Interview with UCSD Eating Disorder Psychologist Dr. Jennie Wang-Hall

Hi everyone! In the past few months, I’ve gotten to know Dr. Jennie Wang-Hall. Jennie is a gifted eating disorder therapist who works in the adult eating disorder treatment program the University of California San Diego (UCSD) Eating Disorders Center. She also has a private practice in Oceanside. When I first met Jennie, I totally connected with her because she lived in Colorado (my home state!), loves dogs (ditto!), and is really smart (like me! ;) ). She is an overall authentic, genuine person who really cares about people recovering from eating disorders. Plus, Jennie is fun to hang out with, and so I’m so glad she is both my colleague AND my friend. I’m looking forward to you getting to know her. I also think that my interview with her will give you more information on adult eating disorder treatment at a partial hospitalization program (PHP) and intensive outpatient program (IOP).

Why did you choose to become an eating disorder specialist in San Diego? 

I have always been fascinated with how people translate their emotions into attitudes and actions toward food and their bodies. When I was in college, I wanted to understand this relationship more and began pursuing research in the area of body image, trauma, and eating disorder behaviors. Throughout my Counseling Psychology PhD program, I had the privilege of working in eating disorder treatment at multiple levels of care and those experiences furthered my passion and expertise for helping people untangle their emotional issues from their relationship with their body. I was brought to San Diego specifically for my post-doctoral fellowship at the UCSD Eating Disorders Center, where I have received excellent additional training in the treatment of eating disorders, specifically using dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)

What kind of treatment do you provide? 

As a post-doctoral fellow at UCSD, I am a member of the adult treatment team and provide care at both the PHP and IOP level. Our programming uses DBT to treat patients with a range of eating disorders as well as comorbid issues. We work collaboratively to guide patients through normalizing eating behaviors and skill development. Each patient at UCSD has a team of professionals supporting them through therapy, dietary support, and medication management. We also have great resources for family members seeking understanding of how to support their loved one with an eating disorder. 

 In my private practice, I provide individual, family, and group therapy for adults 18 and older struggling with eating disorders and disordered eating. My practice is health at every size, gender affirming, LGBTQ friendly, and multiculturally sensitive. My treatment approach is guided by dialectical behavioral therapy principles, specifically helping individuals think more flexibly and develop skills to deal with emotional distress. I also incorporate person-centered principles, which means that I place emphasis on the innate goodness of the individuals I work with and value the relationship between therapist and client. In addition to, and often in conjunction with, eating disorder care, I also provide cognitive processing therapy (CPT) for individuals experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Using CPT helps clients challenge unhelpful thinking styles about self, relationships, and the world, that may have developed as a result of a traumatic event. 

Do you only work with eating disorders? 

As an eating disorder psychologist, the focus of my work is on clients struggling with food and body issues. However, these individuals almost always struggle with comorbid issues of mood, substance, personality, clinical perfectionism, and PTSD. Throughout my clinical experience over the years, I have gained skills that help me effectively treat the eating disorder, along with its many comorbidities.  In addition, I treat individuals with experiences of trauma and PTSD in my practice, whether or not they have an eating disorder. 

How long have you been working with eating disorders overall, and how long have you been in San Diego? 

I have been working in both research and clinical settings for eating disorders since 2008. I have been in beautiful, sunny San Diego since May 2017!

Who are your favorite types of clients? 

I love to work with clients who are curious about themselves and their emotions. I view therapy as an opportunity for me to be a partner in the client’s exploration of themselves and help them to create the life they truly desire. Although some ambivalence and nervousness about change is normal, I really enjoy working with clients who are open to recovery and what life might look like outside of their eating disorders. 

What happens during a first appointment with you? 

The first appointment is an opportunity for the client and I to discuss the main problems that are bringing them into therapy and collaboratively explore the ways that working together might help them improve their quality of life and meet their goals. The first session is warm, supportive, and the establishment of a strong partnership in the direction of recovery. 

You work both in partial hospitalization/intensive outpatient programs (PHP/IOP). Would you explain the difference between your work as a psychologist in those programs versus your outpatient work in private practice?

I have really enjoyed working in multiple levels of care over the last 11 years. Although the focus is always on recovery and developing a life worth living, what that looks like can vary in different settings. In higher levels of care, like my work at UCSD, I focus on the acute and intensive early work of recovery alongside a strong team of therapists, dietitians, and psychiatrists. That work includes specifically helping clients contain eating disorder behaviors, develop concrete coping skills to cope with distress, and normalize a healthy relationship with food through a meal plan, as recommended by a dietitian. During this time, it is often recommended that individuals take a hiatus from school or work to focus daily and more intensively on beginning the process of recovery. 

Outpatient work with me occurs on a weekly basis and is focused on helping individuals experience recovery while they pursue more fulfilling lives. That means that I help my clients build skills and work on repairing their relationship with food and their body, while also focusing on relationships, work, school, hobbies, and other pursuits that define a life worth living.  Also, when it is deemed appropriate the client’s dietitian and me, there is more emphasis on intuitive eating and living more naturally and joyfully with food.  

What do you wish people knew about getting treatment for eating disorders? 

Eating disorders are life-threatening illnesses, and it is never too early (or too late) to get treatment. There is no such thing as being “sick enough” to receive treatment. Eating disorders and disordered eating across the spectrum are dangerous and devastating. However, there is always hope and a chance for recovery. Seeing a specialist with expertise in eating disorders is crucial to feeling supported and getting guidance in the challenging process of recovery. 

How can people learn more and contact you? 

If you are interested in learning more about the outstanding DBT-based eating disorder services offered through the PHP and IOP programs at UCSD, you can learn more at their website- http://eatingdisorders.ucsd.edu

If you are interested in my outpatient services, check out my website- www.jwhpsychotherapy.com. You can also email me at jwhpsychotherapy@gmail.com. I would love to connect with you!

Share one fun fact about you.

I have two dogs, Walter and Barney, who are the loves of my life! From the mountains of Denver to the beaches of San Diego, we love adventuring together and enjoying nature!

Yay Colorado and doggies!!! :) :) :)

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Hey everyone, I really appreciate you reading my blog!  Have a wonderful day. :)  

Marianne 

If you are struggling to find eating disorder treatment in San Diego, give me a call for your free 15-minute phone consultation at (858) 699-3754, and I will help you get where you need to be! 

You can find more information about me on Instagram @drmariannemiller or on my Facebook page.