A guide to help loved ones find the motivation for recovery
People suffering from eating disorders are often ambivalent about recovering, which makes these types of illnesses harder to treat. Helping loved ones find their motivation for recovery can sometimes be hampered by the circumstances under which they “accepted” the need for treatment in the first place, i.e. was it their choice?
Judy Scheel, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., CEDS is currently in private practice licensed in NY and NC and is the Founder and Former Executive Director of Cedar Associates. She is the President of Cedar Associates Foundation, Inc., a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the prevention, education, and research of eating disorders.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
A parent’s? A medical professional’s? Helping those with eating disorders discover their own reasons to begin the recovery process can contribute to creating and sustaining their motivation. Engaging in a positive alliance based on empathy, trust and respect is necessary for sustained motivation.
Before beginning to motivate your child or loved one toward recovery, it’s important to take a few precautionary steps:
- She must be seen by a medical professional first so he or she can diagnose and assess the issues from a medical perspective such as:
- The degree to which your child accepts that the eating disorder is not functioning independent from her psychological and mental states
- The degree to which your child is medically compromised
- Motivation is not possible when the patient is in an acute medical state
Steps in Motivation
The following is a guide for parents and family members to help their child or loved one find the motivation needed to begin recovery:
- Understand that this is not an easy—or fast—fix. Be patient, maintaining patience and empathy while maintaining commitment to realistic goals is important.
- Do not force too many behavioral changes during the early phase of treatment unless medical risk is heightened or you need to determine if your child can do the work in an outpatient setting.
- With every step forward, there will be steps backward. Don’t get discouraged, and don’t let these setbacks discourage your child. Keep focusing on the ultimate goal.
- Remember that 100 percent recovery is very difficult. Recovery is a process; reducing and eliminating symptoms while dealing with the psychology of it, i.e. understanding the purpose the eating disorder serves in your child’s life are the goals.
- There are varying degrees of “giving up symptoms;” understanding the significance of giving up eating disordered behavior is a milestone that once reached, should be celebrated and supported.
- Be mindful of sending mixed messages about body images both through words and actions. Don’t place an emphasis on “diet” foods or leave magazines with distorted images of women around. And, while commenting on another person’s overall appearance may not seem like a big deal to someone without an eating disorder, someone in recovery can easily use the words said to another person against herself and arrest or cease her own progress.
- Change your household behaviors to support recovery. Spend more time as a cohesive and supportive group. Focus on family meal time as a time to share and engage in genuine, authentic communication, so that a positive environment is created around food. Commenting about food or what she is eating is almost always never helpful; trust that if she is working with a therapist and especially a nutritionist, she knows what to eat.
- Give your child a safe space to verbally express her feelings. Respond to her concerns and fears with empathic messages, i.e. I am learning and trying to understand how difficult this is. Do not make her feel guilty about what she is experiencing; rather show her that you are there for continuous support.
- Remember that it is also okay to share your own fears and concerns with your loved one. Conversations that focus on your fear of how the disorder may be hurting their bodies is an authentic communication, and such an expression may serve as a motivation point for patients as well.
- It’s OK to have reality check points along the road of recovery. Asking your child “Is what you’re doing working for you” and “Are you feeling OK” are good ways to check on the progress of recovery without becoming overbearing.