Review by Edye Berkun Kamensky, Ed.M., M.A.
I have heard many parents say it is only through the desperation of
facing their daughter’s eating disorder that they began to see it was
their family, and not just their daughter, who was in need of healing.
Every family therapist knows this truth and strives to help the adults
in each family come to realize it. In her book, When
Your Child Has an Eating Disorder, Abigail H. Natenshon helps to
enlighten any parent who is willing to seriously read the contents and
perform the more than 50 exercises contained therein. Subtitled, A
Step-By-Step Workbook for Parents and Other Caregivers, this is an
intelligent, informative and probing work that should be every parent’s
companion through the assessment of their child and their family, and
through treatment and recovery of an eating disorder.
Natenshon’s 25 years of treating individuals with eating disorders is
apparent throughout her book and she generously shares her wealth of
knowledge and experience. She tells parents clearly that when they
choose to commit themselves to the process of recovery, they are not
only helping their child to reenter life, but they are also helping
themselves to learn and grow emotionally. They will become a valuable
part of the treatment team as they gain more confidence as parents.
Wisely, Natenshon lets parents know that they are not just on the
sidelines taking cues from their child or the professionals, but that
they too have many of their own tasks to tackle.
Natenshon divides the book into three sections. In section one, she asks
parents to answer questions that enlarge the perspective that includes
the parents’ own behaviors, beliefs and attitudes and the experiences
they had growing up in their own families.
Natenshon informs parents about eating disorders – what they are and are
not. Early on, she introduces the idea that an eating disorder is about
much more than food. She lists several areas of life in which severe
distortions may exist – disorders of control, thinking, coping,
identity, relationships, feelings, behavior, values and lifestyle. It is
this type of thoroughness that characterizes the author’s approach,
making it possible to see so many aspects of the eating disorder.
In section two, Natenshon helps parents through what can be a labyrinth
of overwhelming treatment options. Her conclusions here about what
constitutes supportive behavior echo the feelings expressed by nearly
every child struggling with an eating disorder – attend to your child’s
emotional struggle, her personal well-being and your relationship with
her. Do not talk about food. Natenshon gives instructions and examples
of good listening skills. She prepares parents for resistance and, if
necessary, commitment to a hospital.
The final section of the book is dedicated to the recovery process.
Natenshon’s view of recovery is summed up as "superb practice for
dealing with life." She quotes Mark Twain, "Habit is habit…and not to be
flung out the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a
time." Here, the author demonstrates her respect for the unevenness of a
recovery process. She addresses the questions of how, why and how long,
and presents every stumbling block imaginable. No written information
can fully prepare a parent for every possible eventuality, but Natenshon
delicately balances reality and hope, and leaves parents feeling that
recovery is possible.
Abigail Natenshon’s book is more than a companion for parents and
caregivers in the process of struggling with a child’s eating disorder.
It is an invaluable friend to every therapist working with parents or
caregivers. Natenshon’s voice is a soothing one of gentle authority that
helps parents grow and nurture their children as they learn to face the
pain of life again.
*This article first appeared in PERSPECTIVE, the Renfrew Center
Foundation's newsletter, Fall 2000 edition.