The first World Eating Disorders Action Day (WEDAD) will be held on June 2, 2016. This is an event that I support with hope and enthusiasm. Since opening my private practice in 2009, I have been an advocate for, and practitioner of, evidence-based treatments for eating disorders and related mental health conditions.
In my clinical practice, I am consistently awed and inspired by the power of families. Parents have unique knowledge about their children and unparalleled investment in their children’s long-term well-being. In addition, parents are full-time witnesses to their children’s moods, behaviors, and eating habits.
It should not come as a surprise, then, that patients are more likely to recover when their parents are actively involved in their treatment. The scientific evidence base is strongest for Family-Based Treatment (FBT), also known as the Maudsley Approach, which empowers parents to intervene directly to help their child restore a healthy weight, resume normal eating patterns, and return to typical adolescent development. I have utilized FBT since opening my practice, and the results I have observed are nothing short of astounding.
And yet, in the world of eating disorder treatment, parents continue to be pushed aside and dismissed. It is common practice for a 14-year-old with Anorexia Nervosa to meet privately with a dietitian as her worried parents (who do the family’s grocery shopping and cooking) remain in the waiting room. Treatment centers often tout “family involvement” as part of their program, but this may amount to nothing more than a weekend visit during their daughter’s 2-month stay. The professionals in charge may devise a treatment plan for a teenage patient, but the parents never see the document, let alone participate in creating it.
This is unacceptable in 2016. We know better.
My clinical practice is based upon the belief that parents should be fully informed and actively involved in their child’s treatment. I convey to parents that they are the experts on their child, and they are the leaders of their child’s treatment team. I encourage parents to ask questions, to raise concerns, to speak up when they disagree with something I say. As an expert in eating disorder treatment, I work as a consultant to the parents on behalf of the child. My goal, then, is to become obsolete as the family learns to help their child recover and stay well.
There are professionals who see patients weekly as outpatients and professionals who see patients for weeks or months at a time in treatment centers. Then there are parents who spend a lifetime as guardians of their children’s health. For decades, the balance of power in eating disorder treatment has rested firmly with the professionals. As our field advances, I would like to see the balance of power shift towards families. I would like for families to receive more information, more tools, and more coaching in how to help their loved one thrive. I would like to witness an era of transparency, accessibility, and open communication in which clinicians present to families the full range of treatment options, explain to families what interventions they use and why, along with evidence supporting them.
In this spirit of parent empowerment and true collaboration between families and clinicians, my colleague, Dr. Tarah Martos, and I are honoring World Eating Disorders Action Day by hosting the first annual South Florida Parent Summit on Eating Disorders. This event, held at my office in Coral Gables on June 2, will involve psycho-education, information, coaching, and parent-to-parent support. Our goal is to help parents feel confident and competent to guide their loved one towards full recovery.
Families are intrinsically powerful. As a psychologist, my job is not to grant power to parents, snatch power from them, or wield power over them. Rather, my job is to remind parents that they have always held the power to help their children heal, grow, and thrive. I strive to provide parents with the support, guidance, and information they need to unleash their parental power and use it to fight the eating disorder on behalf of their beloved child.