Connecting to Recovery Online
By Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, LMHC
"If it had not been for the Internet, I am not sure I ever would have asked for help."–Anonymous Client
Most of us are on the Internet these days—over 114 million adults are online daily and 98 million of them are using the Internet to find health information. So it is no surprise that individuals struggling with eating issues and their families can find help too. With a little technical "know-how" and patience, you can locate information about eating disorders, treatment options, and support networks.
There are many ways to connect, including e-therapy, e-mail, chat rooms, message boards and web-based self-help programs. The main advantages of using online recovery tools are accessibility, convenience and cost effectiveness. This is especially key for those who are located in underserved geographic locations, handicapped, or busy parents. From a practical standpoint, it is often easier to get to your computer than to a therapist’s office or group meeting. Many of the chat rooms and message boards are free of charge and many web-based self-help programs are offered for a nominal monthly fee. When you are already paying a lot for traditional treatment and your time is limited, this can mean the difference between getting support or going at it alone.
Denial and ambivalence are barriers to treatment for individuals struggling with food and weight issues. Many clients express that the first step they took towards recovery was searching for eating disorders information online. Sending an e-mail to a nonprofit organization or reading about a treatment approach can be less intimidating than making a phone call. Therefore, the Internet is a useful gateway for those not yet in treatment to access help.
For the person already in treatment, online tools can be used during symptomatic times. If you have an urge to binge, purge, or restrict and need immediate support, the Internet is available. While you may need to wait until your next therapy appointment to process this episode completely, you can get assistance in the middle of the night. In addition, writing is a powerful therapeutic intervention that aids in the recovery process. Because the Internet primarily uses text to communicate, you are practicing identifying, labeling, and expressing thoughts and feelings every time you type a sentence and hit "send."
The security and confidentiality of Internet communication is the main concern of professionals and clients who use this medium as part of the therapy process. Steps can be taken to increase security including having firewalls, using encryption software, and maintaining passwords for access to all sensitive files. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as 100 percent security. A credible provider or website will give you information about the security of the site, how they comply with state and federal regulations, and what precautions they take to protect your personal information.
Now that you know a little more about connecting to recovery online, here are a few ways to get started:
E-mail a professional or friend. Whether you are out of town or just want to connect with someone who understands your struggle, e-mail can be a quick, easy way to make a connection. Ask your therapist about his or her openness to using e-mail between sessions.
Join the Parents and Family Network (PFN). The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) established the PFN as a clearinghouse for up-to-date information about treatment, resources, and advocacy. The PFN will also link you to other families who are struggling with the challenges of a loved one’s eating disorder. Visit NEDA’s website at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.
Stay away from pro-ana (anorexia) and pro-mia (bulimia) sites. These sites describe an eating disorder as a lifestyle choice not an illness. Most are created by individuals actively engaged in self-destructive eating disorder behaviors. It is important to steer clear of these websites, as they can be triggering and in some instances dangerous.
Research treatment and provider options. Many treatment centers and providers have educational websites describing their services and treatment philosophies as well as providing psycho-educational information and helpful links. Save time by reviewing information online prior to calling for an intake.
Sign up for a web-based self- help program. MySelfHelp.com (MSH) and other web-based self-help programs can be great adjuncts to traditional talk therapy. MSH offers interactive exercises and tools and sound cognitive-behavioral treatment for bulimia and binge eating disorder as well as a moderated discussion board for those in recovery and their loved ones.
Participate in chat rooms or moderated discussion boards. Go to www.something-fishy.org for a listing of online chat rooms and moderated discussion boards on eating disorders and related issues. Use these chat rooms and discussion boards to connect with others in recovery. Be sure to choose boards and chat rooms that are backed or endorsed by reputable organizations dedicated to recovery and support.