Working with Recovered Staff
Sprinkled throughout this website you will find the term "Recovered." Monte Nido believes that individuals who suffer from eating disorders can become fully "recovered."
In fact, it turns out that many people select Monte Nido and affiliates as their treatment program of choice because of our belief in being fully recovered and our open use of recovered staff.
It is daunting, if not overwhelming for an individual who is suffering to think he or she will never really be over their illness. When you know you can be recovered, that the illness can be gone, a thing in the past, it offers encouragement to suffer through what it takes to get well because all the suffering will eventually come to an end. Clients consistently tell us that our philosophy combined with the fact that they actually get to see and work with recovered staff members was key in their getting well.
Our founder and clinical director Carolyn Costin, recovered herself from anorexia nervosa since 1976, has held the position and spoken out openly for over three decades that being fully recovered is possible. She has treated countless individuals who are now fully recovered and several have gone on to become eating disorder therapists themselves. "I saw my first eating disorder client in 1978. It did not occur to me to say anything but I made it through this and so can you. I felt if I recovered from it then why couldn't everyone? It did not occur to me that there would be different schools of thought on this subject. There was no one around who even treated eating disorders whom I could turn to and ask. No one told me to do it another way. It was only later that I heard of the 12-step program being applied to eating disorders. A client with anorexia came into my office and told me about going to OA and being told not to eat sugar and white flour. Here I was trying to get this girl to learn how to not fear cookies or cake or pie and OA was telling her something quite different. She also told me that her OA group said that no one could ever be recovered but that one would always have the illness and have to manage it and keep it at bay. You could be in recovery or recovering but it was never gone. I was a bit stunned as this was not at all my experience. How could they, OA, speak for me? I found this view limiting.
Since then I have studied the 12-step approach and I have learned so much of its value and its depth. OA has changed over the years; now there are even ABA (Anorexia and Bulimia Anonymous) groups. The field of eating disorders has learned much more about these disorders as well.
We do not in any way want to take away from the 12-step programs around the world that use the term "recovering." We also do not want to take anything away from those who say they are "in recovery." To us these terms describe useful stages in the path toward wellness, but we believe they are not the ends of the road. The 12-step program is an incredibly powerful and important program through which many individuals have found help and healing. We utilize many of the 12-step concepts, and clients at Monte Nido often attend 12-step meetings.
At Monte Nido we shoot for the long-term goal of being fully recovered. We feel that the use of the terms "recovery" and "recovering" are ambiguous. Someone could use either of these terms and be abstinent from all eating disorder behaviors, but another person might say she is in recovery or recovering yet still be underweight, restricting calories or even still binging and purging. Clients who are still in treatment will use these terms because it means to them they are in the process of getting better. I understand that. But then there is the girl who says she is in recovery because she has gained weight even though she still weighs under 85 pounds... or the therapist I interviewed who said she was recovering from bulimia but still could not eat sugar or white flour because she was afraid it would trigger her to binge.
I have known several eating disorder professionals with a previous diagnosis of an eating disorder who have been abstinent or asymptomatic for years yet do not say they are recovered. They tell me that they feel that using the term "recovering" or saying they are in "recovery" keeps them humble, keeps them acknowledging the power the eating disorder has and helps them to not turn to symptoms during times of stress. People have also suggested that my use of the term "recovered" might imply to some that I feel it is "better" or that I am better than they are. I am sorry for this because I do not feel this way. The term "recovered" is best described as not better, but different. If using terms like "recovery" and "recovering" keeps someone on track and doing well, I want to honor that person's way. I have met many people I deeply respect who use these terms and I know their integrity about how they deal with food, eating and weight. We can agree to use different terms even though in many ways we might be meaning the same thing. But I don't think we mean exactly the same thing and it is important for us all to be clear about where we agree and where we differ. This makes it important to define what we mean by "recovered."
