An Award-Winning Author
Karen Koenig's books help eaters resolve problematic dietary routines. Learn more about her IPPY award-winning book, Helping Patients Outsmart Overeating, below.
To learn more about Karen Koenig's other books, visit her website here.
Helping Patients Outsmart Overeating: Psychological Strategies for Doctors and Health Care Providers, by Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW and Paige O’Mahoney, M.D., CHWC (Rowman & Littlefield)
“Helping Patients Outsmart Overeating, written by an eating disorder therapist and a physician, offers a new paradigm for doctors and health care providers who treat patients with eating and weight concerns. It describes how both parties are frustrated by weight-loss plans and programs that fail in the long term, and presents a science-based explanation for why diets fail and how they, in fact, may adversely impact patients’ mental and physical health. The authors illustrate how providers can truly help patients by using empathy, compassion, and motivational interviewing. They explain how helping patients strengthen skills related to self-awareness, emotional management, stress reduction, appetite attunement, perseverance and effective self-care can improve self-efficacy and support sustained motivation in improving health and wellness promoting behaviors. The issue of weight stigma is addressed, along with how professionals’ view of their own eating and weight affects the patient-provider relationship. This book introduces clinicians to tools from eating and success psychology, Intuitive Eating, Lifestyle Medicine, and Health and Wellness Coaching, within a weight-inclusive paradigm. It also details a collaborative model for working with ancillary disciplines to give patients and providers the comprehensive support needed for lasting success.”
How Being a Writer and a Psychotherapist Feed Each Other
An Award-Winning Author Shares Her Story
How fortunate I am to make my living doing two jobs I love: as a writer and as a psychotherapist. For over 30 years, I’ve been teaching people with emotional, mindless, compulsive, binge and over-eating problems to become “normal” eaters. I started writing about eating, weight and body image around the turn of the century. My first book was published in 2005, my seventh book (co-authored by a physician) came out in 2017, and I’ve written over one thousand blogs.
I’ve found that my two careers dove-tail nicely, complementing one another, and I enjoy being a member of a growing field of author therapists. Being a professional listener, healer, and mental health educator have enlightened and enlivened my writing, while writing has amplified and helped structure my thinking to make me a more reflective and effective clinician. Here’s how it works.
1. Flashes of insight and connecting the dots
When I’m sitting with a client, I often have an idea pop into my head or a deep emotion well up inside me. Intuition is a valuable tool, but sharing it too soon often comes with a price. As s novice clinician, I would be so eager to offer a particular bolt of insight that I would sometimes blurt it out—to my (and my client’s) detriment. Although in both therapy and writing, I am helping to reveal or tell a story, writers are fortunate that we can review and revise our initial thoughts before they come anywhere near our readers, whereas therapists are held accountable by our clients for nearly every word we speak. In both crafts, timing is everything.
A good illustration of when to say what occurred during a first session I had with a middle-age man who was describing how his two wives had left him for other men and how his girlfriend had recently blindsided him by dumping him after six months of living together. As most therapists would, I realized that he likely was repeating a painful pattern of abandonment unconsciously learned in childhood and I felt the urge to share this interpretation with him.
Had I been writing about why we repeat unhappy childhood patterns (not to be self-destructive, but because they’re familiar and we’re actually struggling to find a better way out of them), I would have taken my time mulling over my insight and developing my theme, including perhaps tossing out some questions for the reader along the way: “Do you experience anything familiar in your romantic relationships that is similar to what you felt as a child with your parents or care-givers?” or “What do you make of habitually choosing partners who mistreat and eventually abandon you?”
Absent this writing experience, I might have jumped in prematurely and shared my insight with my client. Doing so, I would have missed the opportunity to let my idea marinate through discussion until the moment was ripe for sharing it or, even better, to wait to see if he would have made this connection himself. By my jumping in, he easily might have brushed aside my idea and returned to lamenting his ill-fated romantic choices. Or he might have gotten side-tracked by my comment and not followed his original thoughts to wherever they were taking us.
