JD Ouellette, Peer Coach
Freaky Friday (A Guest Post): What Every Therapist Should Consider
Updated: Feb 17, 2020
The video to accompany this post is found here on YouTube.
We have all probably seen the movie Freaky Friday, whether it be the 2003 version starring Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis or the 1976 film with Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris. The premise is that a mother and daughter wake up one morning in the body of the other and they are required to pull off the day posing as the other. It is an extreme version of walking in another's shoes that came with many lessons and increased empathy for others.
A conversation with a group of moms who are caretakers to children with eating disorders recently introduced the idea of what would happen if our child's therapist was our therapist for a day. How would their perspective of the exact same events be different? What advice would they give to their client, who is now the parent?
A family who has a loved one with an eating disorder will likely need to use therapists as part of the recovery plan. There are times that the child has a therapist for ED, a therapist for other mental health issues, a dietician and others. Parents often need their own therapist to navigate through this journey. It is also common for these therapists to ask that the child and the parents use a neutral family therapist so they could have a shared session to help with the inevitable conflict that occurs when an ED is present. With all of this therapy flying left and right, there is a tendency for the process to look more like the legal system model and not a therapy model. The legal system is an adversarial system in which both sides get robust representation in order to place their client in the best light and often disparages the opposition.
What happens as a result of using this model is that it takes the attention off of the eating disorder as everyone gets dragged through the muck and mire. It is important to recognize that this may be happening because these professionals are not defense attorneys, they are therapists who are held to very different standards of ethics than the legal system code.
This topic was mentioned to a group of parents to see if they had any insights.
What follows is intended to be a respectful perspective for the therapist of a minor child who has an eating disorder or other mental health issue to consider. Imagine one Friday you wake up and your client is now the parent and not the child. What would you do? What would you say to your new client? Here are some ideas that parents would find helpful.
If you were my therapist you would . . .
Encourage me to keep strong boundaries against the manipulations of the ED.
Remind me to not go down rabbit holes of topics that are meant to throw me off the focus....moving the recovery ball forward for ED.
Remind me that ED is not rational so all of the things my child says cannot be argued in a logical and rational way.
Remind me that we are on the same side Against ED regardless of what ED spews at us.
Remind me that there will be no blame game allowed. We are fighting against ED and not each other.
Remind me that my child's therapist only sees him/her for a short period each week. I live with her every day and have known her whole life and therefore have valuable information to share.
Remind me that when my child gets angry, it is a byproduct of getting in the way of the eating disorder. Her complaining is a sign that we are headed in the right direction.
Remind me that you know that complaints are the ED talking.
Remind me that I am the best asset my child has for recovery and that even if I am not an expert, I am an expert on them and their disease.
I am very much aware of my imperfections as a parent and ED is very good at weaponizing them to beat me up.
Remind me that I did not cause her ED and that I have worth as a parent and a human.
But alas, you are not the parent's therapist. You have the privilege of working with our precious offspring who we love and would go to the ends of the earth in order to find recovery for them.
So, after the effects of freaky Friday wears off, here are some things we hope you will take with you back to your client, our children.
It will benefit all of us that you see the whole picture and context.
If you feel that I am not saying and doing things that support my child’s recovery, tell me what you think I should say and do rather than undermine my credibility with my child.
Rather than agreeing with the voice of ED that skews and twists everything, ask me so I can explain what’s really going on.
Recognize when you are hearing an ED voice and an actual voice. This should be the main focus of your sessions so that you can help her identify her ED voice and challenge it and be able to get in touch with her authentic voice. It is possible to do this with empathy and concern.
You will not make comments on her looks such as telling her she looks fine at her current weight
You will not imply that the parent is not encouraging enough.
ED brains are not capable of doing normal processing.
Support her through the fear of eating and help her gain skills to do this. Even practice in the office.
My child is likely not well enough physically to do work on relationships and past trauma until she is at a higher level of restoration.
Remember that the goal isn’t to return to typical age-appropriate milestones as fast as possible. It’s to have this kid ready to hit milestones when she’s able to do so safely and in good health.
When my child is ill, she may not have insight into her illness. If I bring up some concerns please do not disregard them simply because my child does not believe that she has them. Remember, anosognosia is real.
LISTEN TO THE PARENTS/CAREGIVERS! And fact check - fact check - ED lies
I am very much aware of my imperfections as a parent and ED is very good at weaponizing them to beat me up. Do not play into this.
Validate that I know the patterns of my child's disorder and understand that if I express serious concern it is not unfounded.
Have a collaborative plan with goals and skills and be open to feedback.
Recognize when your perspective has been clouded and bow out of the relationship if there is a pattern of splitting and triangulation.
Remember, that when this crisis has passed, the child will likely have different feelings for their family. Family is constant. Therapy is temporary. Let's work together to begin to heal your patient/my child.