How to define "recovered" is another thing altogether. There is no real consensus in the field except all would agree that to be recovered there must be an absence of symptoms. However, this is not really sufficient for if one is plagued by thoughts of restricting calories, tormented by body dissatisfaction, unable to eat with others or eat in restaurants, then it is hard to claim one is recovered. We believe that our task is larger than just helping someone recover from the symptoms. In fact, this is where Monte Nido and affiliates think there is a big difference between "recovering" and "recovered". When one is "recovered" from an eating disorder, it truly is a thing in the past that is no longer there. One does not fear or is not tempted into relapsing back into the illness. Although defining the term "recovered" has been difficult for the field we believe it is important to know when healing an eating disorder, where we are headed. I have written a definition for the term "recovered" in my book "100 Questions and Answers About Eating Disorders." At Monte Nido and affiliates we share the definition with the clients and work hard to set clients on the path to achieve it:
"Being recovered to me is when the person can accept his or her natural body size and shape and no longer has a self destructive or unnatural relationship with food or exercise. When you are recovered, food and weight take a proper perspective in your life and what you weigh is not more important than who you are; in fact, actual numbers are of little or no importance at all. When recovered, you will not compromise your health or betray your soul to look a certain way, wear a certain size or reach a certain number on a scale."
Becoming recovered does not happen from doing any specific thing. It does not happen on a certain day. It will not happen the day someone leaves a treatment program. Being recovered is a gradual process and gets stronger and stronger over time. There is no one who can proclaim this for anyone else. When you are recovered, it is you who really knows.
When people ask me if I ever worry that I will slip or relapse, I say, "No, no way, not possible." They always ask me how I could know such a thing. How do I know I would not turn to anorexia again under stress? I have had more than my share of major stress and I have not gone back. It has been way over 30 years now. But they say, aren't you ever worried that if you skip a meal or lose weight and feel thinner that you might like it and might want to do it more? I tell them I know that "I would no more turn to restricting my food to cope than I would stick needles in my eyes." "But," they say, "How can you ever really know?" I always laugh and reply, "Maybe we will never know until I die and if I have not relapsed then I will have them put on my tombstone... 'She really was recovered.'
How professionals view the disorder and the treatment cannot only affect the nature of the treatment, but the actual outcome itself. Norman Cousins, who learned firsthand the power of belief in eliminating his own illness, concluded in his book Anatomy of an Illness, "Drugs are not always necessary. Belief in recovery always is." If clients and clinicians believe clients can reach this place of being fully recovered, I think they have a better chance of achieving it. Many clients come to Monte Nido after years of struggling with the illness. They are exhausted, defeated and quite hopeless. They are filled with hope when they see professionals who have made peace with their food and body issues and through modeling prove their eating disorder is a thing of the past. It truly is a "been there done that, not intimidated by it, I made it so can you" attitude. Our staff exudes confidence in understanding and dealing directly with the eating disorder symptoms while offering hope and inspiration to our clients that they too can become fully recovered.
A growing body of research has backed up the Monte Nido position. Various studies have shown that although it takes time, people with eating disorders do not have to deal with the issue for the rest of their lives. They do not need to keep relapse at bay one day at a time but rather, with appropriate treatment, can become fully recovered where both the behaviors and the thoughts are things of the past.
Clients and their families on working with recovered staff members.
"I didn't know that full recovery from an eating disorder was possible until I got to Monte Nido; even then I was skeptical. My last treatment experience was 12-step based and I had understood that bulimia was a disease that I would have until I died. At Monte Nido there are women who helped me that are intelligent, creative, beautiful, loving... all of the qualities that I wanted for myself. They shared things about their lives, their families, and their friendships... it made me realize that I too can have those things. If THEY were able to put their eating disorders behind them, I realized that I could too."
"Working with recovered staff was incredibly helpful for me. I still think of the recovered staff members from time to time, looking to them as examples of health and freedom. I'll always remember staff member Lisa Mac with her sandwich, chips, and non-diet soda. ...Overall role models are essential. We have to believe it's possible to live a happy, healthy life without the eating disorder."
