Eating disorders – how to help so as not to harm?

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“Forcing to therapy does not bring any effects, and a child brought by force, under pressure, does not participate in meetings for himself, has no motivation to change” – says Anna Szostak, an eating disorders therapist and president of the Center for the Therapy of Eating Disorders. So what can parents do, and how should they react when they learn that their child suffers from an eating disorder?

Dorota Bąk: Quite often anorexia or bulimia is the result of problems in the family home. What do people with eating disorders pay attention to when asked about their home and relationships?

Anna Szostak: To excess or insufficient – feelings, care, emotions, attention, boundaries … Families of people with eating disorders are not very plastic. They are highly stiff or, on the contrary, chaos. Strong, unchanging rules, boundaries, norms, requirements or, on the contrary, patients feel like a constant “mess”, no uniform rules, ever-changing rules, moods, and so on.

If they have enough empathy, are open to changes and broaden their knowledge about the specificity of eating disorders, it cannot be excluded. However, it is difficult to “go out of yourself and stand next to you”, to see the child in a different, objective light, just like your own family. This is possible through therapy. Families also often work by trial and error, testing different ideas and working methods. Sometimes they will come up with the right course of action right away, other times it takes more time than if they had at least consulted a counselor.

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