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The Eating Disorder Is Voldemort: On Using Metaphors in Treatment

Posted on January 23, 2018

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When some patients start treatment for an eating disorder it can be emotionally and physically uncomfortable. In my work as a therapist I try to educate my patients as to why this feeling is normal. On top of the patient’s discomfort, sometimes it can be hard for loved ones to understand what someone with an eating disorder is going through while in treatment. Therapists routinely use metaphors for both of these reasons, in my opinion. The use of metaphors makes something that was previously unknown, relatable. I think it can be helpful to relate new concepts and hard topics to something familiar in order to make it easier to comprehend.

Working in an eating disorder inpatient and partial hospitalization program you have to quickly teach your patients concepts, skills, tools, but most importantly psychoeducation about what is going on with them. A big part of this psychoeducation is normalizing the fact that when a patient goes against an eating disorder it will be emotionally uncomfortable and feel wrong.

I have had children, adolescents, and adult patients; all of them, well most of them, know Harry Potter or are Harry Potter fans. Using Harry Potter as a metaphor is my absolute favorite when it comes to eating disorder treatment. I am not sure if anyone has used this before or thought about it like this, so I wanted to share with you all the Harry Potter metaphor I’ve been using for eating disorder treatment and recovery. I want to share this so other eating disorder treatment providers can use this, so people who do not understand eating disorders might be able to understand the treatment of them and perceive the reactions their loved ones are having as normal, and also for anyone out there struggling with their eating disorder who is in treatment or has tried treatment and noticed that it felt uncomfortable or wrong for a while.

The eating disorder is Voldemort. The person who has an eating disorder is Harry Potter. Voldemort (the eating disorder) is a part of Harry (you) and is making you see and think things that he wants you to see or think. For those who know the story, the key to killing Voldemort is killing all the horcruxes. That is where Harry (you), Ron (family and friends), and Hermione (treatment providers) come in. Whenever you eat without acting on behaviors, follow your meal plan, follow your recreation plan, do something the treatment team recommends for you to do, you are Harry Potter killing a horcrux. That is why it feels so wrong. Think about it: every time Harry killed a horcrux he would also feel the pain that Voldemort felt — because they were connected. Voldemort was getting weaker every time a horcrux was killed, and Voldemort knew that. That is why Voldemort yelled, screamed, got even more angry: he felt himself dying. That is why the eating disorder thoughts get louder, meaner, and more aggressive when you continue to follow the treatment team recommendations or treatment rules. You are going to feel the discomfort when you start eating in treatment or start listening to what your treatment team recommends — that is normal, that is actually right. It is because doing those things means essentially killing the eating disorder horcruxes. When Voldemort was finally weak enough, Harry Potter faced him alone. Harry was separated from Voldemort at this point, jumped off the castle walls of Hogwarts and fought Voldemort the whole way down; then, once and for all Harry Potter got rid of Voldemort. Finally, once someone with an eating disorder has killed enough eating disorder horcruxes, the eating disorder will be weak enough for that person to face it alone and for that person to win.

There is help available. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder reach out to the National Eating Disorder Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237, or feel free to call a treatment center near you.

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