Laura Stanton, PhD
As a licensed clinical psychologist with over 20 years of experience successfully treating severe eating-disordered patients, I know that therapy can be a useful area to discuss what your strengths are, and what you should be valued for—by yourself and others. Having that kind of objective sanctuary may be more important now than ever in a society bombarded by unrealistic and rigid images of beauty and worth.
Most therapists feel that self-image is unduly influenced by body types, and I am no exception: while I am in favor of treating our bodies well, I do not believe that one’s physical body—the vehicle you use to experience the world, with its natural, built-in lifelong decline—is the most adaptive measure of personal beauty or self-worth.
Although many eating-disordered patients are extremely knowledgeable about their conditions and the factors that influence their eating behavior, this knowledge alone is usually not sufficient to interrupt their self-defeating patterns. In addition, these eating behaviors, maladaptive on one hand, may work in the service of existing mood disorders and anxiety—making it more difficult to break the cycle.
When Can Psychotherapy Help?
Psychotherapy can be extremely helpful if you are experiencing any of the following:
- An inability to change fairly longstanding behaviors or emotions that you know are neither logical or productive
- Difficulty smoothly managing things that come quite naturally to most people
- Feeling as if you “can’t cope any more”
- A distinct loss of interest in things, people and activities you used to enjoy
- Diminished ability to concentrate and function, either at work or socially or both
- A good deal of and/or escalation in conflict at home or work
- Feeling lonely or socially isolated
- A need for additional support around grief and losses
- Trouble moving on with life after a recent or past trauma
- An interest in identifying the obstacles that keep you from achieving reasonable goals or from being the person you think you want to be
- Erratic and/or inconsistent mood (e.g., very high at times and/or very low at times)
- Anxiety so high that you are avoiding things that need doing
- Panic attacks
- People who have your best interests at heart have suggested therapy might help
It’s clear from my years of practicing, including work at Renfrew and Friends Hospital, that treating patients with eating disorders can be intense and extremely challenging. Yet I know firsthand that the rewards are great: whether helping to prevent the progression of a developing disorder in a troubled adolescent or helping to manage longstanding anorexia and bulimia in adults, there is a route back to health.
You do not have to have a specific goal in mind already to see a psychologist! If you or someone you know is struggling, get the help you deserve.
Scheduling & Fees
How to make a first appointment. Typically the patient or their parent is the first to contact me on my secure voice mail. In your initial message, please suggest some times for us to speak by phone and the best number at which to reach you. I try to return new patient phone calls within 24 hours, but make every effort to find about a half-hour for us to talk to ensure that I might be a good fit. Fees, office locations and scheduling will also be discussed during this initial phone call. Our first in-person session is typically scheduled for a minimum of 90 minutes, so more than pure history-taking can be accomplished: the idea is to leave with a diagnosis, a sample of what it would be like to work with me, and a plan.
Late Cancellations. Please give me 24-hours notice if you must cancel or reschedule a session. I will charge for cancellations made with less than 24-hours’ notice, though I understand that weather, traffic, and illness may present unforeseen attendance problems. Also note that insurance companies will not pay for late cancellations and generally will not pay for phone sessions. Please call by 5 p.m. Friday to cancel a session scheduled for Monday, if at all possible.
Fees. I am not “in-network” with any insurance plan. However, most non-HMO plans have an out-of-network benefit and partially reimburse subscribers for my services. Many of the larger local companies (including DuPont; Boeing; many unions) have more generous reimbursement rates. Please check all options carefully – some may involve session limitations, or have other constraints.
Typically, fees are set during our initial phone call. I do have a sliding scale based on household income and need, so please do discuss any financial difficulties with me before assuming that nothing can be done.
Payment in full is expected at each session, and I am happy to provide clients with a written statement/receipt for their records and insurance reimbursement purposes. I do not accept credit cards or any third-party payment.
- What can I do to help myself or others I think may have an eating disorder? You probably have many questions about how to begin the healing process. First piece of business is this, try to be kind and compassionate: our culture pulls for a confusion between one’s outsides and one’s insides, and there is almost no eating-disordered patient who is not doing the best they can. If you can remember to pack kindness and compassion along as you set forth on this journey, you will have already accomplished something before you make your first appointment (the important next step).
