There was a time when Laura Scott would rarely leave her home. She would often avoid answering her door or telephone. She would go without eating for days at a time.
“I was not functioning,” says Ms. Scott. “I could have curled up in a ball and waited for the world to come to an end. That would have been easy for me to do.”
She suffered from anxiety and depression, the result of experiencing major trauma in her life. And she had little interest in food.
“Eating wasn’t on my radar whatsoever,” says the Beamsville resident.
Ms. Scott had lived like this for years, but then her life began to change for the better after she was connected with the Niagara Eating Disorder Outpatient Program, based at Niagara Health’s New Port Centre in Port Colborne.
Today, the 54-year-old attends the program about every other week, receiving counselling with psychotherapist Aurelia Spadafora and other supports through the program.
The ultimate goal of the program, which provides care to people aged 16 and older, is to help patients live a better quality of life and to help them get to the point “where they feel they deserve that better life,” says Ms. Spadafora.
“We want to help them learn new ways of coping,” she says. “We want them to know they’re not alone and that there are people who can help.”
Clients are encouraged to get a referral to the program through their primary healthcare provider to ensure medical stability while waiting for assessment and ongoing medical care.
When a patient begins the program, they receive a medical and psychosocial assessment.
A treatment plan is developed and agreed upon with the client. Group programming and individual therapy are provided, as well as outpatient medical management. A program dietitian offers clients a supportive nutritional assessment, allowing the client to work at their pace to normalize food, debunk food myths and misconceptions, and build a healthier relationship with food. The program team also works in cooperation with the client’s other care providers.
“Along with working on the eating disorder and working towards recovery, each individual brings with them their own story, which is often more complex than it just being about food,” says Carlee Patterson, a social worker at the program.
“Deep down, it’s often not about the food,” she adds. “We see people who have experienced trauma, loss, abuse, addictions, medical and other mental illnesses, amongst other detriments. Our patients are individualized and the staff assert themselves to providing patients with treatment to best suit where they are at and what would best serve them as they work towards recovery.”
The team strives to promote self-efficacy and empowerment of clients. Their focus is on healthy lifestyle and self-acceptance.
Dr. Edgardo Perez, the Chief of the Mental Health and Addictions Program, notes that the eating disorder program provides evidence-based treatment, including the use of interpersonal psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, trauma-informed therapy, dialectic behavioural therapy and mindfulness.
“Our team provides a vital service to our clients,” says Dr. Perez. “This evidence-based approach makes the program extremely effective and, most importantly, it is making a significant difference in the lives of so many people.”
Dr. Debbie Wilkes-Whitehall, a family doctor with expertise in mental health and psychotherapy, helped to develop and launch the program in 2001.
Dr. Wilkes-Whitehall says the team takes a client-centred approach to care.
“We have to adapt as much as we can to the needs of the client,” she says. “Nobody is the same.”
Dr. Wilkes-Whitehall has high praise for the program’s team, which includes Ms. Spadafora, Ms. Patterson, Nurse Practitioner Nadine Smith, Dietitian Kristen Goode and Clerical Administrator Katy Smart.
“They’re amazing because of their expertise and passion and just genuine caring for the clients and belief in what we do,” she says.
Ms. Scott agrees.
“You can see three different people in the same day and they’re all on the same page,” she says. “They’re always prepared for you. It’s so easy to ask questions. They make you feel comfortable. It becomes like a second home.”
Today, Ms. Scott goes out regularly with friends, her eating habits have greatly improved and she spends hours focusing on her art and crafts.
She’s living life. So much so, she says “there are not enough hours in my days. Before, every day was the same.”
Ms. Scott offers this advice to others facing a similar situation to her: “Never give up.”
“People don’t realize how much they count and how important they are,” she says. “There is hope. Get out and talk to people. Look for the help. Even though it might seem it’s slow at first, never give up. You are not alone.”
The Niagara Eating Disorder Outpatient Program is for patients aged 16 and older. Clients requiring more intensive treatment are offered referrals to other programs. For adults, these programs include the Homewood Health Centre in Guelph, Toronto General Hospital and Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga.
For those under the age of 16 requiring treatment, the appropriate referral sites are Pathstone Mental Health and the eating disorder programs at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton or the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
For more information about Niagara Eating Disorder Outpatient Program, click here. You can also call 905-378-4647, ext. 32532.