Theresa Chesnut, LCSW and I recently sat down to discuss treatment, the recovery process and what she has learned in her 13 years with Castlewood Treatment Center. Theresa has worked with Castlewood Treatment Centers since its inception in 2000. She has devoted her career to helping individuals recover from their eating disorders. She offers a wide range of experience and understanding in her role as a therapist, clinical liaison, and eating disorder specialist. Most recently, Theresa has been working in Monterey Bay, CA , to assist in the startup of Castlewood’s affiliate, Monarch Cove Residential Program. She is the current Vice Chair for the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), as well as sits on the Board of the San Francisco Chapter of IAEDP.
One of Theresa’s greatest achievements is her own recovery from an eating disorder. After many years of struggling with an eating disorder, she went to treatment between high school and college and began her recovery journey. Theresa shared that when “I went off to college; I was ill-equipped to handle the transition and exist without my eating disorder. During my course of treatment, because it was the mid 1980’s, no one knew how to adequately treat eating disorders or provide anticipatory guidance to those in recovery. I left treatment and went into college with no skills about how to launch into life without my eating disorder.” Without adequate support or anticipatory guidance, Theresa shared that she had no idea how “ridiculously difficult it was to do things that I used to be natural and proficient at when I was in my eating disorder. Without my eating disorder and compulsive exercise the world was foreign.” What she knows now and shares with her clients is that this is a normal stage in the recovery process. “The eating disorder helps you function to some degree, so without it you have to learn a whole new way of being in the world. But no one told me that, so my perceived failures fueled a ton of self- hate. I kept thinking something was wrong with me,” said Theresa. “What I know now is that there was nothing wrong with me, I just had to develop new skills and learn to use my internal and external resources as I learned how to exist without my eating disorder,” shared Theresa. This is the same transformation that Theresa and all the therapists at Castlewood try to help their clients understand and work towards.
During college, Theresa started support groups, sought out resources and moved into a helping and mentoring role with others affected by eating disorders. After completing her Masters of Arts degree in Clinical Social work she knew she wanted to work with eating disorders and began work at an eating disorders unit in Kansas City. She remembered thinking the experience would “either catapult me into more recovery or cause a quick relapse.” Fortunately it “launched me into a deeper understanding of eating disorders and myself,” said Theresa. Her therapeutic experiences translated into motivation and passion to go out and create resources and treatment she wished had been available to her during her struggle.
When she started at Castlewood in 2000, Theresa felt that she “did not have a frame of reference for what recovery really was.” “I thought recovery was merely symptom abstinence,” said Theresa. When asked to lecture on the recovery process in 2002, Theresa wrote this inspiring definition.
Recovery is not just the absence of symptoms…it is the presence of a full life as evidenced by the ability to be human. A truly recovered life will reflect spontaneity, freedom, the ability to breathe, to have wants, needs and desires, knowing that the quest for perfection is an unattainable illusion. Having the ability to embrace the feminine, having close intimate relationships, and it is being aware of the tears in your eyes (whether out of intense or subtle sadness – or out of joy – or from a flicker of utter gratefulness) and then to allow your tears to flow freely. It is a life in which decisions and choices are made more from self and less from a shame and fear based prison. It is a life where you fully experience pleasure, joy, and passion and believe seeking and desiring enjoyment and passion is not only acceptable but necessary to living a full life.
After defining her own recovery, Theresa finally felt like she “understood the necessary components to recovery and therefore knew how to better guide the clients.” Theresa shared that her past experiences and her eating disorder history have positively influenced her career. She uses that influence to bring together what were the missing pieces for her in her own journey. Theresa revealed that “It is the work with the clients that fuels my passion for assisting people in their own journey and helping to shape a treatment center to truly treat the entirety of a very complex disease. I feel fortunate to be able to witness the struggle and the growth by my continued involvement in the program and my advocacy work in many communities.”
Theresa shared that she is very proud to work for Castlewood Treatment Center. She feels that “being a part of a team that offers clients a framework and format that is a vehicle for recovery is miraculous.” “What I am most proud of about Castlewood is that from day one we have treated every kind of eating disorder, from Anorexia to Binge Eating Disorder, men and women, clients with various sexual orientations, and have treated them entirely- body, mind and soul,” said Theresa. “We have created an environment that is safe, where clients that are men or have an atypical ED can come in and feel as accepted, receive treatment and heal. Castlewood and now Monarch Cove are places where clients can feel safe to do more than just contain symptoms, and regain their life” shared Theresa.
On behalf of Castlewood- Thank you Theresa for your dedication to the treatment of clients who suffer with eating disorders.