Brothers and Sisters: How They Can Help You Recover

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Brothers and Sisters: How They Can Help You Recover

They may be irritating and impossible at times, but your brothers and sisters may actually help speed your recovery from an eating disorder.

Over the many years that we have worked with families of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa patients, we have learned how helpful brothers and sisters can be and the importance of their relationships with the patient and parents. Whenever possible, we try to involve siblings in therapy, regardless of their age or the fact that they are no longer living at home. All of the siblings are invited to participate, even those who other family members say are “certainly not coming” or “not important.” Most brothers and sisters react enthusiastically when asked to participate.

Why should brothers and sisters be included in treatment?

Siblings help clarify family interactions. First, siblings can help therapists understand and clarify past and present family interactions. They often have surprising and refreshing ideas about how the family functions. In this way, they can act as“consultants” to therapists, especially when issues between family members remain unresolved.

Siblings may act as “nurturers.” Brothers and sisters often lean upon each other for support, particularly in families that have poor parenting. One surprise is that real and genuine help is often provided by those siblings from whom one would expect the least help—for example, the “silent” sister who is having problems herself.

We try to understand each sibling’s position within the family and ask for everyone’s second opinions. If for some practical reason they can’t come to the treatment sessions in person, we interview them on the phone or ask them to write us a letter. We explain our treatment principles and goals in separate sessions. Usually siblings understand the significance of the eating disorder and its social effects very well. By understanding what is going on in treatment, siblings can also act as “co-therapists” at home, getting the family involved in discussions or more freely expressing their opinions about daily life.

Siblings can act as role models. Finally, siblings who have independent lives while keeping a positive contact with the parents can act as “models” to help patients make the often-difficult transition from child to independent adult.

By Walter Vandereycken, MD, PhD, and Ellie Van Vreckem, MA
Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Spring 2002 Volume 1, Number 1
©2002 Gürze Books

About the authors –

Walter Vandereycken, MD, PhD, is a professor of psychiatry at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium,  and the Clinical Director of the Eating Disorders Unit at Alexian Brothers Psychiatric Hospital, Tienen, Belguim.

Ellie Van Vreckem, MA, is a Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist at the Eating Disorders Unit of the University Center St. Joseph in Kortenberg, Belgium.

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