By Abigail Natenshon MA, LCSW, GCFP
Since the inception of eating disorder treatment, parents have traditionally borne the brunt of blame and guilt for causing life threatening anorexia and bulimia in their child, a misguided belief which all too frequently have resulted in misguided treatment protocols that have excluded parents from participating in the healing process. When given a voice and a forum as agents of change, knowledgeable parents can become the “magic bullet” enhancing an effective, timely, and lasting recovery in their child with an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are relational diseases. 87% of eating disordered patients are children under the age of 10 whose diverse symptoms show up within the context of daily living, side by side with family and loved ones, at kitchen tables and in family bathrooms…and, by the way, all too rarely in the doctor’s office. Recovery from these diseases happens at home as well, under their parent’s noses and before their eyes. Patients average 45 minutes per week face-to-face with health professionals, but spend “24/7” living out their lives alongside loved ones; it stands to reason that when parents are not part of the solution, they too frequently become part of the problem.. It is for family members to pick up the gauntlet of opportunity for involvement in their child’s cure, and optimize it.
Though not responsible for causing these diseases, parents and siblings enjoy the potential to become primary forces in healing and/or preventing them. With eating disorders, the stakes are high; when their child is sick and unable to care for herself, parents need to take charge of the situation until such time as the child becomes capable of resuming self-regulation.
It takes parental activism to insure and facilitate the child’s healing. As informed consumers, it is for parents to recognize their inherent rights as individuals, parents and partners in the treatment team, to dare to have expectations, to make appropriate demands of professionals and their child through limit-setting, and to be steadfast in seeing to it that their own, and their family’s needs are being met.
Natenshon is the author of When Your Child Has an Eating Disorder; a Step-by-Step Workbook for Parents and Other Caregivers, as well as Doing What Works: an Integrative System for the Treatment of Eating Disorders from Diagnosis to Recovery. View her web sites at www.empoweredparents.com, www.empoweredkidZ.com and www.treatingeatingdisorders.com.