Therapists who self-identify as being ‘recovered’: experiences working with body image disturbance and eating disorders

Verbeek, Linda (2016) Therapists who self-identify as being ‘recovered’: experiences working with body image disturbance and eating disorders. DProf thesis, Middlesex University / Metanoia Institute.


Female therapists who have recovered from past body image disturbance or an eating disorder are often drawn to working with others suffering with these problems. They may have a lot to offer in their work by having important insight into the healing process; however this client group may evoke various emotional and embodied feelings in the therapist, particularly in relation to body image, food and weight. By using an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis method of qualitative enquiry, a sample of nine recovered female therapists was interviewed to explore the subjective experience and management of feelings and countertransference reactions that emerged with clients struggling with eating disorders and/or body image disturbance; as well as the self-support strategies they use alongside their work.
Through an analysis and interpretation of the data, three master themes emerged: firstly, ‘Understanding the Struggle: A Shared Experience’ capturing the therapist’s personal understanding of the struggle; secondly, ‘Becoming Entangled: Old Feelings Resurfacing’ conveying the negative consequences for the recovered therapist when their own wounds became entangled with those of the client; and thirdly, ‘Self-Support Strategies: A Life-Long Healing Process’ which includes effective methods used by participants.
The implications for practice include: the importance of recovered professionals nurturing their reflexive capacity to continually process and manage their subjective experiences and countertransference responses which are evoked in their work; the need for training courses to place greater emphasis on personal therapy as a course requirement, and the educating of trainees on the management of embodied experience in the therapy room, particularly when working with body issues; the importance of therapists having explored their issues in personal therapy, and being ‘recovered enough’ before working with an eating disorder or body image disturbance client group; the importance of regular supervision for support and reflection; and lastly the maintaining of recovery and wellbeing through ‘bio-psycho-social’ self-support strategies.

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