"Working with recovered staff was instrumental in my recovery. Having recovered staff around gave me the ability to open up and know that the person I was talking to knew what I was talking about from personal experience, not just from being educated about it. I had worked with people who had never had an eating disorder before going to Monte Nido, and I got away with too much, partly by not telling them the truth. It was easier for me to start telling the real truth to the recovered staff though. I knew that I wasn't going to be judged, or looked at like I was crazy, because the staff had been through it all. It was hard sometimes when I realized I was not as unique as I thought I was, and the eating disorder behaviors were not my idea or inventions of my own. This was hard but good for me."
"Recovered staff represent something that is palpable as opposed to the often distant medical encounter that many clients with eating disorders experience. They are proof against self-defeating thoughts such as 'I will never recover, I can't recover, it's just too hard and it feels all wrong.' Their experience, when shared with clients, creates a relationship that becomes the temporary replacement for the need for the disordered symptoms.
"The most I can impress upon others about the benefit of being treated by recovered staff is that when one is trapped in the tormenting grips of an isolating and lonely battle occurring deep within the self that can ultimately mean life or death, the palpableness of the relationship extends a truly healing and powerful hand to help one fight the battle and envision, with real evidence before them, a light at the end of the tunnel that brings not victory over but acceptance and emergence from the eating disorder."
"My desire to work with recovered staff led me to Monte Nido after living in the confines of a full-blown eating disorder for over a third of my life. I began seeking help at home, but no matter how much anybody tried to help me, I never believed anyone truly understood what my life was like despite their desperate attempts. Immediately upon talking to the first recovered staff member, I realized that there was a degree of understanding I felt that someone who hadn't been through the depths of this would never understand and somehow couldn't. In that moment, when I was trying to commit to recovery, I knew I had made the best and hardest decision of my life."
"One of the primary reasons I chose to go to Monte Nido was the recovered staff. I thought that if anyone could help, it would be the people who figured out how to untangle themselves from their own eating disorder. I thought that they might know things that professionals who had never struggled with an eating disorder could not. And it was true. I never had a therapist who was wiser to anorexia's tricks, showed more compassion for my struggle, and who could counteract my eating disorder thoughts and behaviors so well. "
"Coming to understand and grasp the practical, emotional, and communication needs of a child with an eating disorder is very, very difficult. It seems like the harder we tried the worse we made the situation. Being able to work closely with a therapist who has been through the challenges, is recovered, and who really understands the nuances and details of the disorder from their own personal challenges and professional training was so valuable to our recovery process. It was extremely valuable for us as parents to hear and learn from truly knowledgeable professionals who know the disorder from a very personal and professional perspective.
For our daughter, she was willing to believe and trust the advice of her recovery team because her mentors and therapists had been exactly where she was; they knew her pain. Unless a person with an eating disorder can really trust their treatment team at the deepest levels, they may never truly take or continue the very hard and difficult steps forward toward recovery. Monte Nido made these experiences possible for us. Our daughter's successful results speak volumes for the work of the Monte Nido team. "
"We were extremely lucky to have our daughter treated by recovered professionals; they understand and can walk through the darkest of moments and days that no one else can come close to understanding."
"I didn't know. I didn't know that my beautiful daughter was so very sick. She was so good at hiding the truth about her eating disorder. She had been suffering from an anxiety disorder for most of her life and I thought that was all we were dealing with.
She was hospitalized for her anxiety, then for her eating disorder and then again for her anxiety at a local university hospital. When one disorder started getting better, the other would get worse. They were unable to address her dual diagnosis of OCD and Anorexia. By the time she was through with the hospital, she was determined to not ever set foot in another hospital.
