As the community outreach associate for Walden Behavioral Care, I am responsible for the creation and scheduling of educational presentations for medical professionals, mental health practitioners and school administrators. Being that Walden uses the Maudsley approach (an intensive family-oriented approach to eating disorder treatment) for our adolescents, school faculty members are encouraged to participate in the treatment of a student who is reintegrating back into regular routines after an extended amount of time in treatment. Hearing this information can be extremely anxiety-provoking and even scary for those who have not had significant experience in dealing with this population.
It is extremely important for faculty, especially school nurses, guidance counselors and adjustment counselors to feel empowered to assist in the treatment of students struggling with an eating disorder so that they can be effective additions to the treatment team, and trusted allies to the affected student.
How Schools Might be involved in the Treatment of a Student with an Eating Disorder:
- Nurses, guidance counselors and trusted faculty members will help supervise lunches while a Walden patient is in school.
- Supervising a lunch does NOT mean that the adult will be responsible for making sure that all food is consumed or be responsible for making the student eat.
- The faculty member IS responsible for reporting all food that was consumed and not consumed and to report any behaviors that were used to the patient’s parent who will then take appropriate action as directed by their child’s treatment team.
- It is highly recommended for this faculty member to contact the student’s treatment team by having the student’s guardian sign a release—this will allow for the faculty member to contact the designated Walden clinician directly to get any lingering questions answered.
- Meal-times are highly stressful and triggering for patients struggling with an eating disorder, so it is helpful for the faculty member sitting with them to distract them from the battle going on in their heads.
- Conversations about non-triggering subjects like pets, drama class or the weather can be helpful and effective distractions for students during meal-time and can also help to normalize the eating process.
- Games like Pictionary and Sudoku are played all of the time during our meal-times at Walden.
- It is okay to ask the student how best to support them! Every student will be different (some adolescents respond very well to praise while others find it unhelpful) so asking them is the best policy.
Guidance and Adjustment Counselors
- Will help with integrating the student back into school or the home, help with academic support and help to ease any other emotional stressors that DO NOT involve the eating disorder.
Helpful Hints to Help a Student through Meal-Time
- Validate that what they’re doing is difficult
- Help with emotional supportà “I know this is difficult and I see you’re having a hard time…what can I do to make this easier for you?”
- Student may also benefit from having a trusted friend come in to the nurse’s or guidance office for support and normalization. The effectiveness of this will vary from student to student, so it would be important to check in with the student’s guardians and treatment team beforehand.
Phrases and Conversations that are Unhelpful to an ED Patient during Meal-Time
- “Just Eat.”
- “It’s not that much!”
- “Why are they making you eat so much?”ßIt is important to remember that meals may be bigger during the weight restoration phase of ED treatment.
- Do not respond to any discussion of calories, weight, body size/shape, appearance etc…try instead, “I’m not going to engage in eating disorder conversation, how about you tell me more about your art class today?”
Helping a student with recovery doesn’t have to be scary and you don’t have to feel alone. If you still have more questions please contact me to schedule a coached meal presentation which further explains school staff’s involvement in Walden’s treatment plan. Recovery is possible and with your help, adolescents can more seamlessly obtain a life without their eating disorder.
About the author:
Natalie Cohen is a Marketing and Community Relations Associate for Walden Behavioral Care. In this role she is responsible for connecting with outside community medical and mental health professionals, coordinating speaking opportunities for Walden’s Massachusetts clinics, supporting clinical directors with program marketing and event planning and aiding in the execution of all Walden’s marketing initiatives. Ms. Cohen earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism with a concentration in Broadcast Media and a minor in Family Relations from the University of Maine in Orono.