The eating disorders counsellor
Eating disorders are complex conditions and counsellors need to be competent in their knowledge and skill in this area. This usually requires specialist training. Their work will often demand skills in: teaching, nutritional counselling, life skills coaching, art therapy as well as emotional and cognitive therapy. Eating disorders counselling is often agreed to be one of the most challenging areas in which to practise. In order to be practise safely and competently therefore, counsellors need to reach certain minimum criteria:
- A good understanding of eating disorders, preferably including specialist training (this should cover potential medical risks as well as psychological issues).
- A good understanding of their limits of competence, i.e. when the eating disorder is too complex, when the client is unable to benefit from counselling or when to refer to other sources of help.
- An understanding of counsellor’s own relationship with food and weight.
- Regular supervision
Working with the multi-disciplinary team
Please note that eating disorders counselling requires the counsellor to work well as part of a multidisciplinary team which may include the sufferer’s gp, psychiatrist, psychologist, parents or carers and other professionals such as occupational therapists, community psychiatric nurses (CPNs). The best way to do this may be to attend multi-disciplinary team meetings that will most likely be coordinated by the GP. Treatment needs to adopt a unified approach and you need to make sure you are not simply repeating, or worse, undoing, what another person is working on.
At the centre of all these contacts is the client’s GP. Before counselling begins, permission must be sought, from the sufferer, for the counsellor to work in partnership with the GP in order that the client’s physical condition be monitored and cared for. We would always advise that counsellors insist that eating disorders clients are carefully monitored by a supportive GP who is aware of the eating disorder, and of the counselling situation, although they may need to support someone in contacting their GP and building this relationship as many find it extremely daunting.