Many Types of Expertise: Recovered Therapists Reflecting on Recovery

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of noise in the social media sphere about whether or not those who have recovered from eating disorders should be treating eating disorders. Some have come out on the side of saying definitely not, listing reasons like the potential for bias, countertransference (the therapist making assumptions about clients’ emotions/experiences) or triggering. Others suggest that therapists who have “been there” can empathize with patients in a way that those who have not struggled with food cannot approximate.

Tetyana blogged about the lifetime prevalence of eating disorder professionals in recovery in 2013; she wrote about a 2002 study that revealed that around 33% of women and 2% of men treating eating disorders had a history of an eating disorder themselves. I have also written on the subject before (here); I focused on a 2013 study looking at experiences that recovered clinicians held in … Continue reading →

What Are You Re-covering? Critical Conversations About Eating Disorder Recovery

As usually happens, when I spill my brain out onto Twitter I end up having some minor (or, let’s face it, major) discussions and disagreements with other Twitterites. It’s both a wonderful and a stressful experience, in part because one of the hazards of the medium is its rapid-fire and protracted style. Inevitably, discussions lose their nuance and some of what I am advocating for gets lost in the ether.

The latest discussion centered around recovery and how it is portrayed in the literature. I’ve been working on a meta-analysis of recovery studies, and commented that I was tired of the way that researchers tend to write about recovery as “becoming whole” or finding oneself. Because I am a critical researcher and a generally squeaky wheel, and based on some research I’ve done, I question whether this framing is helpful for all of those who have recovered/are in recovery/want to … Continue reading →

Exploring Family Based Treatment for Eating Disorders in China

Not much is known about eating disorders in China, especially compared to its East Asian counterparts of Hong Kong and Japan. It would appear that researcher-practitioners in China are not publishing much data about eating disorders in the country; in fact, the author of the study I’ll be looking at in this post, Joyce Ma, practices primarily in Hong Kong. In this study, Ma explores China-specific patterns of ED presentation and how they relate to the social context. As she notes, treatment models have been slow to develop from the mother-blaming paradigm proposed by Chen (1990), which recommended that eating disorder patients be isolated from their parents. No other study appears to have been done (at least that she cites) using evidence-based modalities.

In her study, she reports on the results of treatment with 10 families in a Shenzhen clinic, with patients of a relatively wide age range – … Continue reading →

Poverty and Eating Disorders in Hong Kong

Eating disorders are typically seen as an illness of the middle class, with most patients coming from that socioeconomic group. However, the invisibility of poorer patients within eating disorder research in part reflects the barriers to treatment that they face, including both cost and lower levels of awareness. This paper, written by a Hong Kong social work professor, Joyce Ma, focuses less on the process of eating disorder recovery, highlighting instead the context of treatment. She discusses how family dynamics and socioeconomic status come into play in her encounters with 7 Hong Kong teenagers from low-income families.

While her sample size is very small, it reveals a more diverse — and less body image-focused –disease pathway than most American studies, with Ma breaking down the precipitating factors as follows (patient numbers in brackets):

  • Constipation (1)
  • Desire to be thin (3, 7)
  • Relationship issues (6)
  • Parental conflicts (5)
  • Poverty (2,
Continue reading →

Culture and Eating Disorders: The Thin Ideal in Singapore

The paper I’m writing about in this post is a master’s thesis published elsewhere in adapted form as a book chapter – not the usual subject here, admittedly. However, for lack of more detailed qualitative research, it’s quite useful in fleshing out some of the observations in more descriptive studies on Singaporean eating disorder patients. This origin is one among a few other caveats to bear in mind; among them, Isono Maho’s ethnography does not aim to be a representative study of ED patients in Singapore, but rather a reflection on the aspects of Singapore culture that related to her interviewees’ particular experiences. Some of the themes Isono Maho found in this data set, nevertheless, help to supplement other studies’ findings, including those indicating that patients with eating disorders in Singapore tend to:

  • Present with body image concerns
  • Attribute comments and judgments from others as factors in their eating disorders.
Continue reading →

