. Though eating disorders are increasing in numbers, variety, and severity, having a place like the EDF’s support center is going to battle those numbers and provide acceptance and hope in a world where there can be so much pain.
As the gold and red autumn leaves were falling around the new support center yesterday evening, I had a vision of what will be going on in that very space just six months from now. There will be people hanging out in the garden, reading books. They might be quietly discussing tools for healthy mind and healthy body. A yoga class will be in session upstairs in the group room. There will be volunteers on hand to guide a person away from harm and towards recovery. Or, they will just sit and be with themselves. Sometimes, just being present in the moment and appreciating its gifts is all that is needed.
The Eating Disorder Foundation is offering those who struggle with eating disorders a helping hand. You are not alone. I am so inspired by the work and vision of the EDF, and by those who will use this space as a gateway to their own recovery.
For more information about “A place of our own” and how you can help, go to www.eatingdisorderfoundation.org.
Pica is one of the least known eating disorders because of its bizarre nature and its relatively new arrival on the eating disorder scene. What is pica? A person afflicted with pica has a persistent craving for a substance that is not commonly considered food. These substances are largely non-nutritive (clay, laundry detergent, coal, chalk, sand, gum, tacks, and other office supplies) and ingesting them can be very medically dangerous. To be considered pica, the symptoms must persist for more than one month and must occur at a time when it is not developmentally appropriate (usually at ages older than 18 months). Pica most commonly occurs in children and pregnant women, and it is seen in many animals, particularly dogs. The disorder can show up in children and adults with developmental difficulties such as autism or Down’s Syndrome. The word pica originated from the Latin word for magpie, which are birds that are known to eat just about anything.
Why does pica impact pregnant women? Clinicians and doctors think that craving a substance that is not food may be an indicator that the woman is dealing with a vitamin or nutrient deficiency such as low calcium or iron, and this can typically happen in families that live in poverty. Pica usually goes away after childbirth in theses cases, but can also continue into the post-partum period. In some cultures, the eating of non-food substances is traditionally accepted and practiced. However, pica is spreading to Western cultures that do not have such traditions and it can cause serious medical conditions (especially in pregnant women) such as:
So is pica considered to be an eating disorder? It is not currently listed in the diagnostic manual (DSM), but is being considered for future inclusion. Eating substances that are not food can be a way of managing both weight and emotional issues. Someone suffering from anorexia may eat clay or plastic in an attempt to stave off extreme hunger and not gain weight. Others may eat a substance that helps them to avoid painful feelings because of the intensity of the taste of what they are eating. Sometimes, eating a substance might bring back memories of a good time or of a loved one who has passed away and this can be the person’s way of connecting with those feelings.
Some professionals feel that pica is more associated with sensory processing or feeding disorders and not eating disorders. The lines can be blurry. What is common between eating disorder and pica are the severe medical concerns that can occur as a result of the eating or restricting of substances. Consuming substances (whether it is ingestible or not) can alter the way that your brain functions and can affect the person’s emotional state. Eating a painful or dangerous substance can be a way of avoiding, of self-punishing, or of getting pleasure in a non-traditional way. I consider pica to be an eating disorder because it involves consuming substance in a way that is not normal or healthy. This is common with other types of eating disorders.
What causes pica? While professionals are still not sure the exact cause, pica can be influenced by malnutrition, poverty, emotional deprivation, anemia, neglect, lack of parental supervision or parental abuse, or developmental delays. Consulting a medical doctor as well as working with a therapist are essential in recovery from pica. Many people with this condition need to be medically stabilized and ensure that there is no internal damage before he or she can begin working on the emotional consequences and causes of the disorder. It is also very important to try to prevent this issue turning into another type of eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. If self-esteem is an issue for the person, he or she may have a belief that they do not deserve to eat “real” foods.
I find it essential to strive for awareness about any type of mental disorder that may affect those that we know, love, and treat. The more we know, the more we can help to relieve emotional and physical pain. A condition such as pica, though relatively rare, possess behaviors that are so abnormal for our development that it forces us to take note. In some cases, engaging in serious pica behaviors is a way of self-harm and potential bodily failure. If you or someone you know may show symptoms of pica, consult a medical professional immediately.
One of my greatest strengths as a therapist is the fact that I am human. I am achingly human. In school, they try to teach therapists-in-training how to set boundaries between yourself and your client — how to leave the feelings, emotions, and process of therapy in the office so that it doesn’t affect your home and personal life. On the other hand, we are taught (and it is reinforced) that having empathy is a primary asset of a great therapist. So….being able to “walk in my client’s shoes” should help me become a more dynamic therapist, but I also need to learn to leave those shoes at the front door. Whew! This is one of my biggest challenges currently in my career.
Being able to feel and connect with clients can help build that relationship that allows the client to feel safe and secure to risk what it would be like to make some changes in his or her life. I think that this ability to empathize deeply with clients can ignite a charge of positive progress in the therapy, and I also think that this quality needs to be carefully monitored. Therapists are at risk of burn-out if they don’t engage in self-care on a regular basis. And I think that being a client ourselves is one of the highest forms of self care — for several reasons.
