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© 2020 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Objective: Working with people with eating disorders (EDs) is known to elicit strong emotional reactions, and the therapeutic alliance has been shown to affect outcomes with this clinical population. As a consequence, it is important to understand healthcare professionals' (HCPs') experiences of working with this client group. Method: A meta-synthesis was conducted of qualitative research on HCPs' lived experiences of working with people with EDs. The results from the identified studies were analyzed using Noblit and Hare's meta-ethnographic method. Data were synthesized using reciprocal translation, and a line of argument was developed. Results: Thirty-seven studies met the inclusion criteria. Reciprocal translation resulted in a key concept: “Coping with caring without curing.” This was underpinned by the following third-order concepts: (a) “The dissonance and discomfort of being a helper struggling to help,” (b) “Defending against the dissonance,” and (c) “Accepting the dissonance to provide safe and compassionate care.” These concepts were used to develop a line-of-argument synthesis, which was expressed as a new model for understanding HCPs' experiences of working with people who have an ED. Discussion: Although the conflict associated with being a helper struggling to help led some HCPs to avoid and blame people with EDs, others adopted a compassionate stance characterized by humanity, humility, balance, and awareness.

Original publication




Journal article


International Journal of Eating Disorders

Publication Date





422 - 441