Seven hours later I felt somewhat subdued trying to absorb my BEAT Eating Disorders training for healthcare professionals. I was relieved the training was in two parts as I did need some time to reflect on just how inadequately we manage this condition in society and the healthcare system.
Even within my lifetime I know I can safely say that sufferers of eating disorders in the most part, had zero help twenty years ago. And I mean zero. Thankfully, there have been giant progressive steps since then. What we are now realising is that the bigger part of eating disorders has very little to do with food. It is a nuanced spaghetti junction completely unique to the sufferer, who will bear some, but rarely all traits of someone with the same diagnosis standing right next to them. Twas ever thus in all areas of medicine in fact, harping back to the main ethos in medicine of treating the patient, not the condition.
Indeed the features of eating disorders below could easily apply to many patients and many illnesses, or simply the human condition at certain moments in our lives:
- resistant to change
- ambivalent about treatment
However the list above does draw upon one common calling for empathy and understanding. This is easy to request but often so difficult to deliver, especially when the patient is a person we love, when emotion can power our limbs and lips like robots. During my two days of training I was introduced to the concept of
‘skills-based caring’ and the animal metaphors on the back of work done by Treasure, Smith and Crane. I have in fact just ordered their book!
We were encouraged to be the dolphin (collaborative, guiding) or the St Bernard (calm, warm, nurturing), rather than the less effective animal crew below:
- The Rhino: angry and controlling
- The Terrier: nagging and critical
- The Kangaroo: overprotective
- The Ostrich: avoidant
- The Jellyfish: over-emotional
Yet again, we are reminded not to provide solutions to problems as our default parenting strategy. I suspect the problem solving prowess of the Rhino is unsurpassed, yet ultimately unhelpful. And those hyper-sensitive tentacles are something very much not to be messed with. Who wouldn’t want that jellyfish on their side?
It is a really uncomfortable thing to get our heads around. But I shan’t begrudge it of interesting. It is extremely interesting, not to mention empowering, evidence based and powerful.
Yet another wonderful bit of training leaving us all with the sense of ‘what is seen cannot be unseen.’
Me and my inner zoo have learnt a little more and it feels good.