How often do you give yourself a break? I mean a true break, some time off that is long enough for you to unwind yourself from the stressors of your everyday life? Probably not as often as you need.
Lately I have been asking myself: “what does my soul need?”, “what am I truly hungry for?”, “what is missing from my self that I need to offer my self?”. These are questions long contemplated and can help you embark on your own journey of tending to yourself.
When answering these questions, I noticed that I am overdue for a break myself and, so in the spirit of self-care, I am going to be away from the office from May 28-June 19 on a multi-purpose getaway.
I try to “practice what I preach” — be a model for my clients of healthy living and taking care of myself. I have to be honest and admit that I’m not always so good at this…but I am also a human who is continually on a journey of learning and change. It’s hard to break away for three weeks, but I know that for myself, for my business, and for my clients, I will utilize this time to renew, refresh, and rejuvenate my spirit. My passion for my work is always growing and I hope to find new inspiration for healing while I am on my adventures.
So, I wish you a peaceful, fulfilling, and restful three weeks. I will anticipate sharing some of my learnings and experiences when I return the third week of June. Namaste, Kate
A few weeks ago, I went to a panel of eating disorder professionals in Boulder, Colorado, which was the final event in the “Journey to Wholeness: From Anorexia to Addiction, Bipolar Disorder and Recovery” series sponsored by the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness and featuring renowned author Marya Hornbacher (author of such groundbreaking books as Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, and Madness: A Bipolar Life, among many others).
The panel, featuring local eating disorder psychotherapist Isabelle Tierney and Toni Saiber, executive board member of the Eating Disorder Foundation, was truly inspiring to me as a mental health professional working with eating disorders, as well as someone who has recovered from my own eating disorder. The panel members had all recovered themselves from eating disorders as well, and I appreciated the candidness about what it is like for them to pursue the passion in life of helping others find recovery.
A resounding theme of the event was HOPE. What place does hope have in eating disorder recovery? How does it support people in their journeys towards wholeness? All panel members agreed that their own personal experiences have influenced and informed their practice today in a way that makes them, resoundingly, human. I was inspired by the authenticity of panel members: ”sometimes, when I’ve had a challenging week, I still have to notice how I try to use food to cope”; “recovery is a lifetime process, always evolving, always present”; “I’ve learned that when I said no to my eating disorder, there were things I then had to say yes to, which was challenging at first”. These are the voices of recovery, spoken by those who are so inspired by this journey that they now make it their life’s work to help others.
I left with a renewed spirit, a passionate drive, a dedication to commit myself to my own life’s path: to help others find their recovery, too.
I was given a handout at the panel, one so useful that I have shared it with many of my clients. It’s entitled “Indicators of Recovery” and I have attached it as a pdf at the end of this post. One of the things I love about this handout is that NONE of the indicators have to do with food, weight, or appearance. There is no counting or numbers. These are indicators to a healthy and balanced life, and can be applied to anyone and everyone — not just those with an ED. I like going through this with clients so that, on the sometimes tough days of recovery, they can see where they are and what they’ve already done in terms of recovery. The first step is asking for help and that’s a HUGE one — maybe the most important one of all.
I want to point out a few of these indicators that really stand out to me, as a possible jump-off point to further discussion and reflection:
An article in the April 22, 2012 New York Times entitled: “In Therapy Forever? Enough Already” did its job and caused me to reflect on my career, my personal journey, and the complexity of the therapeutic process. I ended up evoking an audible “hmmmmm.”
Some of my therapist colleagues and I meditated on the clinical and ethical reasons for working with clients and wondered how we know when our clients can ‘graduate’ from therapy. The article, written by New York psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert, is not anti-therapy. It’s mostly a conversation-starter about why clients seek therapy and the reasons that they stay in it. I strongly encourage you to read the article and come up with your own thoughts and opinions about it — as it is a very personal subject.
Therapy, in general, is very personal. This is why I don’t think there is a black-and-white answer to the question of “when is enough, enough?”. When are we ever finished evolving and changing as human beings?
I was motivated to reflect on my own personal philosophy about therapy as I read the article, both as a client of therapy myself and as a clinician. As I work often with eating disorders (bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, binge eating), I contemplated an additional factor of readiness for change in the therapeutic process. I am blessed with encountering clients who are at every stage of the change process….for some, this means coming once or twice and then taking their own journey, perhaps, to decide how and when they are ready to commit to recovery.
Recovery in and of itself is fluid and ambiguous. Some clients come for a while, take some time off, and then return when they feel they need some accountability, some support, some insight. When I was struggling with my own eating disorder, I was in and out of therapy many times — “tasting” it a bit, smelling it, figuring out if it was what felt right at the time. I had to do a lot of soul searching before I committed to therapy, and I credit my experience in therapy as my saving grace and the avenue I chose to get to my own recovery. Since that time, I have gone back to therapy several times, as a way of checking in and tuning up any loose ends. I believe that therapy will be an essential tool for my mental health for decades to come. I also believe it helps me grow as a mental health professional, as I am able to know and understand the benefits of working with a therapist whom I wish to emulate myself.
What struck me about the article was the way the author looked at different therapeutic orientations and how (he felt) some are more effective than others. For example, Mr. Alpert states: “there’s a difference between feeling good and changing your life; feeling accepted and validated by your therapist doesn’t push you to reach your goals. It might even encourage you to stay mired in dysfunction.” Herein lies the debate between supporting and enabling a client: how do we know when to encourage a client to try to spread their wings and fly, and how do we know if it would be harmful (ethically, therapeutically) to do so? This caused me to consider three of the foundations of therapy: unconditional positive regard, empathy, and non-judgment.
Are these enough and sufficient to help clients create the change they wish to see in their lives? Or do clients need something more?
I believe that the answers depend on each unique client and the therapist with whom they commit to working with. Not every client and therapist are going to be a perfect fit at the perfect time. This is why it is important for clients to get to know a therapist, see if they connect, decide if the therapeutic relationship will be strong enough to create a framework for healing and change. I feel that when the relationship is based on trust, safety and honesty, change can happen. What is said or not said can be secondary.
I am still reflecting on the complexity of therapy and the players that it involves. Client needs and goals are the focus of the process, but these can be met in so many different ways. Just as every human is different, there is no one “perfect” or “right” way to engage in therapy…and that’s the beauty of it!