- How do you determine “healthy weight?” Whenever I’m asked to define the concept of “healthy weight,” I say it is the weight that an individual can successfully sustain without undue discomfort. The discomfort I am referring to could be social, or psychological, or physical, or all of those: I work with people who cannot tolerate normal experiences with other people, at any level of intimacy, because of their food or weight issues; I see folks whose food and weight concerns cause them great psychological pain, and I also work with those whose food and weight problems of whatever type have led to physical pain. For some people, a good deal of productive therapy will be devoted to acceptance of their own healthy weight: this issue is almost completely overlooked by the “re-feeding” approach used in many local hospitals.
- What foods are better than others? Here are my somewhat unorthodox views on fake food: because I have been practicing for a long time, I feel myself to be on somewhat solid ground when I state that low-fat food, low-carb food, diet food or drink, or any other imitation food or drink are really not beneficial to a wide range of people. In general, if food is not your life’s work, thoughts about food should not occupy a large portion of your thinking, and I notice that thoughts about food rise noticeably when any of the foregoing “fake foods” are overused.
- Why don’t I ever seem to achieve the body I want? Many factors load into answering this question, but perhaps the simplest and most common one is basic genetics: A starved golden retriever does not a greyhound make. I promise, you are related to people, and those people have given you a baseline shape. Imagine you are a zookeeper and you are viewing a new animal for the first time. This new animal is what you, the zookeeper and caretaker, are paid to maintain. You would take a close look to see what your target goals for maintenance of this particular animal were. You wouldn’t apply the same criteria across species with regard to optimal height, weight, build, coat, and dietary needs. Lions are probably mesomorphs: at their best when their fur is rippling, and their broad, strong shoulders are fully encased in muscle. Cheetahs are designed to be much slenderer than lions! In this way, part of the work may be viewed as accepting your genetic code and learning how to work with, rather than against it.
Here are 3 samples of grounding exercises you can practice at home.
Be aware that the goal of these grounding exercises is NOT relaxation! Relaxation exercises are the ones that ask you to visualize yourself in a happy place, and so on: they are used for tension-reduction. Many of the patients I work with experience flooding anxiety with that style of intervention!
By contrast, grounding exercises are designed to reconnect your body and mind so you can be present in the here-and-now. There are probably dozens of them, and none are particularly superior – you can decide which one resonates most with you. As is true with most transformations, the success is not in the “knowing,” but in the “doing.” No grounding exercise will work without practice: start doing them twice a day when you are not particularly upset, then move up to using them when you are able to notice that you are upset. The ones I usually ask people to practice are:
- Corner flipping. Stare without blinking into a upper room corner where the two walls meet each other and the ceiling until you can see that corner as coming toward you instead of receding (as it does in reality), then use your attention to change that orientation a couple of times.
- Counting down objects by sensory category. Find five things you can see, and list them out loud. Now choose three of those five, and say them out loud. Next choose one of those three and say it out loud. Now move on to hearing: name five things you can hear, say them out loud. Cut that list to three, and say them out loud. Now choose only one, and say it out loud. Proceed to touch (“what can you feel touching your body? Five…three…one”), smell, and taste: you can use smells and tastes that you vividly imagine to fill the lists for the last two, but the five…three…one part is important, as is saying the items out loud.
- Orienting to the present. Tell yourself your name and age out loud, then list a thing or two you’ve done recently, a couple of things that are true about yourself, and a couple of things you plan to do today. Say your birthdate. Rub your hands together until you can feel the warmth generated by that, and take two or three long, slow breaths. Repeat until you feel better connected with the present.
My Approach to Treatment
A Team of Experts. Having specialized in the treatment of eating-disordered patients over my 20-year career, I believe a multidisciplinary team approach is often essential – with different providers offering different strengths to create a therapeutic “synergy.”
For some patients, a targeted, multi-disciplinary, outpatient treatment approach may be required to initially stabilize and maintain health. Ideally, a team-collaboration model between a doctor and a experienced psychologist can provide integrative care including behavioral goals such as target weights, time free of health-damaging behaviors such as purging or self-harm, evaluation of additional psychological disorders such as depression or anxiety, and the personalized, frequent attention such patients need. I feel honored when other providers refer patients to me requesting that I join their team. Likewise, I will emphatically suggest that a patient visit a primary care physician, or a dietitian, or a psychiatrist, or a gynecologist, or other skilled practitioners, to establish a robust network of support.
