Counselling and eating disorders – A guide to what makes a good eating disorders counsellor

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Enjoying a Knickerbocker Glory. Bring on the fish and chips!

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My first taste of Budapest: Ruszwurm cake – chocolate heaven.

I know from personal experience how isolating and lonely living with an eating disorder is. When your best friend is the anorexic voice in your head, you really feel that the world is coming to an end. One moment the voice is your best friend and the next moment it’s your worst enemy.

I really believe that counselling can significantly help someone through these hard times. I was fortunate to beat my eating disorder but am fortunate to even be alive. Having someone to confidentially talk to can sometimes make the difference  between life and death. Yes, it can be that bleak living with an eating disorder.

There is very little specialist counselling, treatment and support available for eating disorders. Eating disorder services are at best fragmented and for many they are non-existent. It’s possible you may get a maximum of 6 sessions with an NHS counsellor, and this will probably be a CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) therapist. I am not a great believer in the efficacy of the use of CBT in treating eating disorders. I spent four years at under graduate and post graduate level studying behavioral therapy (behaviorism) and came to the conclusion that it’s a judgemental, directive approach that starts with the assumption that the client has a range of dysfunctional behaviors that need correcting. So a CBT counsellor will make assumptions and judgements about you before you have even met. I do not believe that a CBT therapist will try and get at the root of your problems and allow you, the client, to decide for yourself the best way forward. They will try and make that decision for you. CBT is a prescriptive approach that effectively denies you the free choice to decide for yourself.

I prefer and collaborative approach called ‘person centred therapy’. This places you, the client at the very centre of the relationship. It is a non-judgemental, non-directive, non-hierarchical approach that does not intrude or dictate. It’s a gentle way of getting to know yourself and by doing so, you get to know your problems and how to move forward.

As a sufferer of anorexia and also as a practitioner I can honestly say that this is by far the most effective talking treatment when it comes to dealing with an eating disorder. I do believe that my personal and professional experience puts me in a unique position to help you. Very few counsellors can offer you the same level of insight and empathy as I can. You may search for a counsellor and find letters and affiliations like BACP on their websites and behind their names. These are meaningless in many ways and only indicate that they have jumped through certain hoops and paid the right amount of money to get those letters. They do not indicate how effective or experienced a counsellor is. They do not indicate levels of insight or empathy. It is not a mandatory requirement to belong to any accrediting organisation. And unless you pay substantial amounts of money, you do not get the accreditation. The law requires that all persons working with “vulnerable” people have a criminal records check ( CRB check) done. Therefore all counsellor are required, by proxy, to have a CRB check and certificate. Not one of the accrediting organisations ask their members if they have had their CRB certification. I am fully CRB checked and I am cleared to work with any age group and any vulnerable group.

Do not choose your counsellor on the basis of how many accreditations they have paid for. These have nothing to do with competency. Yes, I am professionally trained and qualified as a counsellor, but is that enough? No, it is not. What I have is the unique experience of being on both sides of the fence. I know what it’s like to be responsible for hundreds of vulnerable people. But I also know what it’s like to feel the gross indignity of being force fed and incarcerated in an eating disorder unit miles away from my friends and family for eight months. I can truly empathise with the absolute horror of going to bed every night and not knowing if I would still be alive in the morning. I know what it’s like to be terrorised by my anorexic voice inside my head year after year without respite. In essence, I KNOW. The reality of living with an eating disorder is nothing like what you read in a text book. It doesn’t matter how many letters you have behind your name or how many accreditations you have bought. The one thing in abundance that hardly anybody else in my field has is experience.
I know all about the vice-like grip of an eating disorder. But I also know about what it’s like to free yourself of it and beauty of recovery.
I know.

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About Derbyshire Counselling Service

I am a qualified and experienced counsellor who started working in the field in 1990. I have been seriously ill and almost died from an eating disorder. Anorexia was my best/worst friend for so long. Now it has gone and its time to start again. I want to help others eat their illness. I offer a unique service as i can truly empathise with my clients and help them in a way that almost every other counsellor can not. I saw so many other people suffering so painfully and desperately and i witnessed and suffered some terrible treatments by healthcare professionals. I truly would like to let the world know how much we suffer in silence and try and and these indignities. I was ill for 20 years but my sense of altruism remains as fresh as ever
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