Eating disorder residential treatment: fantasies versus goals
A worried mother called me this morning deeply concerned about her 25 year old daughter. She's looking for a perfect eating disorder residential treatment program. The daughter compulsively overeats and is obese. My concern is that they don't seem to understand the difference between a goal and a fantasy.
Both mother and daughter are looking for an in-patient program that will get the young woman into recovery. They believe the right program will bring the daughter weight loss, a compulsive overeating cure and a happy life free of food compulsions
I'm always concerned when someone says that "some kind of support might be neededafter" an eating disorder residential treatment experience.
To me this phrase reflects a naive hope that a person can go away ill, come back cured and the burden of the eating disorder lifted off everyone involved.
Fantasy versus Realistic Goals
The faster this fantasy is dispelled the better. A more realistic appreciation of the long term effort eating disorder recovery requires prevents unnecessary disappointment and feelings of failure. Fantasies can even delay or destroy positive moves toward recovery that are in motion..
Yes, eating disorder residential treatment can help people get on their recovery path. After residential treatment people with eating disorders still have to walk that path, or climb or crawl or, as 12-step says, "trudge" their way to recovery.
When you know you are working toward progress, even when you are backsliding a bit, you can keep your energy directed on the healing task in front of you. You might feel frustrated at times. But you learn to handle feelings of frustration without acting out. That's a hallmark of eating disorder recovery.
When you know that eating disorder residential treatment a first, not a last step you can be less critical of yourself. You can ease into the program and do the best you can. You don't have to feel a sense of failure..
By putting yourself in a residential healing environment you are making yourself a winner. When that healing environment becomes your own inner healthy environment, your recovery becomes more solid.
Eating disorder recovery time
The transition between eating disorder residential treatment and solid inner recovery is usually long term psychotherapy. How long is long? It's long enough to make that internal healing environment in you as solid as can be.
It's long enough for you to have solid practice and experience in living a healthy life in a new way without needing bulimia or anorexia or a binge or a cutting or starving episode to get through.
It's long enough to guide you, support you, ease you, escort you to a healthy life.
Fantasy of perfection
Please remember, the search for something "perfect", the desire to find the "perfect" program, the urge to reach the "perfect" size or be the "perfect" person in any way at all is a symptom of an eating disorder.
We humans are not designed to be "perfect". Our design is that of a human being with all our flaws and contradictions.
There's something wonderful about being like a kaleidoscope, an endless colorful variety of perspectives, intact and whole.
I hope with all my heart that the woman who called this morning and her 25 year old daughter who is locked into her own mind and body by her eating disorder, can find the help they need. They both need to find their direction to get relief from their suffering and find their eating disorder recovery path.
My hope is that they will lose their fantasies and become grounded in the realistic work of recovery. That may or may not include eating disorder residential treatment. But it will require a sustained and committed dedication to recovery work.
Joanna Poppink, MFT, is a psychotherapist in private practice. All appointments are virtual. For a free telephone consultation e-mail her at