For example, it is not uncommon for eating-disordered patients to use some kind of psychotropic medication at some point in their care (e.g., anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, anti-psychotic). Decisions about the inclusion of medication as a part of treatment will vary based on several factors including the patient’s preferences, severity of symptoms and health history. I am not a psychiatrist, so if medication becomes a consideration to bolster a patient’s treatment, I will refer out for consultation and management. Conversely, if a patient is already using a psychiatric medication, I will work with their psychiatrist/prescribing physician to coordinate care. Specifically, when medication is part of the care picture, I’ll support the patient and the care team to help inform proper dosage based on symptom management, as well as build patient compliance to ensure optimal success and prevent symptoms related to medication mismanagement.
In addition, while I have conducted a good number of parent-coaching sessions to improve a parent’s relations with my patient, or understanding of my patient, I am not a family therapist, nor a marital therapist. If in my opinion such services are necessary, I will vigorously suggest that my patient and/or parent secure those services to support health in the system.
Hospitalization only rarely delivers lasting change, since the hospital environment disrupts the life challenges that the behaviors are used to manage. As such, I only recommend its use as a last line of defense.
Considerations about Confidentiality. With a few exceptions, I cannot and will not release any information about you without your permission. If you are in danger of hurting yourself or somebody else, or if there is child or elder abuse involved, I, like all licensed mental health providers, am mandated to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the safety of everyone involved, regardless of your privacy concerns. This might include contacting family members, another treating provider, ChildLine, or the local mental health crisis service. To be as clear as possible, here is the recommended language from the Pennsylvania Psychological Association:
“If I have reason to suspect, on the basis of my professional judgment, that a child is or has been abused, I am required to report my suspicions to the authority or government agency vested to conduct child-abuse investigations. I am required to make such reports even if I do not see the child in my professional capacity.
I am mandated to report suspected child abuse if anyone aged 14 or older tells me that he or she committed child abuse, even if the victim is no longer in danger.
I am also mandated to report suspected child abuse if anyone tells me that he or she knows of any child who is currently being abused.”
Therapy with adolescents and their families can present additional, at times unique, confidentiality issues. Generally, if I am worried about the safety or well-being of an adolescent client, I will schedule a family session to discuss those concerns. In addition to the confidentiality exceptions noted above, issues that might necessitate parental involvement include: an adolescent client’s pregnancy, regular and/or dangerous substance use, or severe self-injurious behaviors. Whenever possible, I will first notify the adolescent about my concerns; I very, very rarely talk with parents without the adolescent’s prior knowledge.
505 Old York Road, Suite 100
Jenkintown, PA 19046
505 Old York Road, Suite 100, Jenkintown is on the north side of a mini mall called Jenkintown Square, on Old York Road, that contains Beifeld Jewelers, Bella’s Pizzeria, and The Little Gym. The correct building entrance is opposite Bella’s pizzeria: there is a door, then stairs go up. My office is the second door on the right. The bathroom is at the top of the stairs, and there is a waiting room in the office. I will come out to meet you at the time of our appointment.
135 South 19th Street
“The Wellington”, Suite 250
Philadelphia, PA 19103
135 South 19th Street, Suite 250, Philadelphia is on the north side of Rittenhouse Square Park, at the corner of Walnut and South 19th Street. The building entrance is on the 19th Street side, and the building is labeled “The Wellington.” There is a small elevator on the left-hand side just inside the outside door: if you go up a couple of marble stair-steps, you have gone too far. Take the elevator to the second floor, and follow the signs for Suite 250. The bathroom is down the hall on the right, and there is a waiting room: I will come out to meet you at the time of our appointment.
Confidential Voice Mail: 215-247-2843
The best way to reach me is through my confidential voicemail (215-247-2843). I check voicemail several times each day and return calls as soon as possible, although it may take me up to 24 hours to return calls made after 5pm or on weekends.
In the event of an emergency such as uncontrollable suicidal urges, sudden psychotic symptoms, or a substance-related crisis, if you are a current patient, please leave me a message, but please do not wait for my return call. Instead, after leaving me your message, please go to a crisis response center for immediate evaluation (e.g. Temple/Episcopal: 215-707-2577; Abington: 215-481-2525; University of Pennsylvania, 215-662-2121).