Looking For A Surrogate Father Figure.
Jasmine was 19 years old, and had just completed her first year university study. Her hospital psychiatrist, who had been treating her for anorexia, referred her, as she preferred to see an external Christian psychologist, rather than a hospital counselor. Her mother accompanied her for her first appointment. Jasmine sat silently through the initial hour, while her mother filled me in on the background to her condition. According to Joan, Jasmine’s mother, the stress from hostel life, extra-curricular activities, and her classes’ workload brought on the illness. She was still loosing weight and had been grudgingly picking at her favourite dishes at home. After giving their permission for me to liaise with her nutritionist and psychiatrist, I saw Jasmine on her own, while Joan stepped out of the room.
Alone with her, Jasmine immediately pointed out that what her mother had said about her was only half the story. Her parents had an acrimonious divorce a year ago, and her mother has sole custody of her. Jasmine missed her father desperately, but Joan had forbidden her to get in touch with her father. She became depressed, and soon lost interest in eating, as the body image of herself changed. She exercised excessively, and when she had to eat in front of others, she took to purging after each meal. It was on one of these purging attempts at home that alerted Joan to her daughter’s dilemma. She caught Jasmine one evening, purging a second time. Jasmine managed to get away with her first discovery by her mother.
We managed to establish a therapeutic alliance almost immediately, and with the help of her nutritionist, Joan, Andrew, and her psychiatrist, we soon got down to working out a treatment regime. Andrew was Jasmine’s boyfriend, her senior at the same university, and a medical intern in training. Their relationship was close. Andrew knew of her illness, and with his concurrence, we drew him in to be part of our alliance in supporting Jasmine’s recovery. From then on, he would accompany Jasmine to our sessions regularly.
Unpacking how she coped with her parents’ fights and eventual divorce was probably the most difficult part of Jasmine’s therapy. Her parents’ marriage was rocky from the start, and she blamed herself for some of their quarrels. This is not unusual for young children caught in between warring parents, particularly when parents unconsciously used them as pawns in their fights. Initially, I was unaware that Jasmine had begun to see me as a surrogate father, until Andrew, after a session, whispered that that was how she perceived me. With this deep level of trust from her, we were able to make rapid progress.