In November 1991, The Renfrew Center Foundation convened its first national Conference in Philadelphia, PA with 150 in attendance. Many of the attendees were new to the field and had been treating eating disorders for only a few years. The majority were clinicians in private practice, challenged by their patients’ complicated medical, psychological and social issues. Conference attendees were not only seeking knowledge and skill but were also looking for a place to openly share ideas and find support as they struggled to do highly specialized and demanding clinical work. An additional challenge was the growing realization that the culture was playing a large part in the increased incidence of eating disorders. Informed by the work of Carol Gilligan and The Stone Center, there was a great deal of discussion about the possibility that therapeutic needs differ among genders, particularly for those with eating disorders.
When our first Conference launched, The Renfrew Center had been open for five years – a time of experimentation with many types of group therapy and the healing power of community. Gradually, these relational approaches, cultivated in our clinical work, became the foundation for our educational efforts.
The spirit and focus of the Conference have purposefully encompassed and reflected the feminist values of collaboration, connection and mutually respectful relationships. We have welcomed speakers such as Carol Gilligan, Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, Roxane Gay, Monica Lewinsky, Gabourey Sidibe, Soledad O’Brien, and Rachel Levine, among many others who have addressed eating disorders through the lens of gender. Of equal importance, we have featured leaders in the field who provided treatment, conducted research, embarked on new theories, and enriched the audience with their expertise. Younger, more contemporary professionals have always been encouraged to share their work. Over the past several years, the Conference has focused on the integration of our relational tradition with other emerging evidence-based treatments, including The Renfrew Center Unified Treatment Model for Eating Disorders®, an innovative approach designed to target the emotional patterns that maintain eating disorders and their various co-occurring conditions.
Many who have presented at the Conference have been pioneers in rethinking and reshaping clinical theory and practice. Some have become mentors and role models for the next generation of psychologists, social workers, dietitians, physicians, and nurses. What began more than 30 years ago as a unique training Conference has extended its scope and its influence to become a venue for sharing and rejuvenating for the more than 600 mental health professionals who attend each year. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the seamless shift to a virtual platform has favorably increased both reach and accessibility while safeguarding the health of attendees. The Conference continues to be a gathering which brings together cutting edge ideas and fresh voices in a stimulating, nurturing environment.
Judi Goldstein, MSS, LSW
Conference Chair & Vice President, The Renfrew Center Foundation