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  • Writer's pictureJD Ouellette, Peer Coach

On Expertise

“Expert by Experience” is a title I embrace not just because I have lived, parented, taught, and helped my child beat anorexia; it is a title that recognizes I have also studied widely and deeply to expand my knowledge base and integrate what the research says with what I live and observe and have seen work. It’s also a title that recognizes the wisdom that comes with and from the tough times as well as the good ones; from loss and from gain, and from sheer persistence and a lifetime of being, by nature, a person who can break things down so people can really hear and act with power and focus.

What I Know

What I know about people and families is that the vast majority of us want the best for ourselves and our kids and strive to do the best we can with the tools we have. I also know we come to our personal, parenting, and partnering relationships with varied skill sets and tool boxes and we all have filters woven from the threads of our unique life experiences. Knowing oneself and one’s filters, assets and growth needs and developing and employing emotional regulation skills and the ability to reliably make wise-minded decisions makes navigating life easier leading to greater contentment and fulfillment and the ability to thrive versus simply survive.

What I also know about people is that positive change comes from a willingness to sit with discomfort and ask and answer tough questions. To examine patterns and take in information, use available resources, and seek out new skills. To internalize the truth that doing things the same way you have always done them means things will stay as they are or have been. Having difficult and productive dialogues from a place of compassion and non-judgmentalism and balancing self-discovery and direction and meeting people where they are is my approach. Being an Expert by Experience means I recognize that you are an expert on your situation, so my job is that of a coach and mentor, helping you discover the best way forward for you.

What I’ve Learned

Expertise rises to a whole other level when a loved one is impacted by a diagnosis or other serious struggle; most of us want to learn all we can so that we can understand how best to help them. For me, the fact that I, as a teacher, had only erroneous information about anorexia and other eating disorders shocked me; luckily our daughter was diagnosed early, but it would have been even earlier had I been aware of the prevalence, the genetically vulnerable temperament and the warning signs.

Thankfully the program our daughter attended at the University of California San Diego Center for Eating Disorders Treatment and Research (UCSD-CETR) recognized the importance of informed parents and they enthusiastically shared with me books and article and sources to learn even more. After attending a conference locally, I was hooked and was fortunate enough to be able to regularly attend conferences and connect with phenomenal and encouraging peers, advocates, researchers and clinicians. Presenting at conferences such as the International Conference on Eating Disorders and ensuring that parents and other caregivers have a strong voice and presence is a passion as is providing families with the best resources and guidance to get their loved one well as quickly as possible. Full recovery is possible, my daughter is there, and I want the same joy and relief for everyone’s family.

I have spent seven intense years building eating disorders knowledge, and connections and communities. In addition to my role as a parent mentor for the UCSD-CETR Parent Advisory Council and the training for that role, I co-founded and admin the online community International Eating Disorders Family Support, I lead an on-ground weekly community support group in San Diego, I am a board member and the School Materials and Presentations Task Force Chair for Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders (F.E.A.S.T.), and have served on the Patient Technical Advisory Committee on Behavioral Health for The Joint Commission, as well as co-founding World Eating Disorders Action Day. I have the ability to clarify the information and recommendations you may be getting (scarily, often out of date and inaccurate), and ensure you are armed with up-to-date knowledge that will save you time, energy, money and quality of life. I can facilitate partners and co-parents being on the same page, a powerful weapon in fighting an eating disorder; together we can define and implement what is effective and chart the path forward and out of the terror and pain and isolation of an eating disorder diagnosis.

How Informed Peer Support Can Help

Life is unpredictable and when it changes it can happen slowly or in the blink of an eye. Sometimes we are prepared and other times not so much. Having someone in your corner who has your best interests at heart while having some emotional distance can provide clarity that is invaluable. Direct feedback delivered with compassion and understanding and accompanied by resources is often the thing that makes positive change and growth possible. When life is coming at you hard and you feel stuck in an endless and dark tunnel, with no exit in sight, it is my pleasure to hold up a lantern and help you find your way back into the sunshine.

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