I never planned on specializing in Eating Disorder Treatment. Back when I was in graduate school, I was focused on couple and family therapy. I was intrigued by systems theory and believed that a systemic approach was the way to help those struggling with mental health issues. I was planning on a future of working in medical family therapy in a hospital environment and building a private practice in the Boston area.
My internship at a hospital in the suburbs of Boston changed all that. I was training on a locked psychiatric unit and genuinely loved the work I was doing, especially the family therapy sessions with the patients. One day my supervisor approached me with what I thought was an unusual request. She wanted to transfer me to the eating disorder program. She thought I would be well-suited for the work and she wanted a male therapist to join a team that was 100% female.
I fell in love with eating disorder work. Family therapy and systemic theory have a strong history in the eating disorder clinical world. I was fascinated by the richness and complexity of the work. What won me over was seeing how integrating the patient’s family into treatment created progress that could never come out of a purely individualistic medical treatment model for eating disorders. I had finally found my clinical home!
One of my first jobs after finishing graduate school was at a private residential eating disorder program in the Boston area. When I started working at the program, there was minimal therapeutic involvement with the patient’s family and loved ones. I became determined to change that. I think the clinical director gave me the green light to create and implement a family and loved one’s weekend just to get me to stop bugging her! The thought of how to pack everything necessary into a weekend was pretty daunting at first, but with the help of my colleagues I came up with a combination of psychoeducation, group therapy and family therapy that focused on making the family and loved ones an integral part of the treatment so that when the patient finished the program, she would be going home to a household that understood eating disorders and was well equipped to play a positive and supportive role in her recovery. Many of the loved ones left the weekend committed to starting psychotherapy to address their role in their loved ones eating disorder.
When my family and I moved back to Canada, I had to start all over again. I decided to open a private practice in Montreal with two colleagues and hoped that I could continue my work in eating disorders. I soon started working with some physicians at the adolescent unit of the local children’s hospital. They would refer patients of theirs that they thought would benefit from family therapy. Eventually, the adolescent unit implemented Family Based Treatment (Maudsley approach) as the primary treatment modality for eating disorders.
After around 2012, when everyone seemed to have an iPhone, I noticed a shift in the clinical work. I found that the compulsive use and distractibility of iPhones made the one-hour-a-week psychotherapy model more complicated. I found that clients and their families were less likely to do the work between sessions that was standard during the days before iPhones. I started becoming disenchanted with the one hour a week model of therapy and began to look at alternative ways to provide effective psychotherapy. I tried multiple hours at a time but still found that the lack of work between sessions was hampering progress. I started doing regular text check-ins between sessions to help my clients stay on task, which helped a bit. I still found that smartphone use, social media, and Dr. google continued to impact eating disorder treatment and recovery negatively.
I started thinking back to the days when I worked as a Gentils Organisateurs (GO) for Club Med between my undergraduate and graduate studies. We were cut off from the world with no news from the outside world except the random newspaper or magazine a guest left behind. I started thinking about ways to recreate that sense of being cut off from the world with nothing but the present experience in an attractive location with no outside media intrusions. What if I could create an immersive weeklong eating disorder treatment program for women who have struggled with eating disorders for many years and include their loved ones? I spent a long time working on the clinical model for such a program and researched how to make it a reality. I ended up launching www.eatingdisorderrecoveryretreat.com, and as chance would have it, one of my first retreats took place at a Club Med.
I was introduced to the world of iaedp™ by my friends and colleagues, Aridia and Zuleika (the iaedp™ International Chapter Co-Chairs of the Dominican Republic). We met when I was asked to consult on a new residential eating disorder treatment program near Cabrera on the north shore of the Dominican Republic. Aridia, Zuleika and I were invited to consult on transforming a large luxury estate into a private eating disorder treatment program. The project quickly ran into many complications, which led the three of us not to want to be involved in the project. The best thing to come out of that experience was that we all got to meet each other and become friends. We all share the same passion for eating disorder treatment and hope to one day create our own residential eating disorder program that is a synthesis of our skills, knowledge and passions. I am forever grateful to them for getting me involved in iaedp™ to the point where I became the International Chapter Chair for Canada. Once again, I feel like I have found my professional home!