How to Get the Most Out of Your Treatment Team

By Carolyn Costin, MA, M.Ed, MFT

When asked to write an article about getting the most out of your treatment team, I immediately went to my current clients at Monte Nido to see what they had to say about the topic. I find that clients are usually great at giving advice, even if they are not always so good at following it themselves. My clients gave me plenty of ideas that I have incorporated into this article along with my own reflections. I hope readers will find these tips useful in their own situation.

Tips for a Successful Team

A treatment team may consist of any combination of professionals working with the client, including a physician, psychiatrist, dietician, therapist, and group or family therapist. Here are some tips for building your team:

  1. Remember that the members of your team are there to work for you. Therefore, it is important to find people that you feel good about and who are knowledgeable about eating disorders. You are hiring them and it is a matter of finding the right match. Having said this, be sure you don't run from professional to professional rejecting everyone. If you meet a few and no one seems right, you'll need to look more to yourself. Decide your requirements and whether you have any resistances to treatment.
  2. Allow your treatment team to communicate with each other. They need to collaborate to give you the best of all their skills. It is harder if each one has only a part of the picture. This does not mean, for example, that your therapist needs to tell all your personal secrets to your physician, but that these two people, and all team members, can discuss the pertinent details. In fact, be an advocate for yourself and make sure they communicate with each other.
  3. When working with all members of your team be open, honest, and truthful. Also, allow yourself to be vulnerable. It does not help anyone to keep your feelings hidden. If you feel like you cannot tell the truth to at least one person, this is a problem. Some subjects are hard to talk about or admit, but you have to find at least one person on your team with whom you can tell everything. Then, that person can help you share what is considered important information with others.
  4. Don't minimize your struggles or censor yourself. Try to say things as you experience them. Your team needs to know how hard things are for you. Don't put on a mask or "act."
  5. You are going to have to give up some control. Know that the treatment team is there to help and that they have your best interest at heart. Don't think you can hang on to some control or just get better enough to be able to "manage" your eating disorder.
  6. If you have a problem with any member of your team or course of treatment, discuss it. Let the professional know when he or she is not being helpful. Tell the person how you feel about your sessions and what you like and don't like.
  7. Be proactive. Take the position that you are responsible for getting what you need out of your team, rather than expecting them to "make you better." Come in ready to talk. Do work between sessions. Ask for assignments.
  8. Keep a journal of your feelings and your food intake and behaviors. Share this with your team.
  9. Remember that you will have to push yourself beyond your current comfort level or there will be no growth.
  10. Invite one or more family members or significant others into your sessions. It is best not to do treatment in isolation. Your team can help the important people in your life to understand you better and gain tools for helping support you.

Group and Inpatient Tips

Here are some extra thoughts if you are in a group setting or treatment program:

  1. Be sensitive to the feelings of others who are also in treatment, but do not lose yourself in their struggles. Speak up if and when you get triggered by others' behaviors or comments. However, be careful not to blame anyone else for your feelings. You have to say how another person's behavior affected you, rather than judging that person.
  2. Take treatment one day at a time. Do not focus on when you are going to get out. Recovery is a process.
  3. Do not waste time delineating all the faults of the program and/or staff. There will be activities you like and do not like. Instead of distracting yourself, focus on what you are there to do. Work around the activities or staff members that are not your favorites. Whether at work, school, or elsewhere, there will always be experiences that you don't enjoy. Working on your responses will give you good practice for dealing with conflict in the future.
  4. Do not spend too much time e-mailing or talking to friends and family. It is fine to stay in touch, but don't let them get all your words, complaints, or tears. Sometimes sharing too much with others who are not in treatment keeps clients from sharing with the staff and other peers who need to know what you are thinking and feeling. This prevents you from working through problems in the moment with a supportive network.
  5. Do not take the attitude of joining with other clients against the staff in an "us against them" position that is commonly found in treatment settings. Clients who take up this kind of attitude often try to see what they can get away with. This is a nonproductive and even dangerous attitude and will lead to you possibly siding with the eating disorder instead of recovery. You and the staff are on the same side; the eating disorder part of you is on the other side. The staff is there to help you fight the battle between you and your eating disorder self. Be careful not to forget which side you are on.

You and the staff are on the same side; the
eating disorder part of you is on the other side.

No matter where you are in treatment be sure to set goals for yourself and honestly evaluate them from time to time with your team. This will help everyone stay focused on where you are going and where you have been. Appreciate the small steps. Recovery is a long, but worthwhile process.