From Where I Sit

The Real Answer in Eating Disorder Treatment

By May 29, 2013One Comment

1409273_cross_collageI don’t have much faith in eating disorder treatment. The statistics are kind of a downer: Thirty percent of eating disorder sufferers will recover, a second thirty-percent will achieve a state of manageability but remain marginally ill throughout their lives, and yet another thirty percent will remain chronically ill, stuck in the revolving door of hospitals and inpatient treatment centers. And the last ten percent? Well, we already know what happens to them.

Now, before you close this tab on your browser and go look for another job, hear me out; I don’t have much faith in eating disorder treatment, without the power of God. 

The treatment world as a whole, apart from clinicians who know to invite the Holy Spirit into the counseling room, has one thing, at best, to offer its clients: A means to cope. And coping, in and of itself, isn’t bad; in fact, it certainly trumps not coping. But as clinicians who understand that we ourselves are not agents of change, that God Himself has made His Spirit available to us in our lives and hearts and practices, I hope that we bring a humility into our work that invites His presence – and, in fact, desperately depends upon it.

We are not the answer to the eating disorder epidemic. We are not the answer for hurting hearts and broken pasts and shattered dreams. You may be ethically required to display your license in your office, but I assure you, that expensive little slip of paper will not change anyone’s heart.

There are thousands of well-meaning counselors out there, working their hardest day-in and day-out with the useful but limited knowledge the world of psychology has offered to them, and they are making a difference for the better, in many (and hopefully most) cases. We can be grateful for that. But the moment any one of them becomes convinced that they themselves are life-changers and liberators, they ask their clients to settle for coping, rather than overcoming.

I know you – you, Christian counselor, you who sits there reading this because you care about the people you treat, who prays for them and believes for them, and speaks God’s Word to them in session and over them in prayer – and it is you to whom I am speaking today, hopefully with a word of edification and encouragement. I hope this reminds you that you are on the right track, that you labor neither in vain nor alone – but that, by remaining aware that you are not the answer, and that even when you don’t know the answers you know The Answer, you are creating a climate in which the Holy Spirit can work. Your clients may come to you expecting to learn ways in which to cope with their eating disorder, mood disorders, PTSD, etc. But you can take them beyond coping. With their willingness, your perseverance, and God’s power at work within you both, your clients can be overcomers.

You are not the answer. There is no pressure for you to perform – only work as God directs you. He has you sitting in that chair of yours for a purpose – His purpose. And on behalf of both the treatment field and those who suffer, I thank you and I honor you, for your obedience to the call on your life and your heart to see the captives set free.

God bless you, and God bless your practice and ministry. May you walk into your offices each day knowing that full freedom and wholeness – far and beyond the grim statistics – is available for those you treat. The Holy Spirit is the agent of change, and He is your partner.

You didn’t really think you were working alone, did you?


Does Eating Disorder Treatment Work, video

Hope, Help and Healing for Eating Disorders, book

We are the Bearers of Light, Travis Stewart, LPC

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Angelina says:

    Jena, would you share your thoughts on Christian patients with secular counselors? I recently decided to get treatment for my long-term ED, and I was sure the Lord would want me working with a Christian counseling facility, but I encountered many closed doors. I’m now working with a secular counselor who is covered by my insurance and who has been really insightful just in the first few meetings. I feel comfortable with her, but the divide between her and me is always present, and keeps me on guard against humanistic ways of thinking. I seek the Lord’s truth on my own and with others, but they are not ED experts. Do you think treatment can still be effective this way? Thank you so much!