With graduation fast approaching, I sit here thinking about my reasons for going into this field. I am within two weeks of graduating with an M.S.W. from one of the top social work programs and a pending LMSW exam scheduled. As a burgeoning clinician who has recovered from an eating disorder herself, and as someone who has done extensive volunteering and policy work surrounding eating disorders, I have often been asked about my feelings about self-disclosure. This is a critical question many clinicians face who have decided to focus on the eating disorder population.
When I was a patient, it was critical for myself and for the clients that I was surrounded by to feel that our treating clinicians truly understood the illnesses we were fighting. I have recovered from an almost 20-year struggle with an eating disorder where I was that patient: the one deemed “toxic” and “chronic” by not just one provider, but most providers. I have been inspired to go into clinical work with eating disorders and trauma based on my own journey. As someone who spent a considerable amount of time in the treatment world as a patient, I know that spoken and unspoken messages to clients have a huge impact on treatment outcomes.
Self-disclosures that clinicians make about themselves is mostly discouraged across the mental health field in order to keep the focus fully on what is going on with clients. I believe that in most instances, clinicians should refrain from disclosing details of their own extensive histories. For patients with eating disorders, in particular, where comparisons and competition to be the “sickest” are common, disclosure of therapist history should be exercised with discretion. Though “countertransference,” in classical psychodynamic theory, can potentially be a barrier in effective treatment for clients, I have enough distance from my disorder to maintain appropriate boundaries.
Interesting questions are posed for clinicians like me who have been fairly open about their histories, whether it be through advocacy, public speaking, blogging, or other publications. One of the mental health field’s biggest secrets is that many clinicians go into their respective fields due to past or current difficulties. It is all very hush-hush and just as highly stigmatized as it is within the general population, if not more so. Professional reputations and credibility are at stake.
It is my hope that sharing my story continues to raise awareness and reduces stigma about eating disorders and further reduces stigma about mental health issues within the provider community.