Information for extended family
This information has been developed by Schoen Clinic Newbridge’s Working with Families team in collaboration with parents and carers we have worked with. It is written to support members of the wider family to help answer any questions you may have and describe what is helpful when a young relative is with us for treatment.
This page is home to information for family members (typically grandparents, uncles and aunties but anyone involved) who wouldn’t ordinarily join family therapy or the Programme for Parents (P4P) but have significant relationships with a young person admitted to Schoen Clinic Newbridge.
It’s not meant to cover everything but to be perhaps a conversation starter and a foundation for understanding.
- Jenny Hudson,
Social worker and parenting practitioner at Schoen Clinic Newbridge
Why does the young person need to be admitted to Newbridge and live away from home?
It is a big step to come to Newbridge. Young people are only admitted for treatment with us if supporting them at home is not working well and it is not safe to continue with things as they are. Being a very low weight and a prolonged period of restricting food has significant risks – we need to closely monitor their physical health and support the young person to overcome their eating disorder.
I don’t really understand anorexia. What do I need to know?
Family members often feel frightened, sad and unsure of what is happening but don’t want to burden parents by asking questions. Here are some things which are good to understand: anorexia is an overwhelming drive to restrict food intake to lose weight. Even at a very low weight, individuals see themselves as fat.
The cause of an eating disorder is always unique, involving multiple factors. It is important to think about eating disorders in emotional terms: restricting food and control of weight becomes the coping strategy for the things they find difficult in life.
How can I help?
We know that relationships are one of the most important factors in recovery from an eating disorder. Do keep in mind that when a young person is very unwell, their capacity for relationships is likely to be reduced, compared to before the illness. They may seem quiet, flat and disinterested in conversation and may be reluctant to visit or attend family events.
Even so, they will value your interest and in knowing you are there for them. Parents will be useful guides for what kind of communication is helpful – a young person might appreciate cards or supportive text messages.
I’m worried about saying the wrong thing
It is natural to worry, especially if you haven’t seen the young person for a period of time, but here are some useful things to bear in mind. Although it is natural to say to people “you look well,” someone with an eating disorder is likely to interpret this as meaning you can see they have put on weight and this may make them feel guilty.
Substituting the phrase with “it is good to see you” can be helpful. Talking about calories, diets and food intake (including your own) should be avoided and during meals, try to find broader topics of conversation (not food related) to talk about.
If you find yourself struggling for something to say, think about the young person’s interests and hobbies, the things you used to talk about before they became unwell. They will appreciate you remembering these and showing you are interested in them as a person, beyond the eating disorder.
Caring for the carers
Eating disorders have a very distressing impact on the whole family. Parents feel anxious, exhausted and even burnt out. There are ways you can support parents which will be very important in helping them to manage. You may be able to support or spend time with the siblings of the young person in our care. We know that when a sibling is unwell, this is very challenging for siblings and at the same time, they may have less time from parents than normal because of the focus on the unwell child. Siblings may really value any time and support you can provide.
What can we expect?
Treatment and recovery does take time. We need to support the young person to restore weight and develop a normal routine of eating and food choices. At Newbridge, they will participate in individual therapy and group programmes to enable them to make sense of things and learn better ways of coping with difficult feelings than restricting food. They will leave Newbridge at a healthy weight but recovery will be an ongoing once they return home and gradually take more responsibility for staying safe and well. Your support throughout will be very important throughout.
Schoen Clinic Newbridge
For young people (8–18 years old) with eating disorders like bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and OSFED, Schoen Clinic Newbridge provides highly specialised therapy.
Our multidisciplinary team (MDT) of professionals, who are leaders in their fields, collaborates to provide young people with eating disorders with clinically cutting-edge treatment pathways. The MDT method makes sure that every therapy we offer addresses the numerous aspects that lead to an eating disorder.
Schoen Clinic Newbridge is proud to be part of the NHS West Midlands CAMHS Provider Collaborative.