Families unite to combat eating disorders
Since its inception, the New Maudsley Model has helped thousand of families. Amy Lewis talks to one of the founders, Gillian Todd, at her recent workshop in Dublin and she meets parents attending to find out how it has helped them cope with their loved ones' eating disorders
When families are dealing with a child who is suffering from an eating disorder, the symptoms begin to play a central role in family life and often the parents and siblings find themselves lost at sea, not knowing how to help - this is where the New Maudsley Model steps in.
The New Maudsley Model is a skills-based programme that aims to helps carers better understand and support their loved ones. It was established by Professor Janet Treasure and Todd (pictured) - former Consultant for Eating Disorders and Clinical Nurse Leader with the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust respectively - who developed it through extensive research coupled with professional experience. The workshop encourages carers to engage in their loved one's recovery and helps to switch their focus from blame to more effective communication.
"A carer can often be critical and over-protective of their loved one. They may also feel that the illness is their own fault, which of course it isn't," said Todd, who has worked with eating disorder patients since 1984.
"Janet developed characters that describe how not to behave. The Ostrich - buries their head in the sand and feels completely hopeless. The Jellyfish - is emotional and upset. The Rhino - is a person who shouts, argues and fights. A Kangaroo carer - puts their baby in their pouch and won't let them do anything.
"We encourage carers to be a more compromised version. Be a St Bernard: more calm, quiet, unflappable and dependable. We also use the image of a dolphin who nudges, guides and coaches their loved one along."
Carers are also taught about the psychology behind eating disorders, as well as how to cope with scenarios that may arise at home. This is done through role-playing exercises and practicing OARS: Open questions, Affirmations, Reflective listening and Summarising. In addition, the workshops offer attendees the tools to deal with clinical settings.
A unique part of New Maudsley Model is that it's aimed at carers of adults and children.
"In the past, carers of adults with eating disorders felt abandoned and excluded. This is one thing that's out there that they can go to," explained Todd.
Since they were established, the New Maudsley Model workshops have been facilitated worldwide by its founders or other trained professionals. Over 70 carers attended Todd's recent two-day course in the Clayton Hotel in Leopardstown, Dublin, in the hope of going home better-equipped to help their loved ones. Parents, aunts, siblings, friends and partners travelled long distances for the course, with some seeking help for children as young as nine-years-old. Several psychologists from the HSE Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) also attended, as did representatives of Bodywhys, who supported the workshop.
Peter travelled from Ballina with his wife to the workshop, having previously attended a one-day course. His daughter (29) has been suffering with an eating disorder since she was in transition year.
"We first became aware of her illness seven years ago when she was in university," he explained. "She always ate in front of us so we never suspected it. She used to see a doctor in university who, after a number of years, persuaded her to tell us."
On first learning of their daughter's illness, Peter's family felt extremely alone. They sought all help available but it wasn't until attending their first New Maudsley Model workshop that they were offered some relief.
"For the first time, we felt that there were people out there like us," said Peter. "When you have a child with an eating disorder, the focus is on them," he continued. "I remember asking a social worker, 'is there anything for us carers?' You just want somebody to tell you it's ok, not to lose hope and to try to have compassion."
Along with offering them support, Peter said that the practical element of the workshop gave them the tools to communicate more effectively with their daughter.
Though she is still battling the illness, the workshop has encouraged them to remain hopeful for her future. He also credits it with giving them the 'courage' to recently take their first holiday in years.
While Todd led the latest workshop, several others have been held nationwide in recent months. These were facilitated by professionals who have been trained in the New Maudsley method by its founders.
Galway native Paul and his wife attended a workshop last November, soon after their 11-year-old son was diagnosed with an eating disorder.
"When your child refuses the food you give them, it can become very frustrating. We needed to understand his feelings in order to help him," explained Paul.
According to Paul, the workshop taught them how to support their child, while meeting other parents gave them some positivity for the future. He recommends it to all carers.
"I read about various methods but that's the one that worked for us," explained Paul, who said his son's health is now much improved. "When your child is young or in their teens, they are with you almost 24/7. If you know how to guide them through recovery at home, it has to be better than just one hour a week with a counsellor.
"The big thing we took away from it is that you really have to throw yourself into their recovery 10,000pc," he added.
When Connie's daughter was first diagnosed with an eating disorder, she didn't know where to turn for help. Attending her first New Maudsley Model workshop gave her the support she was seeking and in an effort to spread this to other carers, she soon invited the facilitators to hold one in her hometown in the west of Ireland.
"You do get information elsewhere but when you attend these courses and gain support through them, that is the most important thing."
A Whatsapp group that allows carers to keep in touch following the workshops is something she also credits as a great comfort.
"There is huge power in people supporting each other," she said.
Connie's daughter (21) has been receiving treatment in London for six months and though she is still in recovery, the family are confident that she is getting the best help available. Connie also feels that the workshops have helped them to better support their loved one.
"We know more about what is going on for her and she is feeling more understood," she said.
The New Maudsley Model workshops were not available in Ireland when Catherine's daughter was caught in the grip of anorexia four years ago. However, on learning about it through a colleague, the Dublin-based GP went to London to attend them.
"Parents can get bogged down with the cause of an eating disorder but I learned that this is less important than the factors that maintain it," she explained. "If there is stress at home, that feeds in to the eating disorder."
According to Catherine, the workshops were 'vital' in helping her daughter through recovery.
"They encouraged us to create an environment of compassion and support, rather than blame. My daughter realised the illness wasn't her fault and that it didn't destroy the family. She learned that everyone was behind her to get better."
Catherine's daughter, now aged 16, is fully recovered. However, as a GP, Catherine regularly meets parents who are in the same position that she once was. She urged them all to attend the recent workshop.
"Parents were once blamed for the illness but that myth has been debunked. Parents are now part of the solution," added Catherine.
Many of the New Maudsley Model workshops, including the most recent one, were arranged by Paula Crotty - a Dublin mother whose 23-year-old daughter has battled an eating disorder for over three years. Since attending her first workshop, Paula has been working to get New Maudsley firmly established in Ireland and as a result, Bodywhys recently announced that they will adopt and run the courses in the future. In the meantime, Paula continues to support fellow carers in various ways, such as organising meetings after the workshops and sharing advice. Paula also established the Whatsapp group which over 70 carers view as a lifeline. The option to join is offered at the end of each workshop.
"If someone is having a low day, group members can give them encouragement to keep their head above the water. It's also useful if somebody has a question or needs a therapist recommendation," she said.
Following Todd's recent workshop, Bodywhys made the decision to adopt the New Maudsley workshops alongside their existing services. However, according to their Training and Development Manager, Harriet Parsons, facilitators will need to be trained in the method before they can commence.
Bodywhys currently offers several supports to carers including a helpline, email support and a free downloadable book. They also run their free PiLaR programme for families of adults and children, which educates on eating disorders and provides advice on supporting someone through recovery.
•Next week: "My precious adolescent baby is gravely ill. I am a tiger and her eating disorder is my prey" A mother's story of living with her daughter's eating disorder
■ Gillian will return to Dublin to facilitate another New Maudsley workshop on September 9 and 10. For more information on the method or to reserve a place, contact email@example.com.
■ Bodywhys run their PiLaR (Peer-Led Resiliance) programme in various locations around the country. The free evening course, which is run by Bodywhys in conjunction with local mental health services, takes place over four consecutive Mondays. Places are free but limited. To book a place or for more information contact Harriet at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bodywhys helpline: 1890 200 444
Email support: alex@body whys.ie
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