I have had clients ask me if I have been in therapy myself. Honestly, I can’t imagine not having been in therapy, and I am quite open about it. When I chose my career path (or it chose me…), much of the drive and inspiration that took me there came from experiences and growth I have had in my own years of being a client in therapy. I learned valuable tools to help myself find peace and happiness and I also learned a lot about the therapy process itself. How could I know that I wanted to be a therapist if I’d never laid on that couch? I couldn’t imagine it. In my training program, we were encouraged to attend therapy ourselves, and though it was not required, it was given to us for free. This, my university and professors thought, helps to build an amazing counselor — one who knows what it’s like to be across from the therapist, one who is open to working on his/her own issues, and one who can process the anxiety and awkwardness of a first therapy session with you — because they’ve been there.
I am writing about this today because I feel it is crucial for our interests and most especially for the interests of our clients that therapists engage in self-care. A therapist who is burned out and has no outlet to process will have challenges being present for his or her clients. I also think that if we are in therapy, or have been in therapy, we are showing a commitment to the therapeutic alliance itself. We believe in it. We respect it. We are just like everyone else. I get the sense that sometimes therapists are regarded as “in power” or “the leader” in the therapy room. This, in my opinion, is furthest from the truth. The client is the expert of his/her own life and story, and the therapist is the listener and sometimes the guide. I know that if I was a client today and my therapist shared with me that he/she has been in therapy at some point in their lives, I would feel very connected to my therapist — that he or she is a person, just like me, who has things they need to work out, just like me. And they care enough about themselves (and their clients) to talk to someone about those issues.
Going back to the start: I am human. This serves me well sometimes, as it enables me to empathize and connect with clients on a very real level. This also challenges me sometimes, as I work to define my own emotions in my own life. Therefore, I go to therapy. Going to therapy, though it can come with all sorts of pre-conceived notions and judgments, is the act of a strong and resilient person — someone who cares enough about him or herself to commit the effort to making a better life for themselves. I’m not going to lie — it often takes a lot of hard work, patience, and honesty. But for me, those three are virtues in the handbook of freedom and happiness. Being a client in therapy has made me a better woman, therapist, friend, family member, and citizen.
What has it done for you?
As I sit near the window in my office, I feel the first fall breeze of the year. Yes, I know it is not yet technically autumn, but it sure is on its way. September just began, and to me this signifies the blossoming of my favorite season — full of rich smells, pumpkin pies, cinnamon lattes, crunchy auburn leaves, and an array of aspen trees shimmering in color. I welcome this time of year because it signifies a new chapter…almost a slowing down and relaxing time after a hot and hectic summer.
I am a believer in the visceral and powerful impact of scents. Have you ever smelled something and were immediately taken back to a childhood memory coupled with an intense emotional feeling? That is not all in your head; there is evidence that our noses can be directly linked to our memory bank and when we smell a certain scent, we might recollect a memory or an experience that had been long forgotten. This power is ever-present for me during autumn. Autumn boasts the richest, most soothing, most affecting smells of all year round. As the earth prepares for the winter, it offers us in its cool breeze the opportunity to churn our own soil and see what comes up.
What does the arrival of fall signify to you? To me, autumn produces an abundance of gratitude. Just one year ago, I was working hard to get my business off the ground. Now, one year later, my practice is blooming and blossoming and has so much promise still to offer. I am grateful for the work I have been able to do in the field of eating disorder recovery and counseling with other issues, and cannot wait to experience what this coming year has to offer. It truly shows me that when you put your heart into something, truly dedicate your passion to your dream, that there is nothing you cannot accomplish.
I came across a quote that aptly described my experience with gratitude this past year:
“Praise the bridge that carried you over.” ~George Colman
I like this quote because it speaks to building bridges that get you to the destination that you are searching for. It also reminds us to not forget the steps and trials we have endured to get to that side. I would like to add that there will always be another bridge to cross and by acknowledging and praising the prior bridges, we can feel empowered to continue building and climbing — even if upcoming bridges are more daunting in structure.
What bridges have you built and crossed in the past year? Which part of your bridge are you standing on right now? There is no “should”s in this concept; you are at the point in your journey where you are meant to be. For me, I have crossed the bridge I built over the first year of starting my practice. Though I am on the other side of that bridge, I have more designs in my mind that will be built into bridges: workshops, groups, classes, speaking events, seminars — all things that I want to produce or take part in over the next year. I also know about myself that I can get overwhelmed easily, so I must take care not to build too many bridges at once (or else one might get burned down!).
Another aspect of the quote that speaks out to me is that perhaps, you crossed a bridge that was challenging, in some ways painful, or perhaps damaging. Can you still praise a bridge such as this? Perhaps an example of this would be healing from a loss that you experienced over the past year. Do you wish that you had to endure that loss? Probably not. But it happened, and what can you take with you about that experience — what did you learn, how did you grow, what can you praise about it? As difficult as it is to praise painful things, I think that looking at all events in a constructive way (how did they benefit/impact your identity? your life experience?) can be very empowering and healing it is own way.
So, fall arrives, and washes away the heat that has beat down on us for so many days. With it, autumn brings a new chapter — school starting again, perhaps moving away to college or starting a new job. While a certain level of anxiety is natural with change, we also are invited to create the new chapter that we desire to enter. I am looking at this autumn with gratitude for what I have built, and for what I have presently in my life. I also am using those bridges to reinforce the hard work I still yet have to do in building new bridges. This is exciting for us all!
Below is a quote that I try to say everyday as a sort of mantra. Try it out for yourself. It is full of renewal and inspiration!
“As each day comes to us refreshed and anew, so does my gratitude renew itself daily. The breaking of the sun over the horizon is my grateful heart dawning upon a blessed world.” ~Terri Guillemets