Israel is a small country filled with big ideas. One of those ideas was an avant-garde conference organized by the Israeli Association of Eating Disorders that took place last Thursday at Tel Hashomer/Sheba Medical Center.
What made this conference so cutting edge and innovative is that it was tagged as a “family conference.” This event was not designed exclusively for eating disorder professionals; in a most welcome twist, patients and their families were invited as well. The educational program featured presentations by both those treating eating disorders, and by those with lived experience as sufferers and parents.
The idea that patients and parents can not only learn from professionals, but can teach them as well, is one that I believe holds great promise. Last Thursday, this was actually taken one step further, when things went way beyond two directional learning. What happened at that family conference unveiled a previously untapped resource in the eating disorders field, or really in most other healthcare fields for that matter–partnership and collaboration between patients, parents, and professionals. For once, we stood on common ground and talked frankly and openly about our disappointments, our frustrations, our challenges, and our expectations. It was most definitely a two-way conversation; an actual dialogue designed not to brood over the failures of the past, but to change the landscape so that we can build the successes of the future, together.
That being said, emotions ran very high. There were raised voices and there were lots of tears and there was tension and there was oh so much passion and fervor. There was a lot of hope; but to be honest, there was also a lot of negativity. One advantage of having professionals in attendance was that they were able to navigate all of the raw, powerful emotion and bring the discussions around to a place of productivity.
It was very important for parents to have the freedom to express themselves however they saw fit, and to receive validation from the professional community. So often, we parents hear denial, such as, “What you are saying can’t be happening, no clinician would do that to a patient or to a family.”; and yet, it happened to our child, so we know firsthand that these incidents do occur. As hurtful as it is when our child is treated in a way that compromises her recovery and goes against accepted standards, that hurt is compounded when accompanied by the denial that is often lobbed at us in response from the professional community. I believe that having our lived experience validated is the first step to breaking down the walls that separate parents from clinicians and serve as barriers to productive partnerships that would greatly improve patient care.
I was also impressed that clinicians were able to somewhat close the professional distance that they so frequently insist on establishing and to admit that they are also frustrated by the lack of resources and by the difficulties that they encounter professionally. They allowed us to connect with them; and in doing so, they made themselves seem incredibly relatable. They turned the tables for a brief moment so that we could look at eating disorder treatment and the challenges that they encounter from their perspective, through their eyes. It is a far different view than we usually get, and for me personally, it allowed me to let go of some of the anger that I carry toward the professional community here in Israel as a whole. Though I feel entitled to that anger, which was earned through some repugnant and despicable experiences that we have had throughout the years, I came to the realization that if I wanted to establish mutual respect between parents and professionals, then I had to get the chip off of my shoulder. It wasn’t doing anyone any good. And so, I am trying.
It makes so much sense to include patients and families in the discussion if you want to sincerely enhance patient care, as we are the ones who use the healthcare system and are in the best position to give input on where it is succeeding and where it is failing. We can give vital ideas on how and where to make improvements. We can address the shortcomings that we experience and suggest ways to advance and promote better treatment. All we need is a voice; and for once, we were given that. It was one of the most precious gifts that I have ever received, because I believe that it’s a gateway to a more promising future for eating disorder patients and their families here in Israel.
This revolutionary conference, while impactful and significant, is only the beginning of the work that needs to be done. If anything, it has brought to light the gaps and flaws in the treatment system that impede eating disorder recovery and has shown us what a long road we have to travel in order to get to a better place. But to me, the silver lining is that we parents will no longer be traveling it alone. We now have partners, the dedicated professionals who treat our children and who have expressed a clear willingness to help us, just as we can help them.
I know that change will happen. It will not happen all at once, and it will not happen tomorrow, but it will happen. Eating disorder treatment here in Israel is going to improve, because we are going to improve it together.
I am very proud of the Israeli Association of Eating Disorders for being pioneers in organizing such an innovative and productive family conference. I hope that other healthcare fields here in Israel emulate this model, and that dialogues are sparked between professionals, patients, and their families, so that we can start to see better treatment and higher standards of care.
I am convinced that these types of initiatives lead to collaborative partnerships between stakeholders, which have the enormous potential to positively impact the treatment culture in the eating disorder field here in Israel.
The family conference was only one day, but for me it was a magical day, signifying the dawn of a new era in eating disorder treatment where the walls between parents and professionals have been lowered enough that each party can see through to the other side. And when you think about it, who better to pioneer this type of innovative initiative than our small country with big ideas?