Reflections On My Time at the UNC Eating Disorders Program

It has been a whirlwind, exciting, inspiring, fast-paced, challenging, fun-filled year as a psychology intern at the UNC Eating Disorders Program. I am grateful to have had exposure to the best of both worlds – the world of clinical work and the world of research, and I have also seen what happens when they collide in a very positive and fulfilling way. Working at each level of care (inpatient, partial hospitalization, and outpatient) as well as with the research team, I found the learning opportunities endless. A few highlights from my year are as follows:

I was able to hear and hold the stories of many diverse patients – individuals who have struggled to overcome their eating disorder for decades, and pre-teens who had never received treatment before. Given the intensity of care that individuals receive (numerous multidisciplinary groups, individual therapy, meal support, nutritional counseling), I had the opportunity to take the time to truly get to know the individuals I worked with and to collaborate directly with a team of amazing professionals to provide quality integrated care. My role also involved acting as a group therapist. I not only got to improve my CBT skills, but also was able to create curriculum for two groups – one following an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy model, and the other a Cognitive Remediation Therapy model. The team’s openness to new approaches was apparent and follows from their desire to provide care that involves novel treatments that are gaining evidence and support through new research. The team’s willingness to adapt and change with the growing literature reflects a clear emphasis on program development and evidence-based treatment.

I bridged the research-clinical gap while gaining additional experience with adults with BN in my work as a therapist on the CBT4BN study. Being a therapist on a clinical trial, I saw my specific skills as a CBT therapist improve, and I also had the challenge of balancing staying faithful to the manualized treatment, meeting the unique needs of the group members, and integrating my own clinical background and style. More recently, I have been working with Colie Taico to run a group for BED, integrating CBT, motivational enhancement and DBT skills in the outpatient setting. Having diverse diagnostic experience within the realm of eating disorders is a true strength of the program and has made me a better clinician all around.

As a part of the research team, I learned about the broad areas of interest of the many brilliant women working with Cindy Bulik. Who knew that I would learn about gut microbiota, the association between micronutrients and obesity, or the impact of having a history of an eating disorder on a mother’s feeding practices early in her child’s life? The projects available to choose from were endless, and I was able to get my feet wet in various studies, work on manuscript revisions, and spend some time to get my own dissertation published. After my year here, I can easily see why many try to stay forever – the opportunities for growth, development of independent interests, and openness to different ideas has been refreshing. Thank you to all of the wonderful people who made this year so special (Cindy, Sara H., Stephanie, Christine, Cristin, Sara T., Jess, Lauren, Mae Lynn and Kim on the research team and T.J., Maureen, Jen, Maria, Colie, Rachel and Kate on the treatment team). I am going to miss all of you and look forward to staying in touch and hopefully collaborating in the future!

By: Sarah Forsberg