MFT Alumna Opens Transitional Living Facility for Those Struggling with Eating Disorders
When she was 13 Rebecca Cooper (MA ’97) started a diet that sent her into a vortex of an eating disorder that lasted for many years.
At that time, talking about eating disorders was taboo, so it was up to Cooper herself to determine her own path to recovery. By keeping journals, she garnered insight into the cause of her disorder. By researching, she learned more about the disease. Her interest in helping others grapple with this serious condition led her to pursue her master’s degree in clinical psychology with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy at GSEP.
“One of the reasons for going back to school was to learn more about how to help others who were so disconnected from their appetite, feelings, and body,” said Cooper. “I asked one of my professors, ‘What are the best interventions to use with eating disorder clients?’ She said, ‘There is no intervention or theory that really produces recovery for eating disorders. Maybe that is what you are supposed to do.’ That remark touched something deep inside me and I knew I had to try.”
In 1999 Cooper started working with clients who wanted help with yo-yo dieting. Soon local treatment centers were sending her clients who were attempting to recover from substance abuse by substituting their alcohol and drug addictions with food addictions such as binge eating. That was when Cooper formed the groups that became the start of Rebecca’s House Eating Disorder Outpatient Programs. As time went on Cooper found that clients in the groups who wanted recovery from disordered eating were having a hard time watching others binge eat in early alcohol and drug recovery.
As Cooper sought a solution, she learned that there were many great inpatient eating disorder treatment programs and hospitals, but because patients were learning in a controlled environment, they fell back into their previous eating habits after leaving the facility. Cooper saw a need for establishing an environment in which clients could resolve the underlying issues contributing to the eating disorder and practice recovery in real-life situations. And with that, Cooper founded Rebecca’s House Eating Disorder Transitional Living Residence, a warm, homelike setting minutes from Laguna Beach, California, where people can learn life skills and heal emotional wounds while building lifestyles free from eating disorders.
The outpatient programs provide access to licensed therapists, an exercise physiologist, yoga and tai chi instructors, a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, counselors, and registered dietitians. Rebecca’s House has aroundthe- clock house managers, a pool, a vegetable and flower garden, a jacuzzi, a sauna, a meditation cottage, a gym, an outside fire circle, and a crafts area. The house is walking distance from a mall, a location for 12-step meetings, banks, shops, and employment opportunities. Many optional activities such as swimming, cooking classes, sewing, massages, and gardening are also available, all in a structured environment conducive to women helping other women overcome their challenges with food.
“Our mission is to help people suffering from eating disorders connect back to their true self so that they can listen to their own internal cues from their appetite, feelings, and body, and can learn to love themselves so they may love others,” Cooper explained. “We believe recovery from eating disorders includes physical, emotional, and spiritual components, so that you are living life to your fullest potential with meaning and purpose, without the constant thoughts of food, weight, diet, and body image.”
Cooper is most excited about the new chemical dependency recovery outpatient program she has launched called New Method Wellness. “We see a large percentage of clients with eating disorders who have tried to self-medicate with alcohol and other substances,” Cooper said. “Both must be addressed. The groups are separate and each client’s treatment plan is individualized to include the best groups for them. Equine therapy is a combined group. Some people wanting chemical dependency help find they also need some eating disorder groups.” Furthermore, Cooper plans to expand her operation, becoming more involved with community service and schools in order to inform others about eating disorders and the connection with dieting and substance abuse.
To encourage public involvement, Cooper recently formed the nonprofit Rebecca’s House Eating Disorder Foundation, a 501(c)(3) corporation whose purpose is to provide scholarships for those who want eating disorder treatment but are not able to afford it. This can be used for hospitalization, inpatient, or outpatient programs. Cooper also tries to connect with the community by speaking at schools, churches, and other organizations where she can raise awareness about eating disorders and the services that Rebecca’s House provides, such as an after-school adolescent program, outpatient programs, individual appointments, and even a free family support group for anyone who has a loved one struggling with an eating disorder.
“Thirty-five percent of people who start a diet progress on to an eating disorder,” cautioned Cooper. “It starts with that disconnection from one’s own internal appetite and a focus on external cues, like the diet. We don’t know when we are hungry or full any longer. We just want to be ‘good’ and stay on the diet regardless of our appetite. Of every 200 people who go on a diet only four will maintain their weight loss after one year. At no time in history have we had more diets, diet aids, and weight-loss programs, but at the same time we have the most problems with obesity and eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Of course, there are a lot of other factors in the formation of an eating disorder, but this is something of which the general public should be aware.”
For more information on Rebecca’s House and how to get involved, visit www.rebeccashouse.org. To purchase Cooper’s Diets DON’T Work, now available in book, CD, and DVD formats, visit www.dietsdontwork.org.