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The Mentoring Elephant in the Room: Is The Mentor a Replacement for a Therapist?

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 who is small, scared, often feeling quite alone, 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 here 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?”Simply put – NO.

In fact, here yet again MentorCONNECT, the eating disorders mentoring organization I work with, chooses to take a leaf out of the book of what is arguably the most successful mentoring-based recovery program of all time – the Twelve Steps.

In Twelve Step fellowships, they refer to what is known as the “Cooperation with Professionals Committee” materials for guidance in how sponsors and meetings can be a source of non-clinical supplemental support for sponsees who are also receiving professional treatment.

Twelve Step groups maintain speakers bureaus, publish a wealth of helpful literature, and are always happy to send designated representatives to dialogue with treatment professionals in arenas as diverse as hospitals and the prison system, offering the Twelve Step fellowship as just one of many avenues for a recovering person to find support.

On MentorCONNECT, we adopt the same approach. Our motto here is “the more support the better!”

We seek in every program we offer to complement what is already being offered in a treatment setting, yet recognizing as we do that for a significant minority in our membership, mentoring may be the necessary sole support they have access to.

In fact, currently, approximately 30 percent of our membership falls into this category, and even for them, our mentors are instructed that their role is to share their own personal recovery insights only, and to refrain from venturing beyond that boundary EVEN IF they hold professional credentials or are studying to do so in their outside lives.

A mentor, like a nutritionist, medical doctor, best friend, significant other, or mother, is never a substitute for the professional treatment that should accompany every diagnosis of “eating disorder.”

Those who may be tempted for last-ditch purposes to use mentoring otherwise than as directed are doubtless victims of a medical system that still refuses to recognize the severity of eating disorders, and provide coverage for treatment accordingly.

Today’s Takeaway: Where have you perhaps had reservations or hesitations about accepting help and support, or offering your own, because you were unclear about the parameters within which the support might be exchanged? Consider instead simply asking for clarification, and then going inside and feeling in your heart and gut whether you might truly like to be a part of the organization or opportunity.

The Mentoring Elephant in the Room: Is The Mentor a Replacement for a Therapist?

Shannon Cutts

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2013). The Mentoring Elephant in the Room: Is The Mentor a Replacement for a Therapist?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2018, from


Last updated: 16 Oct 2013
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Oct 2013
Published on All rights reserved.