“Is mentoring a replacement for the Twelve Steps?”
This is an “elephant in the room” question that is so loud, I can usually hear its clomping footsteps gallumphing past me before the asker even gets within earshot.
The Twelve Step fellowship, being at once the single most effective sobriety maintenance program yet documented and yet one of the most hotly contested, is a subject about which nearly everyone involved in any aspect of recovery has an opinion.
Just because others are heading in one direction doesn’t mean that is the right direction for you. Try it – if it doesn’t work – head out and go somewhere new.
For some who are in recovery from eating disorders, having a Twelve Step eating disorders-focused home group or fellowship to attend regularly has been a life-saver.
For others, they have found Twelve Step communities in the context of eating disorders recovery to be highly triggering, demotivational, confusing, and sometimes scary.
Mentoring, like garlic and hang-gliding, is not for everyone.
Those of us who work in a hands-on mentoring-based environment eventually figure this out, whether anyone thinks to tell us or not.
We also eventually figure out that it may not actually be mentoring itself which isn’t working, but instead the specific mentor-mentee match that has no “chemistry”, the format or frequency in which the mentoring communications do or don’t occur, or other equally compelling factors that can give the appearance that mentoring as a whole doesn’t work.
But it is rare that an entire discipline itself is broken, so instead we must look to a frank and open discussion of today’s “elephant in the room” question, “What if mentoring doesn’t work?”
MentorCONNECT, the eating disorders mentoring community that I work with, is a global online-based mentoring charity.
Our founding board knew even before we launched MentorCONNECT that sparks were nearly guaranteed to fly once we commenced to combine two loaded words – “recovery” and “internet”.
But we did it anyway. Why?
This brings us to what is possibly the single most explosive, and at times corrosive, “elephant in the room” question that mentoring for eating disorders recovery can generate – “Is the internet a safe place to find recovery support?
The answer (or at least my answer, from my own personal experience with MentorCONNECT) is, under the right set of circumstances, YES.
Oh boy. This one is a hot, HOT button for recovering persons and professionals alike.
The recovering person, often beset by mounting financial issues after attempting and failing to afford the level of treatment and care they truly need, can view a mentor like a godsend – a free source of, um, therapy.
Wherever there is a recovery crowd, we can’t forget the presence and needs of that recovering person there in the middle, small, scared, often feeling quite afraid, and needing support from ALL of us to heal.
The treatment professional, on the other hand, after many hours and days and months and sometimes years of making small and steady progress helping clients work through the many and often quite complex issues that can arise around the diagnosis of “eating disorder”, may be understandably reluctant to embrace the unknowns that adding a recovered person to the support team can generate.
What I am saying is that the mentor often enters the mix at that critical juncture where failing finances and increasing need meet.
Add to that the fact that the mentor is often available during days and times when the professional treatment team is not.
Add to that the fact that the mentor has “street credit” in the form of personal eating disorders recovery experience (which the mentor and professional may actually share in common, but the professional for one reason or another is choosing not to disclose).
Before you know it, the people who all have the same goal – helping that recovering person to get better – may believe they are on opposite sides with different goals.
So here, our sixth “elephant in the room” question thus becomes, “Is the mentor a replacement for a therapist?”
I actually get a fair number of questions that relate in one way or another to how we match mentors and mentees on MentorCONNECT.
What interests me here is that, for some reason, the answer I give does not seem to be soothing to the askers.
Maybe this is because we are all searching in this life, mostly for certainty, surety, a secure footing. We want to know whether the match will work, how we will know, and who to blame if it doesn’t.
Whether we are a professional trying to facilitate our client’s access to a high quality support team, a family member desperate for help and hope for ourselves or a loved one who is struggling, or a recovering person who wants a “recovery guarantee”, we just can’t seem to help ourselves.
We want to know for SURE.
What we all have in common is that we never quite can.
So here is where we get to our series’ fifth “elephant in the room” question, “How are mentors and mentees matched up?”
Boy this is a tough one.
We – especially in this Westernized society many of us inhabit – sure are a numbers-happy bunch.
We like statistics, percentages, ratios, and if we happen to be non-profit, we know that funders like these things too.
Thus, it is often very tempting – nearly irresistible – to focus on assessment, even to the detriment of a qualitative effectiveness that can be felt but not yet measured.
So for this, our fourth “elephant in the room” question, we ask, “How do you assess a mentoring program’s effectiveness?”
As you may have guessed, our third “elephant in the room” question is: “Should you have to pay for mentoring services?”
On MentorCONNECT, we don’t charge.
This is not because we are a federally-recognized charity (which is true). It is also not because we are wealthy and don’t need the cash (which is not true).
We don’t charge because our founding board, including myself as the founder, has collective personal experience with the mutual benefit that is received by the one offering the mentoring, and the one being mentored.
We can draw it out for ourselves, listing all the reasons why mentoring should be free, or should be fee-based. But in the end, the best route is always to simply do what feels right in our gut.
To our mind, mentoring is an equal-benefit partnership, whereby the mentor strengthens in recovery and learns in a new and profound way how much he or she has grown, and the mentee receives that encouragement and insight from another who is just a bit further down the path and knows what it feels like without explanation.
This is also not to say, however, that there is anything wrong with charging for mentoring services.
With this “elephant in the room” series, we are taking a look at some of the biggest, most obvious, yet often least-asked questions that most folks have about mentoring as it is applied to eating disorders recovery.
These are the types of questions I might hear whispered to me privately after a presentation, or sent to me in an email, but rarely will someone speak out to a group or raise their hand to admit they have an “elephant” question.
I happen to like elephant questions. I think they give us our best opportunity to learn, discuss, and grow up into this new and unfolding field.
I also happen to know that an unspoken elephant question can kill a mentoring program faster than anything else I know of, instilling hesitation and even fear where excitement and willingness to take in each other’s wisdom and life experience should be.
But the spoken, discussed, and explored elephant question has infinite potential to make the mentoring experience that much stronger and more beneficial.
Our second “elephant in the room” question is, “How are mentor applicants selected?”
This week we start a new series based on a phrase coined by my lovely friend and colleague, Dr. Wendy Oliver-Pyatt, during a recent presentation we offered at an eating disorders conference.
Yep. That’s an elephant alright. Or at least it will be, the moment we are ready to admit we see it too.
She likes to call the mentoring (and other!) questions everybody has but nobody wants to ask “elephants in the room”.
In other words, the elephants are snuffling noisily through their long trunks, dragging their giant padded feet, flopping their big wavy ears back and forth, and we are still hesitant to mention the presence of what we fear no one but us sees.
But everyone sees them. You can’t miss an elephant.
Our inaugural elephant question is, “what happens when a mentor relapses?”