Eating Disorder Resource Center Program Manager/Therapist
Mary Beth Blackwell is no stranger to challenges; she’s grappled with everything from raising four children to depression to brain surgery. Mary Beth uses her personal experiences as a therapist working with others at JFS. She is also the coordinator of the Eating Disorder Resource Center (EDRC) at JFS.
”I think my experiences have made me empathetic and patient,” Mary Beth said. ”I think it is so important to understand the dynamics of what clients are going through and that others have gone through similar things.”
Mary Beth officially joined JFS in 2007 after interning with the agency while completing her Master’s degree in Social Work at the University of Kansas. With a degree in Natural Health from Clayton College in Birmingham, Ala., Mary Beth took a break to stay home with her four children. After experiencing an episode of depression, she began seeking ways to deal with her mental health issues in a more holistic way.
“I started reading books to find answers,” Mary Beth said, “and by making changes in my diet and adding some important vitamins and supplements I was lacking, my depression was resolved.”
After relocating to Kansas from Virginia in 2001, Mary Beth – a certified nutrition consultant – started her own nutritional consulting practice and worked with more than 300 clients in five years. Mary Beth sought additional training and decided to help others who struggled with depression and eating problems by becoming a therapist herself.
“I was intrigued and I wanted to pull in all the pieces of helping with others who struggle with depression and eating issues by looking at the psychological and emotional aspects of it as well as addressing the nutritional aspects of it,” she said.
As part of her practicum at JFS, Mary Beth created the B.L.I.N.G. program which stands for Building Liberated Insightful Nurtured Girls. The focus of B.L.I.N.G is empowering girls age nine to 12 and building their self esteem with the hope of preventing eating disorders. B.L.I.N.G. is now used in the Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley and Independence school districts’ as well as the Jewish Community Center’s Barney Goodman Camp. A similar program for boys, Under Construction, is also available.
Mary Beth has also been the moving force behind the EDRC, a one-stop service that connects individuals with eating disorders and their families to support services and access to treatment in the area. As a therapist, she works with individuals with eating disorders and adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
“I get a tremendous sense of pride in helping people deal with horrendous pain and helping them get on the other side of it,” Mary Beth said.
And she knows of what she speaks having undergone brain surgery in 2009 to correct a congenital defect called a Chiari Malformation.
“It’s taught me that you can’t always get things done on your own time table,” she said. “I’ve learned the art of patience and that patients often heal at their own rate.”