Peer Mentorship – What It Is, Why It Works + How to Get Started

ED is awful, I know. I was there too, binging and purging many times a day.

This is an example of the kind of unceremonious disclosures I share with eating disorder sufferers I mentor. There is something about this kind of raw expression that captures the trust of these mentees. Something about meeting them eye-to-eye and divulging in the common experience of an eating disorder that can sometimes ignite more a hope than working with a therapist who’s never suffered themselves.

Unbound by ethical codes of dual relationships, professional misconduct, maintenance of competency, and so on, I provide peer mentorship for women with eating disorders.

I tell them my story; I tell them how I got better. But, most importantly, I emphasize our commonalities.

Using raw expressions of emotion helps eliminate the potential power struggle within the relationship. It says,

I’m flawed like you. We’re in this together. I can show you the way out.

My experience with peer mentorship

My personal experience with peer mentorship started 5 years ago. I met a women at an eating disorder support meeting who was 10 years my senior. She had long blond hair and a casual, approachable Southern Californian demeanor.

She was me!—without the ED behaviors, of course.

From that day on, I clung to her like a lost puppy, texting her daily and listening to how she stopped behaviors.

In retrospect, it wasn’t what she told me that helped reduce my own behaviors as much as the actual mentorship bond itself. This relationship ignited hope within me that if she can do it, so can I! 

I felt a growing sense of connectedness and purpose within me, in the same place that ED once filled up with behaviors and obsessions.

The “magic” of it

This “I see you” relationship between a recovered individual and a sufferer is magic. I say “magic” because what it does to the brains of those involved is a full overhaul of chemical reactions that are unachievable by few other means.

I know this because, as soon as I began working with my mentor, my motivation dramatically increased. Suddenly, I was able to have times where I took back control.

I endured anxiety a lot longer before resorting to behaviors. I also witness this “magic” happen in my daily work with my mentees: they are suddenly able to call me or perform previously feared tasks without resorting to behaviors.

study testing the efficiency of an eating disorder peer mentorship program reported results including a higher quality of life, missed fewer appointments with treatment providers, and better family and close relationships.

Also improved was their future outlook, and psychological, emotional, and physical well-being, more than that of unmatched mentees.

How can you get started?

There are many mentor programs available to eating disorder sufferers, including ANAD and ProjectHEAL.

In addition, Eating Disorders Anonymous connects sufferers with recovered “sponsors” and provides tools to rewire and refocus the ED brain.

Just remember that these programs are a complement to (not a substitute for) a treatment team of professionals.

Their education and expertise is vital. However, give peer mentorship a try as well. It just might me the missing link in your recovery.

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