Notice: If you like to write and need to connect with others in the healing process, consider signing up for my Therapeutic Writing Workshop and Support Group for women, starting in May. See the blog for details.
Eating Disorder Treatment
I struggled with food and exercise issues as an adolescent and young adult, and that experience has inspired me to help others who suffer from the exhausting patterns of thought and behavior that characterize eating disorders. To that end, I completed my graduate school internship at an outpatient eating disorder treatment center in New Mexico, and I wrote my Master’s thesis on in-home care for eating disorders. As an intern I saw a lot of clients relapse after returning home from in-patient or residential care, which is why I offer in-home services to those who are interested. This treatment approach is especially helpful for adolescents whose parents have to work a lot, but it also applies to adults who need more support. Please contact me if you are interested in hearing more about in-home care.
Conditions like anorexia and bulimia are incredibly complex, but with regular therapy — either at your home or in my office — these complexities can be demystified. What purpose, for instance, does your eating disorder serve in your family system? How does it help you manage anxiety? To what extent has your brain rewired itself to expect eating disorder behaviors? How can you better protect yourself from the toxic social messages that imply you should eat, exercise, and look a certain way in order to be worthy of love and admiration? Eating disorders are one of the greatest psychological challenges a person can face, but embedded in their dark crevices is a potent opportunity: by showing us who we aren’t, they invite us to discover who we really are.
The presence of chronic, intense anxiety is an expression of the body’s wisdom that demands gentle attention. When it comes to this unpleasant experience, I’m a big fan of Tara Brach’s RAIN approach: Recognize what’s happening inside you, Accept it and make room for it, Investigate the beliefs behind it, and Nourish it however you can. I see anxiety as a heart issue, a heart-felt fear that wants to be understood. I also find that ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) provides helpful tools for handling anxiety, in that we learn to recognize certain thoughts and feelings for what they are, not what they say they are. Mindfulness plays a huge part in contacting the truth of the present moment and therefore reducing anxiety, so our work together will likely incorporate that, too, along with a hefty dose of self-compassion.
Like all psychological and emotional struggles, depression is here to teach us something. At its root is the debilitating belief that we are fundamentally flawed, that we are to blame for whatever hardships we might be facing. An inner critic tells us over and over again that we aren’t good enough, that we don’t belong. This voice become so constant that it’s like the water fish swim in without knowing they are wet. It provides the background hum to our lives. We hardly notice it anymore, and yet we are slaves to it. Shining the light of awareness on this harsh inner critic is the first step toward choosing not to believe what it says, because what it says simply isn’t true. The next step is to investigate what stories we fabricate in response to the natural experiences of fear, anger, and sadness. While these emotions are what help define our humanity, we are trained to turn away from them or shun them as unacceptable, essentially saying, if only subconscisously, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way,” or, on the other end of the spectrum, “I deserve to feel this way.” Stripping away these messages and tapping into our immediate, felt experience as it exists in the body is an essential element in working through depression, as opposed to simply trying to eradicate it. This process of working-through provides us with a deeper connection to our hearts and the true nature of our experience.
Complex Trauma Treatment
Trauma is termed “complex” when we’ve been exposed to it repeatedly over a significant period of time, as is the case with all forms of child abuse. But adults endure complex trauma, too, be it in dysfunctional relationships, harsh work environments, or poverty situations. Because trauma typically results from our being helpless to physically or verbally defend ourselves (essentially going into “freeze” or survival mode), it greatly impacts our ability to psychically defend ourselves from resulting flashbacks. Such flashbacks often occur on the emotional plane and manifest in the form of panic attacks or hypervigilance (always expecting the worst). Our ability to trust others — and especially ourselves — is compromised. Cortisol (a stress hormone) floods our bloodstream, and our nerves feel fried. We behave in ways we disdain because we aren’t really ourselves; we’re trapped in the past and can sense, sometimes only unconsciously, that we don’t belong there.
And that’s true. You belong in the present moment, right here and right now, where your best is plenty and you can observe sensations without succumbing to them. Together we can work to discover what your triggers are and why, what activities you can do to feel more grounded, and what positive thoughts you can cultivate in a way that feels authentic. Over time you will see that just as the brain can change the mind, the mind can change the brain.
Perhaps you’re not experiencing any extensive psychological hardship at the moment and are just interested in seeing what’s what. Here’s your opportunity to examine with compassionate curiosity the ever-dynamic and perplexing creature that is you. It’s your chance to ask the wise but simple question, “What’s that?” over and over again. You can get to know your ego so well that you can shed it, at least a little bit, and live as the light and love that’s constantly awakening through you.