ERC's Lisa Constantino: A Champion for LGBTQ+ Treatment Everywhere
Not all heroes wear capes…but some do wear rainbow flags and help entire communities access inclusive support, and we think that’s pretty amazing.
Take Lisa Constantino, LPC, CEDS-S, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) who has been treating patients with eating disorders at Eating Recovery Center for nine years. In light of Women’s History Month, we are pointing the spotlight on Lisa today to elevate her work, and specifically how she helps the LGBTQ+ community access support and resources when someone in the community is grappling with an eating disorder or mental health.
On a personal note, this is a sensitive, if not humbling topic for me, and when I was first asked if I’d like to help feature Lisa for Women’s History Month, I felt both honored to do it, and acutely reminiscent of my own experience in my eating disorder and LGBTQ+ journey.
Every single one of us who identify in the LGBTQ+ community have our own personal stories to share about how we “came out” (or didn’t), how we navigated the realization of it, and how we grappled with the reality that for the rest of our lives, there would be this distinguishing fact about us that would set us apart whether we want it to or not.
I was older when I realized my sexuality was different than the hetero orthodox religious way I thought it’d be. At 23, the woman I met struck me like a train out of nowhere. Growing up in a conservative environment, sexuality was not within the realm of possibility. And those that did identify in the community had negative stereotypes associated with them that I don’t feel is relevant to repeat here. But love’s a curious thing, isn’t it? And maybe I’ll never quite understand how it happens.
I was with my first partner for over a year. I loved her fiercely. And I kept every bit of it a secret from my family. (You know, the whole “best friend” thing.) Sure, I told progressive close friends, but she was a secret I gnawed on every single night before falling asleep.
The shame I carried from that was palpable. Not only the inward shame, but the shame of what I presumed it must’ve felt like for her: to be a secret. And shame for not stepping up and owning the footing under me.
Already in the long-term depths of the eating disorder cycle, I relied on it heavily in those couple of years where my sexuality first became a full frontal dangling carrot to my reality. I loved her. Therefore, I could not escape the shame. And living with both the love and the shame was - at times - unbearable because I was the one causing it.
The sicker I got, the more sexuality plagued me. There was some part of my brain that thought if maybe I was “sick enough” (i.e. sick enough looking) that it would prove - or showcase - how much my love for her was plaguing me. And that my family would ultimately forgive me and just want me to be happy. At the time, all I wanted was that unconditional love and acceptance. And to love and unconditionally accept this woman I loved.
It wasn’t until I was in treatment that I really began to dig through everything my sexuality represented, which was far more than simply who I loved. And at the time, there weren’t a lot of process groups for LGBTQ+ patients. So I remember feeling quite alone in that sense - knowing that none of the well-meaning clinicians really understood or fully were trained in these realities.
Cue Lisa: one of those special people on this planet who saw a need for our LGBTQ+ community and stepped up to help.
Five years ago, Lisa recognized that being able to process the experiences and identities of the LGBTQ+ person was vital to recovery.
Known to be the minority group with the (astronomically) highest rates of eating disorders, Lisa read the following statistics:
- 42% of males with eating disorders identify as gay
- Gay males are thought to only represent 5% of the total male population but among males who have eating disorders, ~42% identify as gay
- Elevated rates of bingeing and purging
- Elevated rates of binge-eating and purging by vomiting or laxative abuse was found for people who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or “mostly heterosexual” in comparison to their heterosexual peers
- Females identified as lesbian, bisexual, or mostly heterosexual were about twice as likely to report binge-eating at least once per month in the last year
… and she’s doing something about it.
Today, Lisa is an active voice, out in the community advocating on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community. Whether it’s through presentations about how to approach treatment in the eating disorder community or documenting resources for clinicians to understand the differences between gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia, Lisa enjoys diving into the specific topics that do or do not relate to eating disorders for that specific community.
As she put it, “My focus is helping clinicians figure out how, and hone in, on best practices for this community when serving a patient that identifies as LGBTQIA+.”
In the years she has been doing this, Lisa has led presentations for large groups of mental health professionals, educating them on ways to treat the LGBTQ+ community with compassion and care. In 2017, she presented at the Eating Recovery Center conference in a well-received lecture, and prior to the pandemic she was known to present at the Colorado Behavioral Health Summit as well.
Lisa’s advocacy goes beyond education. She founded and led a weekly process group for LGBTQ+ folks at lower levels of care, and was a weekly volunteer at Eating Disorder Foundation, leading another LGBTQ+ process group. All groups open up and invite a space for people to really talk about how their sexuality has informed their eating disorders.
“Things are shifting and changing, but I do know that in the eating disorder community, we have to do better with how to treat folks in marginalized communities, specifically with the transgender community where the rates are the highest in that community."
Lisa is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and has been treating patients with eating disorders for nine years. When she’s not advocating for the treatment of those with marginalized voices, Lisa is the Clinical Director at Eating Recovery Center, responsible for the oversight and clinical leadership of adult inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient levels of care.
When speaking with Lisa, it’s impossible not to detect the passion in what she does, and she readily admits that she loves her career, helping others achieve personal growth and development, working with emerging adults, and - of course - with LGBTQIA folks. She loves to do community outreach, is passionate about trauma-informed care and uses creative, somatic approaches to help facilitate change and recovery.
This month and every month, we thank you, Lisa. I speak on behalf of a group of people who fully understand and know what the impact of your work means.