Earlier this week, I looked over a friend’s graduate school application essays and provided some edit suggestions. Honestly, I loved reading the essays because it gave me such a clear perspective on why they’re applying to grad school and what they hope to accomplish with their MSW. It’s just inspiring to hear the why behind people’s dreams.
Of course, reading the essays also made me think about Emily for multiple reasons. First and foremost, this friend was actually one of Emily’s closest friends and someone Emily really admired. They worked together for a while, and they bonded over life experience and their shared desire to make the world a better place.
However, it wasn’t just that shared connection that made me think of Emily — it was the content of the essays themselves. Just as this other person has a whole vision of what they’d like to do once they obtain their master’s degree, Emily had a vision of what she wanted to do as well. And, honestly, it was a vision Emily and I shared.
It Started With DBT
I know I’ve already rambled on about how Emily and I met. However, I always find it funny when I think back to our time in group therapy together because so many things came out of that single shared experience. Obviously, our relationship was my favorite outcome from those hours we spent together, learning about wise mind. But, I think the inspiration we both took from it is a close second.
Before our paths crossed, Emily and I both had a desire to help people. And, despite all of the shortcomings of the therapist herself, we both grew a lot from our exposure to dialectical behavior therapy. Because of that, we both walked away from our time in DBT group with a dream to utilize the modality in some shape or form in our futures.
Of course, no single form of therapy is one-size-fits-all. Usually, most modalities are designed as a response to something specific the therapist who developed it was trying to address. In Marsha Linehan’s case, she wanted to help highly sensitive individuals who experienced chronic suicidal ideation (meaning lots of people with borderline personality disorder and similar conditions). As it became more mainstream, clinicians discovered that DBT is also beneficial for clients with disordered eating habits, those who deal with substance misuse, and many other populations.
In other words, it can help the exact populations of people Emily and I have always wanted to work with.
Even after we moved on from our DBT group as patients, Emily and I frequently talked about the modality. We discussed its benefits, its shortcomings, and our personal frustrations. We also discussed adaptations a clinician could possibly make to fit specific types of clients (like those with a trauma history).
Correcting What Went Wrong
I think one of the reasons mental health professionals with lived experience do their jobs so well is because they’ve seen what doesn’t work. That’s definitely the case for Emily and I both, and it was definitely one of the biggest motivators in our quest to help others.
I remember the first time Emily and I talked about our “dream treatment center” together. We were on our way to Knoxville, so we had several hours of time together in the car. We were talking about another one of Emily’s friends who has really struggled to find a treatment approach that works for her because of the combination of ED and trauma.
As Emily mentioned at that time, many residential facilities focus on weight restoration and meal compliance, but they don’t always spend as much time breaking down the function of ED. Also, as I saw during my time working in addiction treatment, not a lot of time is spent in small group or individual settings to really let people process underlying issues. And, unfortunately, that’s a huge part of the issue because substance use and disordered eating are almost always behaviors that stem from something much larger.
So, we talked about how our hypothetical treatment center would correct what went wrong in other places. We wanted to provide trauma-informed care, ensure that everyone felt safe, and make sure we didn’t care for one specific type (or stereotype) of client. And, we wanted to make sure that marginalized groups didn’t get lost in the shuffle, meaning we wanted to offer care for those in larger bodies, those in ethnic groups that may have a harder time accessing care (or finding places who were accepting of their upbringing), and those within the LGBTQ+ community.
Oh, and then there’s the other part about eating disorder treatment that makes it inaccessible for so many: the cost. So, Emily wanted to offer scholarships and look for grants or other funding sources so we could dedicate at least a few spots in our facility for those who were uninsured or underinsured. We also wanted to find ways to subsidize care for those whose insurance tried to boot them out before they were truly ready to go it alone.
Treating The Whole Person
Of course, healing isn’t just about learning how to eat carbs or sitting in a chair while a therapist asks you about your childhood trauma. People are complex beings, and we need a variety of things to feel fulfilled.
Emily and I wanted to find ways to work various arts into our treatment approach. We both agreed that music, visual art, and dance can be incredibly powerful forms of expression, and we wanted to explore what those components would look like in the context of treating people who live with ED. Of course, it would have required additional training and education, but we were more than willing to do that because we knew it would benefit the people we served.
We also wanted to find a balance in how much we focused on eating disorder recovery and how much we focused on other aspects of mental health treatment. We thought some specific small groups based on other conditions or needs would be helpful, since each person has unique needs. Some may need things like grief recovery, while others may need something specific for OCD.
In other words, we’d individualize treatment to the best of our abilities.
A Distant Dream or No Longer A Possibility?
Before Emily died, we knew our hypothetical treatment center was a solid decade down the line. Our plan was to get her established with her LMSW so she could start working towards her LCSW, go through the IVF process to have our child together, and then I’d look into going back to school. Once Emily had her LCSW and I had whatever degree I decided was best for our goals, we’d look into the next steps.
But now, she’s gone, and I’m a little torn on how to proceed.
Part of me wants to find a way to open this dream treatment center regardless, and name it after Emily. It would be the ultimate way to honor her, and I’d find ways to give as much credit back to her as I could.
But then, part of me feels like it’s an impossible task. I don’t have any formal training in anything related to therapy or social work. I know almost nothing about running a business, let alone one in a healthcare environment. And, although my finances are on the up trend, I’m still recovering from a rather rough final few months of 2022.
And, of course, the whole idea came about because of her… And I’m not sure how I’d ever live out her dreams without her by my side. But, then again, it’s because I love her and I loved her passion for helping others that I even wanted to do this to begin with…
What’s a grieving woman to do?