Juggling Roles: My Journey from lived experience to Practitioner-Researcher

by | 7 May 2024 | Eating Disorders, Mental Health (all), Research, Updates / Personal | 0 comments

Among recent posts here at Mental Health Bites, I have written about the outcomes of a research project I worked on with the research group that I co-founded, and shared a call for participants on another research project which I am working.  As a result, I received a couple of emails asking me whether I had now transitioned into a research role, or if I am continuing to see clients.  The answer is: I am doing both – and I thought perhaps a blog post on this topic was called for.  So, here we have it…

As a practitioner in the field of eating disorders, I often find myself navigating the complexities and challenges inherent in this work.  Over the years, I’ve been privileged to walk alongside many clients on their journey to recovery.  Yet, amidst the daily interactions and therapy sessions, I’ve also felt a growing desire to contribute to the field more expansively – to address systemic issues, advocate for change, and advance our collective understanding of eating disorders.  Perhaps at times this has been apparent by the posts I have written here!

In fact, even before I was a therapist myself, I was trying to contribute to these changes, and I have on occasion shared my own lived experience as research data.  The reality (unfortunately) is that many challenges faced by those with EDs – such as navigating the complexities of treatment, encountering barriers to care, and experiencing the impact of stigma – have been around going right back at least 20 years to my own time in treatment.  On a personal level, participating in research studies from that lived experience perspective has allowed me to channel these experiences into something that I felt to be constructive.

However, the longer I have worked with clients and witnessed the same issues and challenges arising time and time again, the greater the pull to keep contributing has become. No longer did I feel satisfied by working with clients and just occasionally lending my own experience.  I felt (and still feel) a NEED to do more; a desire to contribute to change, coupled with a growing sense of frustration at the lack of progress.  It was time to use my knowledge, insights, skills, and passion and to get involved in research in a professional capacity.  So, here we are.

Of course, engaging in research comes with its own set of challenges and considerations.  As someone with dyslexia, I’ve had to navigate a few extra hurdles (or rather, mostly things just take me a little longer, and my tendency to go off on a tangent produces extra work for me!).  Yet, rather than viewing my dyslexia as a barrier, I’ve embraced it as a unique perspective that enriches my contributions to the research process.  I’m always full of ideas and questions!  In all reality the greater challenge has been in learning to manage my time effectively in terms of striking a balance between my client responsibilities and my research commitments, to ensure that both receive the attention they deserve.  Let’s say that this is still a work in progress!

Taking part in research is, honestly, something I do love, though.  It gives me the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded individuals who share my passion for driving change within the field of eating disorders, while working alongside fellow practitioners, researchers, and advocates, as we, collectively, step towards challenging outdated practices, and advocate for policies that prioritise the needs of individuals affected by eating disorders.

Looking ahead, my goals for the future are clear: I want to continue working towards better education for professionals, advocate for the recognition of under-researched factors in eating disorders, and work to combat the harms reported by many who access eating disorder services.  Moreover, I’m committed to expanding my own horizons and stepping outside of my comfort zone by taking on projects that push the boundaries of my expertise and challenge me to grow as a practitioner and researcher.

While the road ahead may be filled with challenges and uncertainties, I am confident that by continuing to work collaboratively and remaining steadfast in my dedication to the cause, we can create a future where individuals affected by eating disorders receive the care and support they deserve.  Don’t worry – I won’t be abandoning the blog, and you can still expect to hear about more training events later in the year.  I do, however, have to ration my time – there is only so much of me do go around!  The best way you can support me is by liking, commenting, engaging and sharing my content.

As a final note, I’ve added an option on the blog (you’ll find it in the right-hand pane) where you can “leave me a tip.”  I want to emphasise that there is absolutely no pressure to use this feature.  However, if you do feel that my work has enriched your knowledge in a positive way, any contributions to my coffee and printer paper fund would be hugely appreciated!  This support not only helps me keep the blog running but also allows me to prioritise projects based on their potential impact, rather than being limited to just those that are funded.

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Kel O'Neill

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