Body image is a complex topic. Our thoughts about our bodies are deeply personal, but they are also influenced by our families, friends, teammates, role models and society at large. Talking to a clinician can help you see new perspectives and feel less alone with your struggles.
Yet it can be really hard to seek help. Since body image concerns are both personal and painful, it can be tough to open up and talk about them with a stranger, even if that stranger is a trained professional.
The process of scheduling an appointment can also feel difficult- you might feel like you don’t know who to go to, or what to say when you call to make the appointment, or if you can afford treatment. If you’re a young person, you might worry about how your parents will react if you tell them you’ve been struggling and you’d like some help. If the process of getting help feels so overwhelming that you’re tempted to just forget it and cope by yourself, you’re not alone! Many people feel the same. The five tips below are for you. I hope they make it a little easier for you to seek (and find) help.
Try not to worry about whether you’re “sick enough”
Many of the images of people with eating disorders on social media are sensationalized. This can make people think if they don’t look a certain way, they don’t need help. Not true! People of all shapes and sizes can have serious body image concerns. Clinicians who specialize in body image understand this and are eager to support anyone who wants help. Other times, people feel that if their concerns were serious, someone would have noticed and suggested they get help. However, even when someone has very serious concerns, their family and friends may not recognize the warning signs, or if they do, they may not know what to say. This can lead people to suffer alone and in silence. You don’t have to wait for someone to encourage you to get help- you know yourself best, and asking for help is a sign of strength!
Start where you feel comfortable
Remember treatment is collaborative
Many people feel reluctant to let go of their concerns about weight and shape. They may feel sick and tired of being at war with their bodies, but afraid that if they are kinder to themselves their weight will spiral out of control. Clinicians aren’t wizards. I’ve been a clinical psychologist for years, and nobody has ever gained weight just from stepping into my office! You can have a voice in your treatment. When you seek help for body image concerns, you and your clinician will likely work together to pick goals that feel meaningful to you. You can tell your clinician if you have any fears about pursuing your goals. You can also work together to find the right pace to move towards your goals- a pace that will challenge you to grow but not feel too overwhelming. If treatment feels too hard or too scary, you can ask your clinician to slow down. They may suggest you try new ways of thinking about things or doing things, but ultimately, it’s up to you whether you try what they suggest.
Have patience, finding the right clinician can take time
It can also feel disheartening if you DO find a clinician who seems to be exactly what you’re looking for (on paper), but things don’t go as you hoped in your first few sessions. You may have a thought like “If this person seemed perfect and I didn’t feel comfortable talking to them, then I won’t feel comfortable talking to anyone.” Again, don’t be afraid to express your concerns and/or ask for a referral. There are many factors that go into a good clinician-client match. Sometimes the right clinician is the person you’d least expect.
Just like bodies come in all shapes and sizes, therapy can vary a lot from person to person. Different people have different needs, and different clinicians use different styles and strategies. You may feel better after your very first session, or it may take time for you to build trust in your clinician, share your story and learn different ways of thinking about things and doing things that help you feel better. It can take a lot of hard work to learn how to trust your body and treat it with respect, especially when in a world where body shaming and appearance-related teasing and bullying are common. But you don’t have to do it alone- help is available, and you deserve it!
Are you ready to take the next step and look for a clinician? If so, these resources may help:
- If you are in Australia, The Butterfly Foundation has a helpline you can call to get support in getting help
- If you are in America, NEDA has a helpline that can be accessed by call, text or chat, as well as a database of treatment providers
- Academy of Eating Disorders has a directory that includes body image and eating disorder experts from across the globe