Mercy Ministries compared to other treatment centers

This piece by Mercy Survivor Chelsea was originally published on her personal blog, The Pink Propaganda, and can be viewed here.

For all intents and purposes for this blog we’re going to call Mercy Ministries a treatment center.  Although technically I hate referring to them as that, because I think it gives girls the wrong idea.  So bear with me.

A couple blogs ago somebody else compared Monte Nido to Mercy Ministries and I thought I would do the same, only with the place that really did help my eating disorder, as opposed to Mercy Ministries, that made it worse.

Mercy Ministries lacked a fundamental understanding that people with bulimia often go up and down in weight.  While the head to toe shot that I sent them in November was an average sized person, I had gained weight since then.  With bulimia I went up and down and all over the place and this seemed to upset them.

These are things that happened at Mercy that would NEVER happen at the place that I went to.  (Brandywine Eating Disorder Unit outside of Philadelphia).

  • Being asked to wake up earlier to exercise more then the other girls
  • Being more obsessed with me losing weight then I was
  • Putting me on certain food restrictions. Peanut butter, desserts, etc.
  • Offering me gifts, gift cards to Starbucks, the bookstore, etc if I lost weight.
  • Leaving me on plate check longer then any of the other girls, because they thought I would sneak food.

While I may have been overweight at the time, I was still very self conscious of my body, but I went in with an attitude that I wanted to become more confident in who I was as a person and I just was not prepared to be told day in and day out how much weight I needed to lose.  Just because I was overweight, it did not mean that my eating disorder was not serious and did not warrant their consideration in the way that they spoke to me about me losing weight.

Mercy Ministries lacked structure.  Their whole program lacked structure.

There were never any group therapies.  You had individual counseling once a week.  It wasn’t conducive for recovery.  They had one time a week that 15 of us sat together and discussed like a chapter of a book that we read.  They refer to this as “group therapy”, but it’s not like “hey these are my emotions…”  It’s more like a book club.

Brandywine had at least seven or eight groups a day, plus you see the psychiatrist daily, you see your therapist 2-3 times a week, you see the family therapist once a week or more depending on your family, and you see the nutritionist at least once a week, more if you request.  You also have a team meeting once a week.  You have interns on hand.  There’s an art therapist.  A yoga instructor.  A music therapist.  Animal therapy.  You have certified RNs passing out medications and signing medications in and out of computer systems to make them accountable.  And RNs are always on the units, and medical doctors are always available 24/7.

Your therapist is typically masters degree or doctorate degree.  They have done rotations at eating disorder units in their training and have worked with eating disorders prior to their employment.

They offer Christian therapists and work with you spiritually if you choose this route.

The nutritionist has been working with eating disorder for quite some time and has a lot of knowledge about them.

Also the leader of the program, a psychiatrist got his degrees at Yale, Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania.  He has his medical degree and has been working with eating disorders for most of his adult life.  We saw him daily for psychiatric drug maintenance and for monitoring for medical issues.

At Mercy Ministries, I never saw a nutritionist once.  I believe when I got there I asked about it and they sent me to see the house manager, who had no formal training in nutrition, and she told me what I was supposed to eat for the whole four months I was there.  I believe some locations do now have nutritionists, I do not believe that they are required to have a background in eating disorders.  About half way through my stay we got a fitness director.  She had no say in what we ate.

At Brandywine exercise is not entirely discouraged, but 5ks and unmonitored hour long sessions at the gym for women who have issues over-exercising would not have been allowed.

The leader of the program at Mercy, the actual program director. I am unaware of her education.  But I can promise that it was nothing more then a masters degree.

At Mercy Ministries, you have a counselor.  Mine was not formally educated to my knowledge.  I do believe some of them are now.  Medications are just put into bags and passed out.  I know for me I had controlled substances in my bag and every staff member had access to that room, some of them prior young women of Mercy Ministries themselves.  Staff members slept in that room.  Staff members with no medical degrees at all were passing out heavy psychiatric drugs.

We had an art closet.  But no art therapist, even though I don’t really think all that jazz of art therapists and music therapists and yoga therapists is needed to have a good treatment program, it makes it much less boring.

Also at Brandywine, we had a community TV, access to newspapers, even access to the internet and cellphones, we were allowed to listen to ipods, form relationships with whoever we wanted to.  Get mad, have negative emotions.  We were also allowed to discuss with each other why we were there, what brought us to this place.  I mean it centered around our group therapies, it bonded us as a group.  It made us feel heard.  It wasn’t a dirty little secret.  I felt that I was really allowed to bond to other girls without getting in trouble for being socially awkward.

There was a staff ratio of maybe 1:6, versus 1:15 on the weekends at Mercy Ministries.

If you self harmed at Brandywine it was taken really seriously and people talked to you about it.  “Why did you do it?” “What happened?”

At Mercy Ministries, it was really hot and cold about whether girls would get help, depending on the staff member and what they “thought” with their level of “psychiatric expertise” you were trying to do.  Sometimes women were often ignored for cutting themselves, because Mercy Ministries staff thought they were just seeking attention.  Other times, staff would take the item(s) away and leave it at that. But rarely would they ask you why you did that or ask you to talk it out.  There were a couple times that I purged at Mercy Ministries and didn’t even mention it to staff, because I knew I wouldn’t get any help for it and if anything I would just get into more trouble.

At Brandywine I felt safe to come to staff and say “I messed up, can you help me”?

The only thing that was better at Mercy Ministries was meal times.  At Brandywine, there’s always awkward silence as everybody stares at their food.  At Mercy Ministries, only a certain percentage of girls have eating disorders and those who do are controlled by threats like “if you don’t eat we’ll send you home”, or “We absolutely do NOT tolerate not eating and if you want to be here then you better eat, because there are 700 girls on that waiting list and we will replace you”.  So there is really no girls not eating, because they have a lot of power over you.  Nobody wants to go home, everybody is scared of not being able to survive without Mercy Ministries.

At Brandywine, a lot of the girls will get back at staff by not eating their meals.  Or show that they are angry by not eating.  That doesn’t happen at Mercy Ministries.  You think that would be a good thing, but it’s actually not.  The freedom of choice should be there.  The freedom to express emotion openly should also be there.

Another thing different was the feel of the places.  Mercy Ministries was very well decorated.  I mean Brandywine is government funded, not privately funded, so it does give them some limits on what they can do with the place.  Many Mercy Ministries homes have balconies and pools and big stair cases, and the breakable pieces sitting on the end tables.

Brandywine is more of an open unit, but you cannot leave the property.  It’s the same with Mercy Ministries.  Mercy Ministries may claim that you can leave at any time, but if you try, they will come after you and they will yell at you.

Written By Chelsea