April 16, 2021
From: Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS – Founder, Executive Director
I learned some time ago not to bury the lead, so here it goes: WE ARE OPEN!!!
Now, I do intend to give you quite the backstory, so I hope you’ll keep reading. But let me start by telling you how we are unique compared to other residential programs for eating disorders. First and most importantly, I wanted a permanent men’s unit led by male staff. Anecdotal evidence suggests men’s groups have better engagement and outcomes both in eating disorder pathology and sustained recovery. While this will be the first residential men’s unit in the world that I’m aware of, I hope it will not be the last. Males make up 25-33% of those diagnosed with anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) and over 40% of those with binge eating disorder (BED). When you include the under-counted individuals who report eating disorder pathology under the umbrella of muscle dysmorphia (MD), males in the United States currently needing treatment number in the millions. Often being the only male in the room and feeling the stigma attached to it is what keeps most away from treatment. That ends now.
In addition to our men’s unit, we have a women’s unit and gender-inclusive treatment as well. While all programs will have meals and some didactic groups together, our process groups will separate to provider safe spaces for everyone to get the care they need and deserve.
Along with our regular eating disorder tracks, we also have specific programming for those who have co-occurring substance abuse diagnoses. Our psychiatrists are trained in both substance abuse and eating disorders at Georgetown University Hospital to ensure comprehensive wrap around care.
But let me share something a bit more personal here. I suffered for 20 years from an eating disorder. As a teenager, I struggled with binge eating and diet cycling behavior until my senior year of high school when I became anorexic. By my 20s I was engaging in additional binge and purge behaviors, and eventually muscle dysmorphic behaviors. My body was totally broken by my late 20s, and my eating disorder morphed into BED. I received mental health care, but nobody diagnosed me with an eating disorder – I suspect simply because I was a male. It was only at age 30 that I self-diagnosed my eating disorder, and with help from my wife and motivated to be around for my infant son I sought care. No treatment programs let me in the door because I was a man. It crushed me. I found an outpatient team, but I had nobody to talk to about being a large man with what was then called Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) and a history of all the other disorders I read about. Feeling alone and ashamed, I became determined to create a space for myself where I no longer felt that way. I trained as a therapist, attended every eating disorder conference I could afford nationally, connected with every mentor I could find, and created The Body Image Therapy Center in 2008 to be a place where literally Every Body was seen and accepted. I’m proud of the work we have done to create a healing program with therapy, nutrition, psychiatry, and medical care providers who do their best every day to bring to life the dream I had. Now I have a truly inclusive treatment center led by people of color, individuals who represent the gender spectrum, have bodies of all shapes, sizes and abilities, and represent the age continuum.
I posted about opening my residential program on the Heath at Every Size Facebook page many months ago, and I am so grateful for the comments. Of note, I heard that if we truly are a program that is a home for “Every Body” then I needed to provide a place where a very large person could feel comfortable. That included larger beds and seats of course, but what about for personal hygiene? Would we have a bathroom that could have a sit-down shower and a toilet with a bidet function? “Only then would I believe you are a place for Every Body,” the poster said. I made it my mission to include those items. We have a first floor bedroom for individuals who need treatment and can’t use our stairs, who need the comfort of a sit down shower, and a toilet where they can feel clean and dignified.
It has taken me three years to get this program open. Finding a location is hard. We purchased the former Frederick Inn Bed & Breakfast. COVID slowed us down by 8 months. Hiring the right staff and getting them trained takes time. Dealing with the bureaucracy of opening a facility like this has been exhausting. But every bit of blood, sweat, tears and curse words was worth it.
I can’t thank my team enough at Body Image and from our parent company Refresh Mental Health for getting us across the finish line. Now comes the exciting part.
We welcome our first guests (a term we will use in homage to the former use of the property) beginning April 20, 2021.
Thank you all for supporting me, my program, and all those who now have a treatment center that can meet their unique needs. The Body Image Therapy Center Residential Program – A Home for Every Body.