by Shelley Pomerance
“I was always interested in psychotherapy for people who have personality traits that cause them to be either very impulsive or compulsive. That’s what drew me to the field,” says Howard Steiger, PhD, a psychologist and the director of the Eating Disorders Program at the Douglas Institute. “I’ve been doing this work for 28 years and I find it more interesting every day.”
Dr. Steiger runs a major large-scale program for the treatment and study of eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia spectrum, for the province of Quebec. His work involves clinical research, treatment, management, and what he calls “knowledge transfer” – teaching physicians, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists and nutritionists how to treat people who have eating disorders. Housed on the grounds of the Douglas Institute in small units that look more like private homes than hospital buildings, his program offers different levels of treatment, including outpatient clinics, a day program where patients get therapy and eat their meals, and an admitting unit, “a safe place where people live in a secure and protective environment.”
“Anorexia nervosa is a phobia,” says Dr. Steiger, “a terrible fear of eating and gaining weight.” It might be triggered by a traumatic experience, such as a rape, or brought on by a seemingly benign comment made by a ballet teacher. It’s a multidimensional disorder that can occur when a person with a particular genetic vulnerability, in combination with environmental and life stresses, does too much dieting. “If you reduce the pressures in our culture to induce people to want to be too thin, you will see lower incidences of anorexia and bulimia.”
One approach Dr. Steiger has taken to reduce these pressures is by collaborating on the Quebec Charter for a Healthy and Diverse Body Image and forming a committee of influential people who produce or depend on images: people who work for fashion magazines and in television, photographers and clothing manufacturers, as well as those in the health sector, education and private business. “We did a lot of work related to educating the public about the risks of inducing people to be too thin. It can be as dangerous as driving drunk or smoking cigarettes, not to mention that it causes people to be unhappy about themselves.”
More recently, he has joined forces with Blue Met and its new social and educational program, In My Skin, which aims to support the development of self-esteem in young women with eating disorders, through writing and drawing workshops.
“I’m a lucky guy,” says Dr. Steiger. “I get to work with people you can help, who recover.
We’re not weight gain police. We don’t force-feed people. Part of the treatment is to gently stop somebody from running away, to help them re-evaluate what they’re thinking that is so fearful, and discover that it’s safe.” – by Shelley Pomerance
Dr. Steiger’s reading recommendations:
Life of Pi by Yann Martel, because it represents the struggle to overcome fear and adversity, the challenge to face things in oneself that one doesn’t want to see, and the search for meaning.
Goldfinger by Ian Fleming, which he read – hiding the book under his desk – in Grade 6, and thoroughly enjoyed!
|L’histoire de Pi – Yann Martel|
|Goldfinger – Ian Fleming|