A Time to Learn and Reflect

Monday, Oct 30  •  


Mike Hinds

Twice a year Avalon Hills invites parents and partners of our adult patients to spend a week with their loved ones at our Family Week event held on the campus of Utah State University. While it takes commitment and effort for families to get there, time and again they say was invaluable and worth the effort.

Family Week includes various presentations and family meetings with breaks for snacks and meals. Some are from our own experts and others fly in from around the country This November’s family week will include Dr. Ed Tyson, Dr. Ed Hamlin, Dr. Jeff DeSarbo, Dr. Mike Twohig, Tom and Doris Smeltzer from Andrea’s Voice Foundation and others.

Here are some comments from parents on their experience at family week. One mother shared:

“Interestingly, I learned way more about [my daughter’s] motivation to have her eating disorder during those times than I ever could have hoped to learn from her one on one. It’s a time of family reflection, to look within to search for a coordinated solution between parents, clients and their support systems.”

Another parent said:

In addition to direct contact and information about your own child’s treatment, the real value of the Family Week is getting a full picture of the disorder, its [causes, treatments], effect on the brain, [other problems that tend to occur along side eating disorders], and current research. Experts in medicine, neuropsychology, psychiatry, and diet give a picture of what is known and ongoing current research. I felt as if I had gone to a professional conference on eating disorders. And there were personal stories, both uplifting and gut-wrenching. I came away from the week with a robust picture of my child’s condition, both personal, professional, and political.”

The same parent noted the change from constant vigilance watching his daughter at home to not knowing much of her daily activities once she entered treatment.

Family Week helps address this issue in several ways. You see your child daily. . . . You meet every member of the Avalon Hills team, including the direct care and neuropsych staff. The staff members are open for consultation and willing to make personal connections with parents. You can see who is caring for your child. The multi family group sessions are well structured and you learn a great deal both from your own session and by witnessing other families define their issues.”

The family sessions he mentioned are not quite family therapy. We refer to them as doing “family step work,” with “step” a reference to the step-by-step, highly structured way families sort through basics of how the eating disorder came took over their lives and how they can move forward.

Another parent said of the step work:

I felt like the most valuable part of family week occurred during the [family] sessions where open and honest discussions went on between the parents and client. Having the therapist guide the sessions and draw out the client to speak from deep down, along with having the all the pre-work done the days before really allows the parents to hone in on their own feelings of guilt (feeling like maybe they caused it), and to truly understand where and why the client continues to or wants to discontinue engaging in their EDs.”

Family Week is eye opening and informative. It provides important new information and places what families already know from hard experience into a context that helps them balance the enormity of their challenges with direction and hope.