What do you tell people who have emerged from eating disorders then want to go into working with others in recovery? Is there a time frame you recommend for people to have space from the recovery community? Do you find people that have gone through ED recovery make better therapists for people in recovery or can it be a slippery slope for triggering each other?
This is a wonderful question and one I often think of myself. I think it’s fantastic if someone who has emerged from an eating disorder feels the call to help others in their struggle with their eating disorder. One of the most healing things I’ve done for my recovery is to do precisely this. Not only does this work give me a sense of purpose it also fills a deep need to save others from the miseries and the life-changing consequences of eating disorders. Having a need to serve others is a universal feeling and can lead to many people finding their calling and ultimately changing the world for good. But like anything else, there is a time and a place to follow this calling in order to remain healthy yourself especially when you are going through your own recovery process.
I’ve been in several communities with rules regarding how long one must be in recovery in order to participate and work with others in recovery. I think these rules are there for good a reason, however, this is not the only factor that is usually considered. Other criteria must be met as well which helps to assess the mental and physical stability of someone in recovery. Simply requiring a length of time or number of years one must be in recovery in order to work and help others is missing the point in what recovery is really all about. Recovery is a process- there is really no end point or no place at which one reaches and can say the eating disorder is cured; recovery is not a fixed point or destination this is why it’s classified as a mental illness. There are both physical and psychological factors to be considered along with the amount of time someone considers themselves to be in recovery. Also taking into considering, every individual’s recovery experience is unique to them (including the amount of time it takes for them to feel like they are in recovery), it is difficult to put a timeframe on this and standardize it. Only you really know if you are in a place where you are ready to help others in their eating disorder recovery. It really comes down to being honest with yourself and why you feel the need to help others in the first place.
As far as people in recovery making better therapists, there recently was an article on this topic on the site The Science of Eating Disorders, where they discussed this very topic. Here is a link:
The article explores how those who have struggled with an eating disorder have a different perspective on recovery and eating disorders in general.
It also mentions how it is irresponsible to say that those who have struggled with an eating disorder make better therapists or treatment providers because it is a huge blanket statement. My personal opinion is that those who have struggled do have a more comprehensive perspective on recovery (understanding its more than just food and weight), but they also may be more likely to bring their own experiences and biases of their eating disorder and recovery into their work. Like everything, there are pros and cons to this but for the most part, I believe the pros outweigh the cons.
I hope this is helpful, Carissa! Thank you for your question.
Robyn Baker, CPT, RYT, BS
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