Spotlight on Lasting Recovery: Staff Profile with Michelle Gebhardt, PsyD

This month, Michelle Gebhardt, PsyD, Program Director of Eating Disorder Services at Pathlight Behavioral Health Centers shares her passion for working with the eating disordered population. This is what inspires her:

Eating Recovery Center and partner program staff members are passionate about supporting patients and alumni, and they play an integral role in the recovery process by sharing their wealth of experience and wisdom with patients in treatment. We hope that by learning about their passion for lasting recovery, you will be encouraged and inspired in your own recovery journey. This month, Michelle Gebhardt, PsyD, Program Director of Eating Disorder Services at Pathlight Behavioral Health Centers shares her passion for working with the eating disordered population and is inspired by, “Witnessing individuals finding their own voice, taking power back and increasing their flexibility to take action in service of their values.”

1. What is your role at Pathlight?
I have been with Pathlight since August 2012. Currently, I am the Program Director of Eating Disorder Services providing direct patient care and supervision of programs and staff at all levels. From 2012 through July 2014, I was the Director of Residential Services and helped to create Pathlight’s Residential Program. For almost a decade prior to Pathlight, I was the Coordinator of an Inpatient Eating Disorder and Non-suicidal Self-Injury program and co-authored journal articles and the book, Self-Injury: Simple Answers to Complex Questions. I am also the current and Founding President of the Heartland iaedptm Chapter ( which has served eating disorder professionals in: Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Ohio for the last 4 years. I guess you could say I wear many hats!

2. What inspired you to become involved in the treatment of eating disorders?
From an early age I was interested in anything related to psychology and the complex ways we as humans adapt to life and our experiences. Eating disorders often serve an adaptive purpose (albeit through unhealthy means) well beyond anything to do with food, weight, or appearance. Eating disorders are both fascinatingly complex and incredibly devastating. I had the privilege of completing my pre-doctoral internship in an eating disorder program and fell in love with the work and eating disorders treatment has been my professional “home” ever since.

3. What is your favorite or most rewarding part of your job?
There are so many rewarding aspects of my job; it’s hard to narrow it down. Fostering hope in patients and families who are struggling to find or even believe in the possibility of hope can be one of the most rewarding aspects in my work. Witnessing individuals finding their own voice, taking power back from their eating disorders and increasing their flexibility to take action in service of their values rather than the eating disorder is also incredibly rewarding!

4. What is the most challenging part of your job?
Insurance is the bane of my (and many treatment providers’) existence. While insurance helps provide the coverage individuals need to seek treatment, insurance companies don’t always use the same criteria or treatment guidelines we as treatment providers do. Sometimes it is a daily battle to get our patients additional time in treatment they need.

5. What is one piece of advice you would give to individuals in recovery?
Keep an eye on your vulnerabilities and values. Honesty with yourself and your support team regarding these aspects is incredibly important. When you stop taking action in service of your values, aren’t as mindful, start hiding when you are really struggling or get caught up in the shame cycle, it provides the eating disorder an opportunity to try to sneak its way back in.

6. What do you feel Pathlight offers to support “lasting recovery”?
Across all levels of Pathlight we provide a comprehensive and multidisciplinary treatment team approach to assist in building your recovery foundation. We actively collaborate with outpatient treatment teams to facilitate helpful transitions. We are committed to providing support and psychoeducation to patients and families on eating disorders, the recovery process, appropriate support and living values guided lives. Our mindfulness based treatment encourages connecting with yourself and the present moment with acceptance and flexibility in managing internal experiences, while providing exposure opportunities to practice skills so they can be translated outside of treatment. As I write this, we are also in the process of our 1st Alumni event to continue supporting our former patients through their recovery journey!

7. Tell us about PHP/IOP. How do you feel PHP/IOP is beneficial in eating disorder recovery, and life after treatment?
At Pathlight we offer programming 7 days per week for both PHP & IOP levels of care. That gives us the opportunity to tailor the schedule of our programming to fit patients’ needs and to foster a gradual transition out of the program and back into activities of daily living outside of treatment. The majority of our groups are values and skills-based to guide patients in practicing healthier means of managing both in and outside of program. PHP or IOP are often only a beginning step in the recovery process but can provide the containment, structure and support needed for the person to start their recovery journey.

8. Any additional information you would like to share? Interesting helpful tidbits or perspectives to share? Inspiring stories or experiences in working with patients?
Eating disorders are insidious and often develop over an extended period of time. In almost 15 years of treating eating disorders at all levels of care, I have never once had a patient tell me they actively made a conscious choice to develop an eating disorder. Though some may have made conscious choices about using their relationship with food or their body in ways to manage their experiences along the way; it’s not a mindful goal to develop an eating disorder. Even while you likely did not choose to have an eating disorder, you must make an active choice to participate in recovery. The process of recovery takes acts of courage, time, patience and perseverance. Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible!

dr michelle gebhardt
erc chicago il