Abigail H. Natenshon
Director of Eating Disorder Specialists of Illinois
How did you get started in your career? 30 years ago, my private practice in psychotherapy offered me too few opportunities to treat family cases, so I went to my neighborhood hospital to ask if I could treat a few cases for them each week. They put me on their Eating Disorders Unit where I was immediately captivated by the challenging nature of the cases, the excitement of inspiring changes that could save lives, and of creating optimism and motivation where there had been none. Best of all, I so enjoy these clients; generally bright, charming, talented and committed human beings, they are so easy to enjoy, if not to love.
What advice would you give to someone interested in the eating disorders field?
- With effective treatment, remember that ED are curable in 90% of cases.
- This sub-specialty demands unique requirements for care, standing apart from generalist practice or other specialties. Recognize and respect this.
- Highly skilled clinicians need to be open to an integrative treatment perspective (modes, methods and milieus) in response to an integrative disorder; and to using oneself with mindful versatility (and sometimes courage), particularly in the face of counter transference issues.
- Keep expectations for recovery changes realistic; the process of achieving recovery feels worse before it feels better, and sometimes the best learning is camouflaged in behaviors that may at first appear to represent failures.
- When a clinician and client sit down together face to face, he or she needs to become aware of the presence of three separate entities; you, the client, and the eating disorder. All must be respected, addressed and managed.
- When the individual ED client walks through your door, it is safe to anticipate that effective treatment will address a virtual “crowd,” including families and loved ones, members of the professional team inpatient as well as outpatient, the school, etc.
- There is hardly a more fulfilling specialty. Nothing is more gratifying than creating hope where none exists, where recovered clients declare that they have “their life back” or that they are now “the very best self they can be.”