Under Prochaska and Diclemente’s (1982) stage model of change, people move through the remaining stages of preparation, action and maintenance at different rates. Clients first plan to change their actions during the preparation stage, and then move into the action and maintenance stages when they begin practicing new behaviors.
The benefits of counseling might appear to be more obvious during the preparation stage. At this point on your journey, a therapist can:
- Help you with skill development;
- Help you create a support network; and
- Identify potential obstacles to your recovery efforts.
In many ways, you can begin to “test out” what your life will look like without your eating disorder. Will you take off time from work or school to receive more intensive treatment? Who might try to sabotage your efforts to follow a healthy meal plan?
When you begin to live your life without eating disordered behaviors, you might feel that you no longer need therapy. You can feel like you’ve learned everything that you are supposed to learn, and that now it is simply a matter of practicing all of the skills that you have learned. However, change can carry a few difficulties of its own, including:
- A sense of loss when you move away from the eating disorder;
- Changes to current relationships; and
- Learning how to reward yourself for your efforts without turning to old behaviors.
Not everyone will be as pleased as you are that you have changed. Family and friends might be upset by your new focus on self-care, or might be upset that you no longer eat with them in the same way. While many people feel that recovery will solve their problems, new stressors can arise at any time.
Finally, relapse is a natural part of change. This is one of the places that therapy can be the most helpful because denial is such an integral component. Some common thoughts in relapse are:
- “It’s only happened a few times, I’ll get back on track after the holidays.”
- “I’ve just been stressed out lately. As soon as my schedule settles down, I’ll focus on my meal plan again.”
- “I still feel fat. I’ll just restrict a little bit.”
- “It’s okay to binge on healthy food. I’m not binging on the same foods that I used to.”
Slipping into relapse does not necessarily mean starting the entire process again, especially when you catch it quickly. This is a great time to check-in with your therapist and determine what has contributed to the relapse so that you can get back on track.