Each month, our Voices of Veritas series highlights a leader from the Veritas Collaborative Team. These caregivers, clinicians, and eating disorder experts are all guiding forces behind our approach to care and vision of a world where all persons with eating disorders have access to best-practice care and hold hope for a cure. This month, we sat down with Sydney Brodeur-Johnson, PhD, LCP, the Senior Director of Clinical Services at Veritas Collaborative.
Dr. Brodeur-Johnson passionately believes in the power of evidence-driven, multiculturally competent care to influence positive outcomes among individuals with eating disorders and their families. She’s also committed to increasing access to effective treatments and training professionals to deliver gold-standard care. Sydney’s experiences in clinical, research, and professional training settings led her to an important realization, that eating disorder treatment and recovery is dynamic, nuanced, and more likely to be successful with a collaborative, multidisciplinary team in place.
A Comprehensive Plan: How a Multifaceted Approach Drives Best-Practice Care
Dr. Brodeur-Johnson’s well-diversified background lends itself to a holistic perspective that allows her to effectively guide clinical systems and advocate for personalized care. “The position that I’m in is a really nice blend of my clinical background and my training background. A lot of what I did at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) was train clinicians to become better therapists,” she explained. “Here at Veritas, I’m really in charge of ensuring that our clinical programming has integrity, and that the way that we approach treatment is best-practice care.”
There are core elements of eating disorder treatment that are universal. “We need to get our patients to embrace eating and to achieve medical and nutritional stability, and we have the medical tools to make that happen,” she says. However, those core elements alone are not sufficient. “There is a need for recognition and understanding of individual lived experiences to effectively address the comorbidities that may support the development or maintenance of eating disorders.”
Dr. Brodeur-Johnson can trace her drive to provide best-practice care back to her days as a doctoral student working with families of individuals suffering from chronic illnesses. Families in that group often had children with cancer, diabetes, and other chronic conditions; in two cases, there were families with children who were struggling with an eating disorder. This therapeutic work sharpened Dr. Brodeur-Johnson’s ability to observe how each unique condition had a singular impact on the family dynamic—and it informed her belief in the power of multidisciplinary, multiculturally competent care and the need for involving the family system in treatment.
“I was really fascinated by the way that the eating disorder impacted the whole family system, and the importance of working with a multidisciplinary team in the treatment of eating disorders.”
The Golden Thread: How Research and Education Support Treatment & Recovery
During her 11 years working at VCU’s Counseling Center, Dr. Brodeur-Johnson took notice of the prevalence of eating disorders among the student population. “Up to 50 percent of people in college are either dieting or feel really uncomfortable in their bodies. And we know that dieting is a gateway to an eating disorder,” she said.
As a clinician and educator working in that environment, Dr. Brodeur-Johnson discovered that the cases she saw on campus mirrored the general population, with between one and five percent of the student population presenting with a diagnosable eating disorder. Meanwhile, the campus around her acted as a microcosm of the larger world, with students living every facet of their lives in an all-encompassing ecosystem. It was the ideal environment in which to observe the many ways life experience informs eating disorder manifestation.
“In college, you are often away from home for the first time, you’re having to learn all of the skills around taking care of yourself, feeding yourself, doing your own laundry. You’re in this microcosm of society where there’s a lot of pressure potentially around who you hang out with and how you fit in and how you look,” she said.
Dr. Brodeur-Johnson saw disordered eating behaviors develop and persist based on influence from social groups, personal identity, and social pressure among other lifestyle elements common on college campuses. The disparate sources of eating disorder manifestation that she observed solidified her belief that in order for treatment to be successful, it needs to be dynamic. In particular, she identified the need for multifaceted systems of care that operate with flexibility for the individual and incorporate thoroughly vetted research.
“You really have to understand, not just how to interpret research and empirical studies, but how to conduct them. It gives you an eye for being a little bit more rigorous in your assessment of what’s done well, what’s maybe not done so well, and how to really look for the kinds of factors that would make intervention empirically supported,” she explained.
“For example, the fact that there has to be multidisciplinary treatment, that’s just a golden thread that is woven between all of the ways that we can intervene with patients who have eating disorders. But it is also a known best practice based on a series of trials.”
The Path Ahead: How Challenging Cultural Norms Supports Prevention & Recovery
The cumulative result of all of these experiences is a passion for collaboration of care that balances the needs of the individual with research-supported systems and medical practices. This is what inspires her approach at Veritas Collaborative—and her hope for the future.
“I’m using the skills I have to not just theoretically or aspirationally think about how we treat patients, but to be able to drill down to give our clinicians the tools they need to provide effective treatment.”
Dr. Brodeur-Johnson’s professional focus on optimized and holistic care has inspired her to extend the conversation around eating disorders beyond treatment. Eating disorder prevention and culture change are important initiatives that she also champions.
“We understand the pervasiveness of diet mentality. We understand the Western ideal of fitness. We understand that these are entrenched in family systems, and in all of us. And in order to effectively change where we go with eating disorder intervention, we also need to focus on prevention.”
From her years on campus to time spent working with children and families, she has developed a singular understanding of the pervasive impact our culture has on the link between our physical and mental well being. Her belief in consistently advocating for societal change and challenging existing conversations about eating disorders and overall health motivates her to be an advocate for education and change. That passion is echoed throughout Veritas Collaborative and our contributions to the continuing education of professionals and the community at large.
“As a mom of a 12-year-old son and a nine-year-old daughter, I see how limited in some ways my influence is because they’re just surrounded by so much,” she said. “I feel really passionately that we have to collectively change the way that we think and talk about food and bodies, in order to have a healthier experience for all of us.”
Together, we can create change. Together, we can make a difference. Together, we are stronger. Find out how our multidisciplinary treatment teams can help you, your loved one, or your patients through your recovery journey.