I've given serious thought to going back to school and getting an MSW so I could get licensed as a therapist and work with people who have eating disorders. I've often felt this year like I was practicing without a license--giving therapeutic advice while not being a therapist or having any medical training myself--and wondered if I should get some training.
And I probably will get more training, at some point. But this advice column reminded me that a license doesn't necessarily mean that a) you know what you're talking about, or b) you give good advice.
It's written by someone with an MSW who displays appalling ignorance about eating disorders and the state of treatment. She sounds a lot like the first therapist we saw when my daughter was diagnosed with anorexia. A mother wrote in about her young daughter, who she believes is showing signs of anorexia, and this social worker responded by, first, pooh-poohing the mother's sense of her daughter's health:
Though child anorexia is now being diagnosed in girls as young as six years old, my gut tells me that it’s not the case here. X's weight is stable, and girls suffering from anorexia usually exhibit a rapid and profound weight loss.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. That's what I thought when my daughter got sick, and because she hadn't lost a lot of weight, I figured she couldn't have anorexia. In fact with children and adolescents the issue is often a failure to gain weight rather than a dramatic weight loss. When you weigh only 70 pounds to begin with, it doesn't take much to tip you into a state of malnutrition.
The therapist goes on to say that
Anorexia, which is an eating disorder, is linked to an emotional problem. It is not about food, but rather about feelings. These are often feelings of intense levels of tension and anxiety, or an inability to cope with one’s surroundings. It’s complicated, and it’s certainly not something that most parents would be qualified to “fix.”
Wrong again on every count. As readers of this blog already know, the latest research on eating disorders shows that they are biological illnesses--brain disorders. The head of NIMH has gone on the record saying so. And while they surely are complicated illnesses, there's no one in a better position to help "fix" them than a parent, because the treatment is food. Not psychobabble*. Not circular discussions about feelings. There may be value in therapy, but later on, when the brain is nourished and working properly again.
I guess having a license doesn't mean you know what you're talking about. And not having one doesn't mean you don't. I won't be going back to school but I'm going to keep on trying to educate families and professionals about the realities of eating disorders until the so-called professionals get a clue.
*Apologies to my therapist friends. I'm a big believer in therapy--just not for someone who's acutely malnourished. Food first, talk later.