Is The Doctor In? Eating Disorders Training Amongst Medical Professionals — Part 3

The thing about critiquing systemic issues like lacking training environments for medical professionals (and others) is that we have to be cautious to not place undue blame on those who are stuck immobilized between the desire to a) train or b) get training in eating disorders. If the solution to the egregious lack of training was simple, I feel sure that someone would have done it already! What I am gesturing at, here, is that the reasons behind lacking training opportunities are deeply rooted in socio-political, historical, and economic trends and policies. Those providing training and those seeking training do not exist in some glorious black hole devoid of austerity (frugalness, restrainedness) and neoliberalism.

In this post I’ll focus on a few studies that help to illuminate why these gaps in training might exist, including dominant sentiments (in the general public, in government, in training environments themselves) toward eating disorders. … Continue reading →

Pride Before a Fall: The Intertwining of Pride and Shame in Eating Disorders

Is there a link between eating disorders and shame? What about pride? Can understanding these emotions help us to understand how eating disorders develop, and how they are maintained? In reviewing literature for my specialization paper, I stumbled upon a qualitative study by Skarderud (2007) about the role of shame in eating disorders. I found the article quite interesting, so I fired up the “where was this cited” tool on my university library database and uncovered a wealth of studies looking at shame, pride, and eating disorders.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll comment on Skarderud’s study, also bringing in a longitudinal study by Troop & Redshaw (2012) that looks at general and bodily shame.

Shame and Pride

Skarderud, who uses a phenomenological approach in his study (meaning that he is trying to unearth the particularities of shame for those who experience it) sees shame … Continue reading →

Whose Culture is it Anyway? Disentangling Culture and Eating Disorders – Part 4

The more I write about culture and eating disorders, the more I want to know. I keep finding more articles to add to the mix; I know I’m far from the first to be interested in how culture and eating disorders intersect, and for that matter, what counts as “culture.” Still, this has been a fascinating exploration so far! In case you’re curious, this is to be the second last post in the series, for now at least. There will be one more after this, about eating disorders in Ghana (from a Twitter request). In this post, I will continue to explore the “culture boundness” of eating disorders by looking at a study relating to eating disorders in Africa. In this study, Le Grange, Louw, Breen & Katzman (2004) illustrate how eating disorders have emerged in Caucasian and non-Caucasian adolescents in South Africa.

THE STUDY

Le Grange and … Continue reading →

Whose Culture is it Anyway? Disentangling Culture and Eating Disorders – Part 3

The articles I’ve looked at so far in this series (Becker, in part 1, and Keel and Klump in part 2) give us some insight into the idea that the link between “Western” societies and eating disorders is more complex than a simple matter of media exposure. But, having read these studies, I was still left a bit wanting in terms of unpacking that black box of “culture” that gets tossed around in scholarly and popular literature. What, exactly, are we talking about when we talk culture in eating disorders?

Rebecca Lester, who is quite a prolific social anthropologist and who has written about eating disorder treatment systems in the USA and Mexico, makes the argument that “culture” is too often used as an umbrella term for semi-related but not-entirely-synonymous factors. This makes me wonder: is it possible that in latching on to the media side of Becker’s … Continue reading →

Whose Culture is it Anyway? Disentangling Culture and Eating Disorders – Part 1

Often, in writing about eating disorders, you will come across references to how some consider these disorders to be “culture bound.” If you start to unpack what researchers and clinicians are referring to, you might come to the conclusion that “culture bound” means specific to one particular culture or society, for example, modern Western society.

By extension, you might then think that the more “Western” a culture is, the more likely that there will be eating disorders present. You might have seen this logic reproduced in such works as: “Western Media is the Root of all Evil” (note: title does not refer to an actual study/article… I hope).

The way the popular press has taken up the culture boundedness of eating disorders does not always represent the way that it is described in research articles (I know, you’re shocked–not). Generally, and quite predictably, the “culture bound” nature of eating disorders is … Continue reading →