I get asked by family members of clients all the time, “what can I do to help?” There are many treatment methods used by providers to help their clients in eating disorder treatment, the one that answers this question is with family therapy. Family therapy aims to help a family learn, grow, and adapt to new changes in their loved one that are established during eating disorder treatment. When the whole family participates in the clients eating disorder treatment, the client will feel more support and strength when returning home. Overall, family involvement should be a continuous process before, during, and after a client receives treatment.
Family therapy works to strengthen communication, improve problem solving, reduce conflict, and helps families understand their boundaries and dynamics together. One theory posits that the purpose of family therapy is to help a family work through a challenge they are facing that has shifted the overall homeostasis of their family. Homeostasis is the normal level at which a family functions. Thus, when a family is experiencing a problem, such as one family member struggles with an eating disorder, the whole family’s homeostasis is thrown off and everyone is affected.
For instance, when my family learned that my sibling was struggling with an eating disorder, it created anxiety and stress in us all. Stress affects everyone in different ways, whether it be through disordered eating behaviors, heightened blood pressure, or behavioral outbursts. It took all of us helping to support her in order for her to recover. Therefore, in order for the client to successfully get through the recovery process, their family needs to also find their way back to homeostasis together.
It’s not always that easy to be “involved” when an eating disorder is present. If your loved one is isolating or withdrawing from the family, here are some tips to be supportive and encourage more interaction with them:
- Lend an ear- Inquire about how they’re feeling and ask if they want to talk.
- Have fun- Invite them to participate in activities where food is not the main subject – Try going to a park or catching a show together on Netflix.
- Don’t give up- Keep calling, texting, and emailing!
Finally, it is important to remember that not every family looks alike. One of my favorite quotes is from Finding Nemo when Dory says “family is home.” So, if home has a grandparent, an uncle, some nieces, and a best friend in it – that is your family. They are just as vital to your recovery as you are, and at EDS, we will make sure you all get through this together.