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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The ethics experiences of eating disorder therapists who have a personal history of an eating disorder : an interpretive description Williams, Meris Andrée Lineham


The study’s purpose was to explore and understand the professional ethics experiences of eating disorder (ED) therapists with personal ED histories, in order to generate knowledge directly applicable to maximizing such therapists’ safe and ethical practice with ED clients. Using the interpretive description qualitative approach to inquiry, data from interviews with 11 ED therapists with personal ED histories and from 2 first-person, published written accounts were analyzed inductively at manifest and latent content levels. From this emerged a description of the ethical issues and concerns reported (the ‘ethics terrain’), as well as of the interviewees’ experiences of engaging in conversation about the research topic, and their ethical self-reflections and practice changes that occurred over the course of data collection. Additional interpretation of these descriptive findings produced patterns, concepts, and ideas contributing to a more integrative understanding of participants’ ethics experiences that enhanced the clinical applicability of the study’s findings and had direct implications for practice. Among the recommendations directed towards ED-historied therapists, professionals involved in the education and training of such therapists, and the broader EDs field that emerged from this exploratory study were that ED-historied therapists receive early and ongoing training and supervision that addresses the full range of ethical issues likely to be encountered by them when delivering therapy to ED clients, including those associated with their personal ED histories. Particular attention to therapist wellness and self-disclosure practices may be warranted, as these may be associated with early career/early-in-recovery ethical vulnerabilities that could increase risk of harm to ED clients. However, there appear to be significant risks for ED-historied therapists in disclosing their ED histories in professional environments and in discussing related ethical issues. Safe climates that foster ‘positive ethics experiences’ for such therapists may facilitate their engagement with the full range of ethical issues relevant to them so that they can maximize their safe and ethical practice with ED clients.

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