We glorify movies that highlight shootings, killings and violence. Shows featuring those addicted to drugs and alcohol are now mainstream. When it comes to documentaries about individuals struggling with eating disorders, these features become the white elephant in the room.
In the eating disorder community, there has been much drama around the recently released, To the Bone, featuring Lily Collins and Keanu Reeves. The greatest concern has been the potential of the film to “trigger” those who are currently struggling with an eating disorder.
As a certified eating disorder specialist, who previously owned and operated an eating disorder treatment center prior to its acquisition, our former treatment team would not walk on eggshells to prevent our clients from being “triggered.” Triggers are a part of everyday life, and it is the job of a competent professional working in an eating disorder treatment setting to acclimate clients to triggers. Triggers are not bad, they exist to push our clients to become aware, along with grow and transform.
If you feel your clients will be triggered by watching this and similar documentaries, ask yourself:
“What makes you uncomfortable as a treatment professional, and why?”, “What do you identify personally with in the respective triggers?”, and “Are you invested in the recovery process of your clients?”
When informational programs regarding diabetes and/or heart disease are featured on television, do medical professionals become concerned that these programs could trigger those individuals who are afflicted with these conditions? I think not. Our clients with eating disorders don’t walk around with blinders. We are not shielding them from anything they don’t already know.
Our clients want to be pushed. They don’t want to be handled with kid-gloves. It is our job to continue push their buttons. An astute eating disorder practitioner is not one that receives rave reviews because they were good listeners and colluded with their patients. A skilled eating disorder professional receives reviews that exude, “My therapist/doctor challenged me and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I often left our session in tears…and gained insight.”
The film did not clarify for the audience what was unconventional about Dr. Beckham’s treatment approach. In addition, although diversity of individuals with eating disorders were portrayed – vs the stereotype – along with eating disorders across the spectrum, Anorexia Nervosa was still highlighted as the top of the food chain per usual.
All in all, To the Bone focused on recovery, while it has initiated the needed conversation around eating disorders and its addictive nature. If we continue to shove this topic under the rug – this disease that affects millions of individuals – then we perpetuate its “disorder,” and it becomes as secretive as the sickness itself.