By Meghan Vivo
Interventions have introduced the concept of recovery to millions of addicts, but they’re also a life-saving tool for those suffering from eating disorders. While it is true that eating disorders are different illnesses than addiction, the intervention process can be remarkably similar.
Like addiction interventions, eating disorder interventions involve family and friends presenting the negative consequences of a loved one’s behaviors and asking them to accept treatment. Although the harmful consequences may be more subtle than a DUI or drug overdose, they are just as real and just as damaging to the eating disorder sufferer and the people who care about them.
Despite the similarities, there are a few characteristics that distinguish an eating disorder intervention from a drug or alcohol intervention. Roger Canevari, a board certified interventionist with more than 25 years of experience, describes some of the unique considerations when staging an eating disorder intervention.
According to Canevari, the structure of an eating disorder intervention is the same as an addiction intervention, but the players are different. Because there are medical complications and deep psychological issues, Canevari typically involves a psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorders whenever possible.
Fear is one of the biggest challenges in an eating disorder intervention. Family members are exhausted trying to manage the disorder, confused about why a loved one would abuse themselves in this way, and helpless in the face of serious physical and emotional consequences. They need help caring for themselves as well as guidance on how to support their loved one’s eating disorder recovery.
“There is so much fear and confusion surrounding eating disorders,” explains Canevari. “We spend a lot of time educating the family about what’s happening to the person they love and what they can do to help.”
In addition to the family’s fears, the eating disorder sufferer is often full of fear and shame. An eating disorder can impact the way the brain functions, leaving some individuals paranoid and distrustful of those offering help. For this reason, Canevari makes eating disorder interventions as non-judgmental and invitational as possible.
If the eating disorder sufferer is reluctant to enter treatment, he offers options that meet them wherever they are. For example, maybe they won’t enter treatment that day, but they may agree to meet again the next day. They may turn down the recommended treatment facility, but agree to take a tour or consider another treatment option.
Collaboration Over Confrontation
In his 20 years of experience conducting interventions, Canevari has found that the formula that works best is reducing fear through love and respect. He has conducted interventions throughout the United States and South America with a 97% success rate of getting patients into treatment for addictions, eating disorders and other mental health issues.
“Our role as professional interventionists is to guide the intervention on a loving and respectful course,” says Canevari. “We encourage the family to make decisions based on what they are emotionally and physically capable of following through on, and then express themselves in a healthy way.”
Without the guidance of a professional interventionist, people struggling with eating disorders often find ways to change the subject, diminish the seriousness of the problem or turn the intervention participants against each other. This is the manipulative power of the eating disorder mindset.
Getting an individual into treatment is an important goal of all interventions, but it is not the only one. Canevari’s primary goal is to improve the functioning of the family system, which typically leads the eating disorder sufferer into treatment.
Family members are a critical part of the eating disorder recovery process. They must be willing to change their own behaviors and set consequences and healthy boundaries that they are prepared to follow through on.
“An intervention is for the family, not just the patient,” Canevari explains. “Like the eating disorder sufferer’s diseased thought and behavior patterns, the family system and home environment must change in order to ensure a lasting recovery.”
Canevari offers all potential intervention participants an opportunity to participate in a free telephone conference. During this call, he educates the group about the intervention process and has each participant share their experience and concerns. The goals are to get clarity about the situation, assess whether an intervention is the best tool to get the loved one into treatment, and minimize the fear and uncertainty surrounding the process.
Canevari breaks the process down into digestible pieces, explaining that while it is the participants’ job to put a plan together to get the loved one into treatment, it is the treatment center’s job to overcome denial and treat the illness. For most people, this knowledge brings a huge sigh of relief.
“By the time the phone call is over, a lot of fear has left the room,” says Canevari. “The participants feel stronger and more cohesive knowing we are all on the same page, working toward the same goal.”
A Long-Term Commitment
Eating disorder interventions are among the most difficult to perform. Recovering from an eating disorder is long and involved and requires a comprehensive plan. A professional interventionist provides the group with a strategic, long-term action plan. With guidance, the participants learn how to approach their loved one with an appreciation for their intelligence and independence, while acknowledging the impact of their eating disorder.
An experienced interventionist will be able to identify the best eating disorder treatment program, depending on the severity of the eating disorder and past treatment history. Even if an addiction intervention is unsuccessful the first time, it is critical for the participants and interventionist to continue working together. In many cases, the eating disorder sufferer just needs a little time to consider the consequences and make the difficult choice to get help.
Can an Eating Disorder Intervention Save Someone You Love?
People who have been impacted by an eating disorder have little to lose and a lot to gain from an eating disorder intervention. Eating disorders are among the most life-threatening mental illnesses, and individuals struggling with these disorders are often the most resistant to treatment.
Few motivators are as effective as loving pleas from family and friends. Let yours be the voice that finally convinces them to get help.