The Resilience Regiment

Voices in Recovery

Connecting With Teens So They Can Thrive and Ultimate

The Resilience Regiment speaks with The Lotus Collaborative

Posted Mar 13, 2017

Courtesy of The Lotus Collaborative
Source: Courtesy of The Lotus Collaborative

Humility, authenticity, and collaboration are among the keys to helping a young person struggling with an eating disorder, says Katherine M. Zwick, MA, LPCC, executive clinical director of The Lotus Collaborative. With a staff that includes several survivors of eating disorders, her team team aspires to relate to clients in an egalitarian way as they work together connect, achieve balance, and thrive. Outside of its two centers, the staff advocates to overcome persistent stereotypes in public perception of individuals living with these disorders that could affect anyone.

How have you been able to achieve success in treating eating disorders?

My sense of why we excel at treating eating disorders is multi-faceted. First, we have a collaborative approach with our clients, because we believe that we are no different than the clients that we serve. As eating disorder professionals and survivors, we may have acquired more skills than clients have coming in, but we believe those skills can be learned. With a collaborative, equality-based mindset, we offer clients dignity, empowerment, and a chance to find their authentic voice. This seems to be, in our experience, crucial for the depth of recovery from eating disorders we are privileged to be a part of. We additionally emphasize holistic forms of recovery that include movement, meditation, and a sense of the sacred, designed to deepen one's understanding of one's pain as well as one's higher aspirations and deeply held values.

What are one or two factors that distinguish your program?

Clients in our program have consistently noted that the warmth, authenticity, and collaborative spirit we bring to our work with them distinguishes Lotus from other treatment centers. We specialize in a feminist therapeutic approach to treatment, which means we seek to work in an egalitarian manner with our clients, valuing their truest and healthiest voice, and guiding them, when needed, toward using their voice honestly and bravely. We also see ourselves as mentors and coaches, providing insights about what worked for those of us on staff who are eating disorder survivors, offering hope and optimism in the face of an eating disorder's seemingly strong clutches. We think that our commitment to employing eating disorder survivors who can be open and fearless about their own recovery journey sets us apart.

How can a family member or friend effectively raise the possibility of residential treatment?

One thing we might suggest is to focus on the impact that the eating disorder has on the relationship with your loved one. You could let your loved one know that you miss the carefree time you used to spend together or that you feel that something is getting in the way of your relationship. It is also helpful to pose this as a question, rather than assuming that you know what is going on in the heart and mind of your loved one. We recommend using "I" statements: For example, "I feel sad and scared, because I am concerned about your health. How do you feel about this?" Then, really listen to the answer. When it comes to hoping that your loved one will go to residential, it can be effective to support the client in getting an assessment by an eating disorder specialist. This is a big step in the right direction and can help your loved one determine with a professional what may be most clinically indicated for where they're at.

Does your center you have a mantra that has been helpful or inspirational for your clients?

"Connect. Balance. Thrive." Connect reminds clients of the power of relationships in recovery. Balance reminds clients that recovery is gentle instead of extreme, that it’s in balance instead of black or white, and that it’s “both/and" instead of "either/or." And Thrive reminds clients that life is about far more than getting by or surviving; it can be about thriving and living an abundant, joyful life! We also encourage our clients to connect to their "soul self," even when it may feel challenging or scary to know what that is or what it's trying to tell you. These touchstones remind clients, particularly in moments of great struggle during their recovery, what values Lotus is helping them recover with and toward. Focusing on these values can be the calm in the storm of confusion, chaos, or suffering, bringing clients back to awareness, acceptance, and action for their recovery.

How has the awareness of eating disorders and their treatment shifted in the culture at large? How has your team helped to facilitate that change?

We have noticed that the idea of eating disorders as a serious mental health concern is gaining a wider understanding and acceptance in the mental health and medical fields, as well as at the public policy level. Lotus staff advocated strongly alongside other advocates in Washington D.C. including senators and members of Congress to move The Anna Westin Act into legislation. Provisions from the act were included in the 21st Century Cures Act that was signed into law on December 7, 2016, making it the first bill in history passed by Congress specifically to assist people with eating disorders. This act includes measures to clarify mental health parity law to improve health insurance coverage for eating disorders and residential treatment, training for health professionals, including doctors, to identify eating disorders earlier, and increased information and resources to help the public identify eating disorders as well.

If you could make one further change in the public perception of mental illness or eating disorders, what would it be?

That we are all intricately connected to each other's health and well-being as well as to each other's pain and suffering. Perhaps mental illness would not be so stigmatized and othered if everyone had a deeper understanding of our interdependence and interconnectedness. Research supports the notion that mental illness has genetic as well as environmental components – and we cannot accurately parse out which part is which. If we were all more curious about the environmental, cultural, familial, systemic, and institutional contributions to the development and maintenance of mental illness —without being afraid of the answers — and if we could all own, fearlessly, our part in the system of human pain and suffering — although we did not cause it — then perhaps some of the cultural burden that weighs heavily on those with mental illness could be lifted, as we seek to find our similarities with each other rather than our differences. 

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Courtesy of The Lotus Collaborative
Source: Courtesy of The Lotus Collaborative

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