The Importance of Well-Rounded Treatment & Supports in Recovery

A lot of the work we (Vancouver Island Voices for Eating Disorders) have focused on thus far in our short career as a non-profit organization, has been aimed at the forms of treatment and support primarily offered through healthcare (especially acute care). While this is important work, we recognize that much of healthcare is still situated in a medical model perspective.

For those who don’t work in healthcare, models are perspectives or belief systems that provide basic assumptions which underlie approaches to research, treatment, health, and disease.

The medical or biomedical model describes an approach to the treatment of illness (physical and mental) that relies on basic assumptions about “disease” and “illness,” which are seen as a “deviation from the norm.” The medical model is a very objective, clinical approach to healthcare and it works quite well in some ways, but is quite limited in others. Within this perspective, disease is an abnormality that lies within the individual: the medical model does not focus on broader contexts (such as the environment or socioeconomic status) that can play a role in health. It can also lend itself to an exclusionary and able-ist perspective - anyone who deviates from “the norm” is not healthy, is dysfunctional, and/or incomplete as a person when many people live happy and productive lives with disabilities and health conditions.

A great deal of our healthcare system still functions within this perspective as it helps to streamline services and inform objective approaches to treatment. The issue is that it can make healthcare seem like a mechanized system that loses its basic humanity, that we as people provide care for our community members who are struggling.

There are many other models that exist on a spectrum and have been used to inform our approaches in healthcare. These include the behavioral approach (Lalonde, 1974), and the socio-environmental approach (Ottawa Charter, 1986).

Views of “health” and “illness” tend to be more negatively defined and closely connected within the medical model, while other approaches separate “health” from “illness.” By separating “health” and “illness” we allow for the idea that a person can have a disease or a condition and still be healthy. For example, Labonte (1993) provides a multi-dimensional conceptualization of health as: “feeling vitalized and full of energy. having satisfying social relationships, having feeling of control over life and living conditions., being able to do things that one enjoys, having sense of purpose., feeling connected to community.”

A socio-environmental/economic approach to health encourages several important things including recognition of the twelve social determinants of health and the importance of preventative approaches. Our healthcare system over the years has certainly grown to better incorporate these alternative models and VIVED certainly hopes to continue to emphasize the importance of this kind of expansion in future, but beyond the healthcare system and clinical settings, we can also work to bring these ideas into our community in other ways that help to broaden the system and type of support available to individuals, loved ones, family, and friends struggling with eating disorders and/or related issues.

There are already several community groups in Victoria that offer various types of less clinical support including the Body Liberation Book Club, Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous, and the Victoria Eating Disorder Peer Support Group (see our resource page for more information.)

Our hope, as a group of volunteers (some recovered, some in recovery, some working professionally in the field of eating disorders or healthcare, and others working in other professions) is to expand on these support options and begin to offer events and gatherings that help people feel connected in safe and supportive ways. Simple things like painting rocks and creating art together (our first event of this nature is coming up May 4th!), to group yoga with a certified instructor and a background in eating disorders, and perhaps even events with professionals providing workshops around different skills or information. Collaboration across different organizations supporting eating disorders, disordered eating, and mental health. And all these things hopefully not just in Victoria, but expanding to serve other communities across the island.

These are ambitious goals and they will take time and effort to reach, but we’re determined to tackle increasing awareness, advocacy, and improving supports from every direction we can. All of this being done by every day people who are passionate about making things better and who believe, despite how hard it can feel to create positive change sometimes, that this CAN be done.

We are so thankful for everyone’s support and kindness as we continue to strive towards our hopes and dreams for our community here on Vancouver Island and beyond.

-S. Ritchey