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Having been a therapist for more than 30 years, I have some ideas on how to get the most out of the process. As an eating disorders therapist, I also have advice on how to use therapy to help you move toward “normal” eating. Of course, if you’re not in therapy, you can still focus on the areas I highlight to promote psychological healing.
Have an agenda. Clients often wait for me to bring up a topic to talk about, which may be hit or miss on my part. If a client doesn’t raise a subject, I generally ask, “How can I help you today?” This doesn’t mean that you always need to come in with a problem. It’s important for clients to share pride in their accomplishments or progress. Often my validating clients’ concerns or ideas is helpful. It’s fine to occasionally not come prepared with questions, but it doesn’t show much agency or interest in betterment if you’re always depending on your therapist to direct discussion.
Focus on skill building and improvement. To become a “normal” eater, you’ll need topnotch skills in emotional management, self-regulation, self-reflection and interpersonal relations. If you always need to be busy and turn to food when you’re not, ask your therapist to help you learn to tolerate having nothing to do or learning to quiet your mind. If you blow up easily or fear confrontation, ask if you can explore how to contain emotions or what has made you so afraid of displeasing other people. If you’re highly anxious, seek guidance on how to relax and self-soothe, and to avoid attaching to unhelpful or irrational thoughts.
Resolve mixed feelings. Many dysregulated eaters are scared to give up food for comfort. This is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is necessary to come to terms with. Your therapist doesn’t need to be an expert in eating disorders to help you explore conflicting feelings. Maybe you’re uncomfortable dating and feel less self-conscious at a higher weight. Your therapist won’t know this unless you tell her or him. This sharing is especially important if you’re a survivor of sexual harassment, assault or abuse. Let your therapist know if this is in your history, as unresolved trauma may be deterring you from “normal” eating and becoming healthier.
Be open to suggestions. Ask your therapist what he or she thinks would help you have a better relationship with food and your body. What would be useful to focus on? How could you use therapy to grow psychologically and eat more mindfully? In what ways could you improve your self-care to rely less on food for comfort and pleasure? Try being more proactive in therapy. It’s your time, your money, your job and your life!
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