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zina's avatar

Ideas for how to help / interact with a student with anorexia?

Asked by zina (1638 points ) October 20th, 2008

One of my students (college-age) recently told me s/he’s dealing with anorexia. I am fairly familiar with this, having had friends and other loved ones deal with it (and generally being in a very psychology-, and feminist/body-oriented- community), though I struggle to relate personally.

I want to get input and ideas from others regarding this situation, and I’m wondering if people in the collective have specific ideas for things to say/do, things to NOT say/do, etc – specifically with the relationship in mind of teacher/student. Any relevant experiences out there related to conversations (content, tone), confidentiality (supervisors, etc), assignments and grading, classroom dynamics, common mistakes/bloopers/pitfalls, and so on? Any creative ideas for ways I can help, be a positive influence, maybe something totally unexpected and fun and awesome… while maintaining professional boundaries? Something someone did for you?

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8 Answers

shadling21's avatar

I’ve come into contact with a few people who suffered from eating disorders, but I’m far from understanding the way their minds work.

As a dancer surrounded by beautiful people, I often felt pressure to change my image to become successful. What saved me? Learning that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that I can define what is beautiful to me. Letting go of the control I wanted over my body and letting nature take its course. I don’t think I had the personality to become anorexic, but I was certainly in an environment that was laden with it.

ANRED has an excellent article on the topic here, full of the “do“s and “don’t“s.

A personal suggestion of mine would be to encourage these unconventional views of what beauty is.

EDIT: Also, what subject do you teach? If you don’t mind me asking.

hollywoodduck's avatar

I think that since your student has reached out to you about her condition, it sounds like she’s looking for help. I would talk to the school counselors about the best way to handle this, they may have some ideas for you. After a few conversations with your student maybe you can help her find a treatment center or perhaps a counselor to work through this with.

deaddolly's avatar

I would also refer her for some student support…just letting her know that you’re there to listen and not to judge her, will help.

tonedef's avatar

@hollywoodduck, Also, take into account the student’s privacy and confidentiality concerns. Ask him or her if you can discuss it with the counselor. Part of recovery is reempowerment. Ask her questions about what she wants, provide options, and let her make the choices.

These steps can help guide you. I use them in my work.

pathfinder's avatar

She should talk about it.I mean seek some people who make those meeting and listen to each other.Those meeting can help her to solve the sickness or give to her the power to beat it over.

kruger_d's avatar

As far as professional obligations, treat it like you would any other disease as regards late work, missing class, confidenciality.
Ask if she is in treatment. If not, offer to help her find it. Hook her up with a treatment center. Don’t point her to website, books, etc. Emphasize that she has a medical/health problem that must be dealt with be professionals. If she refuses help, I would definitely consult a lawyer before informing anyone of her condition. You may have one available through your union or employer.

Jack79's avatar

I’ve only had to deal with this once a couple of years ago. My student was 16 and the special thing about her was that I had been friends with her father for years so I’d known her as a little girl. That meant I had the courage to speak to her more freely, but also the responsibility towards her parents to help out. To be honest, I failed. No matter how hard I tried, the most I could do was maybe get her to let me buy her a sandwich during the break. Of which she’d eat a couple of bites. I still think there must be some way to help that I didn’t figure out.

awacting's avatar

Don’t treat her differently than you treat any of your other students. Dfinately encourage her to talk to you. She needs to let it out. But you have to assure her that you’re going to help her and that she shouldn’t expect you to go running to councilors and teachers telling them about it. But she probably doesn’t want to feel like she’s being treated differently because she came out and told you something that was most likely really hard to admit. She would hate to feel as if she was only being looked down upon because of it.

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