What role does individual therapy play in one’s recovery?
Each person’s recovery is so unique. Individual therapy offers a safe, stable, caring place to learn about yourself and what goes on inside of you, and how these internal experiences relate to one’s food behaviors and self-image. It is also a place to learn new skills and perspectives for coping with the things you learn along the way about yourself.
What is the role of the relationship with the therapist in this process?
It is two-fold: first, there is the invaluable healing property of being understood and encouraged, and being seen without judgment. Secondly, individual therapy allows for both the therapist and the client to discover and better understand the client’s relationships with others more fully. These insights provide both the client and the therapist the opportunity to explore their relational beliefs and patterns, while cultivating new pathways to more fulfilling connections in relationships. It can also be a place where clients begin to understand how they have relied on their eating disorder as a primary relationship, and how they can now learn to shift away from that pattern.
What do you think are some important qualities to look for in a therapist and what specific questions should a client ask?
Some combination of smart, kind, and funny, calm, wise, and mature. People should look for the qualities that make them feel safe, motivated, and that they enjoy in others. Probably the most important criteria is that one feels comfortable with the therapist pretty early on in their meeting process, and that they have a sense of being completely understood. Research shows that 80% of our decisions are based on a feeling rather than fact, so it is really important to feel good about your choice in a therapist. If you are not sure about someone, go back for a second session, and if you can, discuss your concerns. It is important to shop around and meet with additional practitioners, until the connection you have with a clinician feels right.
How often should you see a therapist and how long does recovery take?
Each person’s recovery has it’s own timeline. However, weekly treatment is fairly standard - sometimes more can be helpful. Often there will be adjunct work in addition to individual therapy. This can take the form of a group and/or some sort of alternative approach. As for duration, current estimates for recovery range from 3-5 years - to a lifetime. It is best to get in there, role up your sleeves, and trust the process.
What is this process like?
For those who have engaged in therapy and/or recovery from an eating disorder, this process can feel helpful and supportive, as well as really challenging, and at times, almost impossible. Yet, if you ask most people who have gone through this process - they can’t imagine their life or themselves without their recovery. It can be helpful to think of recovery as a window into the parts of yourself that have always been there, but you hadn’t yet discovered. A therapist is your tour-guide and if you are lucky; part mentor, ally, and dear friend.
Can one recover without individual therapy?
There are many ways to discover more about yourself, to connect with the parts of yourself that you might not have been fully aware of. However, committing to this process of self-examination and discovery in a formalized therapeutic setting can greatly increase one’s likelihood of success.
Deb Schachter, LICSW