"It took a long time to get her to Monte Nido and it took even more time until she realized that she needed help. I don't know how the Monte Nido treatment team does it, but what I do know is that it is a collaborative effort of everyone. Each member of the staff is truly amazing. They have so much love for the clients and they really do understand what they are going through because many of them have gone through it themselves. This insight they have only makes them that much better at what they do.
They not only helped my daughter but they also helped to restore a very broken family. I learned that when a member of the family has an eating disorder, the entire family has it and suffers. Under the direction of Carolyn, I too got help for myself, my husband and my other daughter. I am so happy to say that we have come together stronger than ever and my hope for our family is that we too can be a source of healing to others.
Thank you everyone! May God continue to bless you and bring healing through your hands."
"When I learned that Sarah's therapist had recovered from an eating disorder, it was tremendously encouraging to me. I never knew for sure that total recovery was ever possible. I believe that the support staff could relate on a far more personal level to the clients because of their own experience. I can only believe that this made a huge difference in Sarah's recovery.
We are so grateful for what Sarah has taken from her stay at Monte Nido. We have a fully functioning daughter, healthy in both mind and body, for the first time in 20 years. We are thrilled beyond description."
"I will always believe, as my daughter does, that the incredible staff at Monte Nido gave my daughter the strength and tools to recover from anorexia. With much of the staff being recovered from an eating disorder themselves, they know the pain and confusion that their clients are dealing with on a daily basis. They have already traveled on the ED road and recovered. This enables them to guide others on the correct path with empathy and compassion."
"When my daughter was deciding on the best eating disorder center for herself in 2004, she was drawn to one where the therapists had experienced an eating disorder themselves. It definitely made her more open to treatment. She discovered that her therapists were truly able to empathize with her on every level. They had felt physically, emotionally and spiritually what she was feeling. As parents, we could see that she could trust them more readily. We were aware that the possibility of recovery was something that Juliet could see was real. The evidence was in front of her.
This empathy often allowed Juliet and the therapist to be able to laugh at shared experiences and appreciate the perceived absurdity of eating disorders. Surely a healing experience.
Our daughter found that the recovered therapists easily pulled strategies out of their hat to use in their work. Been there, done that! Also our daughter mostly appreciated firm guidelines around eating. She really needed this and, because she understood that at sometime the therapists had been down the same path and had coped with similar strict guidelines, she seemed to more readily accept it. She also found that some of her therapists had experienced bullying for being overweight, just as she did, and understood some of the aspects that drove her relentless pursuit of thinness.
Lastly, not only our daughter but we too could see and feel the passion that comes from having traveled a similar path."
"There's no question that Monte Nido was so right for Deb as a client, and for me as her support. On so many levels, and in so many ways, it was perfect. Deb and I learned quickly, during our first phone call with Keesha, before she made the trip out there, that she and so many other team members at Monte Nido were actually recovered themselves.
This personal experience that many of them had with recovery held a lot of water for us. It was because of their personal recovery's that we knew that in the right place, with the right help, healing for both of us was truly possible. This immediately took the "you don't know what it's like" argument off the table for Deb.
Each recovered team member at Monte Nido was able to offer personal stories of what aided in their successful recovery. For me, during my visits there while Deb was a client, and during my phone calls with Keesha, It was amazingly helpful to hear what Deb was going through from an
outsider, with personal experience. I was always looking for ways to be better support for her, but, in the process, lost focus on taking care of myself. I was constantly reminded of how important it was to embrace a healthy me...which would ultimately help Deb become a healthier her.
times, I felt as if we were both climbing this enormous, insurmountable mountain, but that we had the best guides in the world, that had done this climb themselves, and were able to give us the safe guidance and support to safely and confidently complete the journey. Even now, almost two years later, Deb and I still reflect on the successes that so many team members at Monte Nido had with their own recovery.
We truly believe that this is what sets Monte Nido apart from every other program out there. Even now, we still use the team at Monte Nido as a resource, because we know that they are always going to be at least one step ahead in their recovery