I have a goal and it is to reduce human suffering in the individuals I work with. It is an honor to stand beside them as they face their pain and suffering. Clients are often amazed at the emotion that surfaces in our sessions as we talk about their eating, feelings toward their bodies, attitudes about exercise, and the underlying feelings and beliefs that influence their behaviors.
Sometimes eating a cookie is more than just eating a cookie. It is eating something that tastes good and normally brings a person pleasure, but for an individual with an eating disorder may bring a great deal of pain. Fears such as, "What if I can't stop eating cookies?" or, "The cookie will make me gain weight" make the experience less than enjoyable, and wrought with guilt and shame. It may even result in the desire to punish oneself for eating the sinful cookie and to pay penance through exercise, vomiting or eating more rigidly. Eating a cookie may also be loaded with emotions related to past experiences. It may represent the smell of grandma's fresh baked cookies while grandpa molested her at night, or a food that always had to be snuck because mom had her on Weight Watchers and cookies weren't allowed on the diet. Food and feelings are so intricately intertwined that it becomes impossible for me to talk with a client about food without also exploring emotions.
The art of reducing suffering for people with eating disorders is something I doubt I'll ever truly master. I am as much the student as the teacher in sessions with clients. I need them to teach me what makes them tick, why they eat the way they do, how they feel about their body, and what it takes for them to heal. Together we untangle the web of facts, science, feelings, sensations, beliefs, partial truths, lies, faulty assumptions, fears and so much more. As we shine light on the darkness they start to heal bit by bit. I'll never be able to help them eliminate suffering, as it is part of the human condition, but I can hopefully help them reduce their suffering, even if just a bit.
I help them, not because they are suffering, but because they are holy. — Mother Theresa
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