When I am looking for a plumber or an orthodontist, I post on my community list asking for recommendations as well as any cautionary warnings of who to stay away from.
When my daughter was diagnosed with an eating disorder, I couldn’t exactly post on my community list asking for treatment referrals. When it comes to private matters, especially those with associated mental health stigmas, finding information is extremely difficult. Of course the irony is that it’s about a million times more important to find the right eating disorder treatment for your child than it is to find the right plumber to fix your leaky faucet, but information on the former is so much harder to come by, and many times you only get second or third hand information which can be less than reliable.
Parents are probably the best resource for sound treatment information; however, it’s not exactly an open network so you have to come forward in a way that you are comfortable with and put feelers out that you are looking for help. In my case, I asked a distant friend if she would send a post to our community list asking about eating disorder treatment options. I definitely chose the right person to ask, because it ended up that she had two close friends, both of whom I knew (the eating disorder world is way smaller than you think…), whose daughters were in treatment at the time. She asked them for permission to give me their names. Once they agreed, I called them, and they offered me advice and support. I desperately needed both; I can’t describe how paralyzed and helpless I felt knowing that my daughter was so sick and not knowing where to take her for help. There were three fellow moms who pulled me through the first few weeks and put me on the track to treatment for my daughter. I will always deeply appreciate their willingness to come forward and help me. From my experience, parents respect one another’s confidentiality, so you can help someone else or reach out for help with somewhat limited exposure.
My first instinct was to find a therapist who was culturally and religiously similar to us. I wanted to stay within my comfort zone. I thought that we would be most compatible with someone who would identify with our lifestyle and our values.
I know that some people are able to find a treatment solution that does not breach their cultural comfort zone, and that’s great. In our case, experience has taught me that my first instinct was wrong.
When we were in family therapy with our daughter at a private eating disorders treatment center in Tel Aviv, the therapist assigned to us seemed like an ill-matched choice. She was the absolute antithesis of who I would have considered most suitable for us. We were young and she was much older. We were American and she was Israeli. We were religious and she was secular. We had no cultural similarities, our views on most issues were diametrically opposed, and we had nothing at all in common. For the life of me, I had no idea how this pairing could possibly work; however, it exceeded my expectations in every way possible. Our therapist was exceptionally proficient in both the language and the culture of eating disorders. This proved to be the most important factor. We didn’t need any common ground and she didn’t need to relate to our culture, lifestyle, or values in order to work effectively with us. She was a true eating disorders specialist. What is most amazing to me is that there was incredible compatibility which transcended everything that I thought would have been important. Our therapist was able to relate to us and bond with us in the most genuine way.
It may seem odd that I find cultural compatibility between patient and therapist to be unnecessary and even irrelevant, but if you understand anorexia, I think that it makes sense. Anorexia is a deafening voice that drowns out everything else in a person’s life. The voice can, and many times does, compromise one’s morals, values, and beliefs, even in the most principled person. That’s how strong and dominant it is. Given that it’s not uncommon for an anorexic to allow her eating disorder to take precedence over every other aspect of her life, I think it makes sense that all other considerations besides a therapist’s qualifications, methods, and level of experience/expertise take a back seat to cultural considerations when you are looking for the right person to treat your child.
There are some outstanding eating disorder professionals here in Israel. I can tell you from experience that the best treatment is never cheap, and it’s usually not the most convenient option, but it’s reassuring to know that there is solid help out there. If you need a hand finding it, let me know.