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Eating Disorders & Substance Abuse: Practical Guidelines for Managing the Co-morbidity

Conducted by Amy Dennis, Clinical Psychologist

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Thursday 1 August (1 hour duration) 

12pm New Zealand
9:30am SA, NT
8am WA, Singapore, Hong Kong
3am South Africa, Spain
8pm USA EDT (31 July)

There is a high prevalence of substance use disorders (SUD) in patients with eating disorders (ED). Research suggests that up to 50% of ED patients are abusing prescription drugs, illicit drugs or over-the-counter medications. However, very few programs in either the substance abuse or eating disorder field have developed comprehensive, evidence-based, integrated programs for this comorbid group. Treatment is often provided sequentially (SUD treated first and then the ED) or concurrently (by two different treatment providers or programs simultaneously). Unfortunately, this fragmented approach can lead to consumer and family confusion and poor treatment outcomes. Research suggests that individuals with co-occurring disorders have a greater chance of recovering from both disorders when they receive integrated treatment from the same practitioner/program. This workshop will begin with a review of the guiding principles behind integrated treatment for individuals with ED/SUD, a discussion of staff training and treatment team composition, and strategies for program implementation. It will finish with a discussion of case formulation and how to develop an individualized treatment plan for these complex cases using the concept of “adaptive function”.

Learning Objectives:

  • Participants will be able to describe at least three reasons that integrated treatment is superior to sequential or concurrent treatment for ED patients with comorbid SUD
  • Participants will be able to list the guiding principles behind integrated treatment
  • Participants will be able to discuss the concept of “adaptive function” and how it can assist in the development of an individualized treatment plan for comorbid patients.


Amy Baker Dennis, Ph.D. is a researcher, educator, author and clinical psychologist. Dr. Dennis has specialized in the treatment of ED since 1977. She served on the faculties of Wayne State Medical School, the University of South Florida Medical School, and Hamilton Holt Graduate School. She is a Founding Fellow of the Academy for Eating Disorders, Founding member of the Eating Disorder Research Society and the National Eating Disorder Association, Founding Fellow/Diplomate of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy and a Certified Cognitive Therapist.

The need for both empathy and ‘Tough Love’ in eating disorder interventions

Conducted by Shannon Calvert, Lived Experience Educator


Thursday 19 September (1 hour duration) 

4pm New Zealand
1:30pm SA, NT
12pm WA, Singapore, Hong Kong
6am South Africa, Spain
12am USA EDT (19 September)

Eating disorders are conditions that involve an intense fear of eating normally, and clinicians working with this population may find themselves battling with their patients. This webinar is aimed at clinicians, to help them understand both the need for being tough with their patents and at the same time the need for compassion.

Eating disorders treatment often involves interventions that are challenging to the patient. Inpatient treatment frequently involves life-saving, confronting interventions (e.g., insertion of a naso-gastric tube (NGT); restraint to prevent removal of the tube, use of the mental health act). Day treatment involves meal support, persuading patients to eat foods that are challenging to them. Outpatient treatment often involves self-monitoring, regular eating and homework. These interventions can be conducted punitively, with disrespect and disdain for the patient, or they can be used supportively and collaboratively. When applied in a threatening or dismissive manner, such treatment can add to pre-existing trauma, hindering one’s physical and mental recovery. Alternatively, compassion and explanations can alleviate the inherent distress.

I will discuss my own experiences, illustrating when practices have been detrimental vs helpful and will outline some recommendations for treatment: a) Where challenging and confronting interventions are deemed necessary, application must be in the context of life-saving/life-enhancing intervention; b) The importance of treatment at all levels of care being guided by empathy, compassion and open, honest communication; c) Providing the individual (and carer) with a clear rationale for using the intervention(s) and the risks of not doing so.

In conclusion, ‘tough love’ can be necessary in treatment and, so is the equal importance of compassion and dignity towards the individual. That equal balance saved my life.


Shannon Calvert is a passionate lived experience advocate for consumers and supports, collaborating with organisations that facilitate consumer-centred, recovery-oriented and integrated best practice. She works as a national and international systemic advocate sitting on a range of boards, committees, and advisory groups. Her great passion is in educating, providing supervision and collaborating alongside clinicians, researchers, and organisations that aim to champion wellbeing, supporting quality in life.

Shannon is the Peer Work Co-ordinator for a large Health Service in WA, as well as a Mental Health Trainer and Lived Experience Educator.  She is a member of ANZAED’S Consumer and Carer Committee, Membership Committee and the 2021 Conference Committee, as well as a member of the AED Experts by Experience Committee and Membership Recruitment Committee.

Shannon continues to present oral papers and workshops at local, national and international conferences (both general mental health, and eating disorder-specific) on topics such as the importance of compassion in involuntary treatment; consumer and carer engagement in design of policy, training, and education; as well as her lived experience of an eating disorder and trauma. She was a Keynote speaker at the 2018 Service User Academia Symposium and at the 2019 International Conference on Eating Disorders in New York, she delivered a plenary presentation: “When does the time come for compulsory treatment?”

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