I was a therapist long before I became a serious writer and, unfortunately, spouted off in sessions too quickly too often. I now recognize that clients, too, need the front-end work that we provide to our readers. Writing taught me the practical wisdom and positive results of patience and preparing the reader (or client) for my ideas, rather than simply lobbing them across the net because the ball was in my court.
2. Broadening horizons
Putting thoughts to paper or fingers to keyboard gives my writer’s mind a chance to wander. This is why journaling increases self-reflection and self-knowledge and is especially beneficial for therapy clients—and therapists, as well. We’re constantly thinking on our feet in sessions, but while writing, we can let our minds relax and meander. We can test out different ideas and scenarios and see if they seem on target or if they wildly miss the mark. When I’m writing about an issue, for example, clients not knowing how to stop eating when they’re full or satisfied, I can spend time considering different metaphors or similes which might illustrate my point. Then, when I’m in session, I can share that description as if I’d just thought of it.
As a therapist, I am more or less committed to my first thoughts as soon as they pass through my lips. Writing about eating helps me imagine different options in a way that I would not be able to do if I were simply talking with a client. In the therapy setting, I spend most of my time engaged in active listening. While writing, on the other hand, I can unmoor my mind, allowing my thoughts to drift. Then, I can follow them or come about and head off in another direction.
As an author, I have the luxury of scrapping every word I’ve written, which I can hardly do with spoken words as a therapist. Often after writing several paragraphs or pages, I find I’ve been wending my way toward saying something important, but can’t quite spit it out. While writing allows me to be a cautious adventurer and make gradual discoveries, therapy is often a now-or-never event, in part because I’m always conscious of not wasting our time together or clients’ money or health insurance benefits. The truth is that sometimes it’s necessary to throw caution to the wind and to jump in with both feet by simply writing or speaking what’s on my mind.
Needing to share my thoughts without a great deal of dithering—because I’ve been asked a question by a client or because it’s my job to offer up my views—forces me to be courageous. There is excitement (and fear) in taking that blind leap, that one-time offer, that writing doesn’t afford. With the written word, I don’t need to commit until my final draft is about to head to my agent, editor or publisher. Learning to hone my hunches and commit to them in sessions teaches me to take chances earlier on the written page, to put myself out there the way I am forced to do as a therapist. As a lover of words, it makes me get on with it to make my point more quickly.
4. Connection to myself and others
As a therapist and writer, I’m never far from being connected to thoughts or emotions, mine or someone else’s. I’m always sleuthing for clues that tell me how clients are reacting to what I say—did I hit the bull’s eye, did I increase or decrease my connection to them, am I helping or hindering their progress? When people ask about my tools for therapy, I generally answer that the primary instrument is my internal reactions and that’s about it, although I know that skill comes from far more than what most people call simple intuition. The deeper I delve within myself, the better therapy I can offer.
As a writer about sensitive issues like eating and body image—and everything else in life that impacts them—I also need to stay engaged with my thoughts and feelings and how they’ll be perceived. I check and double-check that what I think I’m feeling is actually true. I consider how my audience will receive the tone and words I use to describe my views. I wonder what hesitations readers will have about my ideas or the questions I pose to them. Without immediate feedback, I must imagine their potential reactions. In this back-and-forth, as with clients, I try to keep the attachment strong enough to weather our differences, while trying to introduce new material, not knowing if it will put off the client or the reader or bring us both closer to the truth. Either way, it’s a tricky dance on a painfully thin tight rope.
Perhaps other therapist writers have discovered additional ways that writing and therapy benefit each other. If so, I would love to hear their thoughts and feelings about how these challenging dual pursuits feed one another. After all, our best work only happens when we are well nourished.
Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW is an international, award-winning author of seven books on eating, weight and body image, a psychotherapist with 30 years of experience, a health educator, and a popular blogger. Her expertise is in eating psychology and helping over-eaters and binge-eaters become “normal” eaters. She lives and practices in Sarasota, Florida.