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Working with A Recovered Coach: Advice for Clients in Eating Disorder Recovery

Increasingly, eating disorder recovery coaches are opening up to clients about their own experience healing from an eating disorder. Such transparency in eating disorder treatment is a relatively new phenomenon–and it’s gaining momentum, as coaches modeling that recovery is possible has proven to be notably beneficial for many clients.

A vicarious experience of achieved recovery, when handled with professionalism and delicacy by the coach, can be a game-changer for a client. Witnessing another’s success offers a sense of possibility, and fuels self-efficacy–the belief that you, too, are capable of overcoming your eating disorder. Seeing your coach as someone in recovery positions them not just as an in-the-moment support, but a role model. And research shows that role models are essential for lasting behavioral change.

Professionals who understand eating disorders firsthand, from their own experience in recovery, can empathize deeply with a struggling client. Recovered coaches are able to draw not just upon the tools acquired during professional training, but also upon insights gleaned from their personal journey. When support is offered from both the head and the heart, it comes across with a unique authenticity that fosters the essential ingredient of trust between coach and client.

Keep these points in mind when working with a recovered coach:

  • Role models are essential for lasting behavioral change.    Alan Deutschman, journalist and expert on how to make and sustain change, identifies three keys essential for change. The first key is RELATE, which entails forming a relationship with a person who “inspires and sustains hope.” A recovered EDRS coach explains her motivation for telling certain clients that she is in recovery, thus extending herself as a role model:  “I want to let clients know they’re not alone. Because when you have an eating disorder, you feel like no one understands, and you feel really alone.” By sharing that she understands recovery personally, a coach sparks a conversation about what recovery can look like and that it is truly possible.
  • Everyone’s recovery is unique.    It is crucial to remember that no two people are the same–and neither are their eating disorders, or their recoveries. When disclosing her recovery to a client, a recovered coach emphasizes: “I speak from my own experience. I acknowledge that every eating disorder is different. Yes, I’ve had an eating disorder, but I don’t know exactly what it’s like to be you, because everybody thinks and feels differently.” Recognize–and celebrate!–your unique journey to health, while appreciating that there are others around you who demonstrate that recovery is possible.
  • Transparency and destigmatization heal.     Eating disorders feed on secrecy and shame. By speaking their truth about having overcome an eating disorder, recovered coaches demonstrate how shining a light on the disorder takes away its power. As one coach describes: “I want to help take eating disorders out of their secretive place.” Being forthright about her recovery also counteracts the stigma and shame that shroud eating disorders: “If you say you have an eating disorder, people often think you’re crazy–or at least that’s how I felt when I reached out for help from professionals. I don’t like that stigma that is attached to eating disorders.” Remaining in a state of secrecy, stigma, and shame exacerbates the disordered behaviors. But owning your truth, as recovered providers do, eventually dissolves judgment and facilitates healing.
  • Healthy boundaries are crucial in recovery.     For client and coach alike, it is essential to determine how much transparency about the professional’s recovery is appropriate. It is only helpful for a recovered coach to disclose their story to the degree that is therapeutically beneficial. Coaches may not tell their clients at all, but if they do, they are conscious of which ones they choose to share with. An EDRS coach explains: “I don’t always think it’s appropriate to share my story with a client. It depends on where they’re at. Some clients can hear it and really appreciate it, and others can’t. I always evaluate where they’re at, and not make it about me, and yet let them know that I get it.” Recovered coaches do not reveal specific details about their struggle or healing process, but rather speak about the big picture possibilities of healing and the nuanced realities of recovery.

Read more on this topic from the perspective of Whitney McMullan, a psychotherapist and recovery coach with Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists. If you or someone you know might be struggling with an eating disorder, contact EDRS. We are here to assist in your journey to recovery.