Developing Recovery Narratives (May 2018)
When an individual struggles with an eating disorder, it is not easy to work on finding our “healthy voice.” For many, their “healthy voice” is the opposite of what they are thinking, doing, and saying. It is common with eating disorders to be speaking or presenting ourselves from the place of the eating disorder.
As an eating disorder clinician, I am aware that every statement that my client makes has meaning and is said in relation to an experience. As such, clinicians must learn to be a good listener in order to properly identify what these messages mean.
Understanding the Experience of the Individual
As an eating disorder clinician or other provider some important questions to ask yourself when working with your client are:
what are their statements related to?
Did the client have a negative experience in his/her life such as trauma?
Is your client constantly replaying negative messages that they have been told like an old tape recorder?
Perhaps the client is protesting or rebelling to those that repeat the same negative messages each time they see each other.
Your client may also be marginalized because of their gender identity, assigned gender, race, or culture.
All of these elements influence how we experience and look at our culture and society. Therefore, all of these topics should be discussed with your client. Asking questions about how your client views and interacts with the world allows them to process their individual experiences and helps them to move forward in their recovery.
Detach Your Client from Their Disorder
In helping the client to develop their “healthy voice” and “healthy self,” it is necessary to focus on working with the person themselves instead of focusing on the problem. Focusing on the problem alone only supports your client’s notion that their disorder is their identity, which makes it harder for them to let go. Focusing on your client as an individual will help them to detach from their disorder and learn who they are without it.
As your client learns who they are, so will you, allowing your relationship to evolve as you work together toward their recovery.
To separate the individual from the disorder, I like to work through their inner dialogue with clients.
First, I ask clients to role-play what their voice says. For example, clients can often say what their eating disorder voice would say about a certain situation. Then, I would ask the client what they would say themselves.
Teaching clients to separate these two inner-dialogues helps them to learn that they can fight eating disordered thoughts with their own, as opposed to simply taking it as fact. It is important for the client to have this dialogue to promote recovery.
Questioning Yourself and Your Disorder
Sometimes we fearfully run away from questions that force us to examine ourselves but considering these can provide us with valuable insight into how our disorder is impacting us and how to overcome it.
Some questions you should have your client consider that will guide them to recovery would be the following:
Do you remember a short time that your eating disorder did not consume your thoughts?
What does the eating disorder tell you about yourself?
Are there people or circumstances that trigger your eating disorder?
Are there parts of yourself that you like when your eating disorder is active?
Have there been times that the eating disorder could have taken over a situation but you were able to do so instead and change the narrative?
In that instant, what did you say to yourself and how can you continue to bring out that healthy conversation more often?
What has the eating disorder gotten you to do or say that is against your value system?
There are so many more questions that can allow our clients to grow forward in their recovery. These are a few that help clients detach their identity from their eating disorder and allow them to process moments when their identity won.
Finding those moments when ED was not in control helps us determine what traits, conversations, and actions have worked to fight it in the past. Those can all be honed to use in the future for ultimate recovery.
Whether an individual has an eating disorder or not, we all need to learn how we can use our “healthy voice” to combat the negative and unhelpful thoughts of our inner dialogue.