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The Use of Art Therapy in The Treatment Of Eating Disorders

The American Art Association states, “Art Therapy is the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma, or challenges in living, and by people who seek personal development.”  Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, people can increase awareness of self and others, cope with symptoms, stress, and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art.

Art Therapy in the eating disorder recovery processThere are two approaches to Art Therapy.  The first is to be process intensive: art is used as a catharsis, an emotional journey to which self-actualization and discovery are the end result.  The second approach is not to be so concerned with the process of making the art, but with what the person is consciously or unconsciously expressing through their art.  In this way, the art therapist uses art as a window into the subconscious of the patient and from there can attempt to figure out the underlying problems that the patient may be suffering and bring to light the issues for further processing.

The Walker Wellness Clinic offers Art Therapy as part of our treatment of the eating disorder patient.  Art Therapy offers a quiet environment in which the patient is able to non verbally express a free flow of emotions, overcoming patient resistance, and providing insight into their inner personal struggles.  We recently interviewed our Art Therapist, Charlotte Tarell, L.P.C. Here is what Charlotte had to say about the use of Art Therapy in the treatment of eating disorders:

Why is art therapy an important component in the treatment of eating disorders?

Persons with eating disorders are often reliant on verbal defense mechanisms such as rationalization,  intellectualism, and persuasion.  The use of art therapy can help focus therapeutic work on relevant issues and aids in focusing on strengths and positive qualities because art touches on universal healing themes.  Art more easily allows the practitioner to see beyond the symptoms and negative self-presentations of eating disordered patients.

What is the purpose of art therapy and how can it benefit patients in their recovery from an eating disorder?

Art therapy bypasses language-based defenses to reveal inner truths. Persons who experience art therapy are less likely to verbally censor, argue, or confuse themselves, and are more likely to be open to the surprising image answers pulled by the art from deep within them.  This provides insight into their subconscious issues related to the eating disorder.

Do you have to be a great artist to enroll in art therapy?

No! It is the process not the he product that is emphasized in art therapy.  The desire to be perfect that is typical of the eating disorder patient population is removed, and the creative process is freeing the patient from the inner critic during the session.

How an art therapy bring up underlying issues that may not come out in individual, family, or group therapy?

Because the art therapy process identifies underlying issues, insight is provided to the patient that can be further examined with the patient and psychotherapist. This also applies to family art therapy where many of the family issues are exposed and can help with the healing for everyone in the family. Group art therapy is very powerful because by sharing  your artwork with the group, the members can see that they are not alone and therapeutic problem solving and healing can occur for the group members.

How does art therapy enhance the treatment progress for patients who have the following: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder?

Art therapy is relaxing and healing for all three.  It is the role of the art therapist to be a part of the team and address the underlying issues that have caused the patient to develop an eating disorder.  Subconscious issues are quickly identified and can be addressed with the primary therapist.  Through the art therapy experience, the patient can create an environment that eliminates their need for defenses and the patient is in charge of their own healing process.

What can I expect as a patient from art therapy and how does it incorporate into working with other members of the treatment team in terms of giving them feedback and the opportunity to process or address issues that may arise in art therapy that can be discussed in individual, group, or family therapy?

The patient is aware from the beginning of art therapy that the information is shared with the treatment team to help the patient heal faster and gain a new and healthier perspective toward life and relationships.  The process of art therapy can heal the underlying issues that caused this method of having negative control of ones life.  The non-verbal communication that art therapy provides is very healing and provides insight to the patient.

Cooking Classes For Eating Disorder Patients

An Interview with Carey Garrett, M.S., R.D./L.D.

What is the purpose and clinical rational for cooking classes? Like meal therapy, cooking classes are a way to learn something by experiencing and doing–experimental learning.  In individual nutrition sessions and nutrition group–we learn, process, and plan things intellectually and sometimes emotionally.  Many of our patients are full of intellectual knowledge about food and food preparation, but cooking together in a casual, but controlled setting, can begin to disseminate the fear and negative emotions associated with food in general or certain kinds of food.  A secondary purpose is to teach cooking skills, learn more about food and experience a healthy relationship with food.     

Describe a Cooking Class at Walker Wellness Clinic at Cooper Aerobics Center.

Most of the classes I have led in 2011 have had 3-5 patients participating.  We cook in the “Cookery” at Cooper Aerobics Center Guest Lodge.  The kitchen resembles a home kitchen, except that there are mirrors for larger classes where and instructor would demonstrate preparation.  When we have small groups of less than 5, we all cook together, just as you would with friends at home.  We make 3-4 dishes–usually an appetizer, salad or soup or side dish, an entree and a dessert.  I choose the menus based on what I know will be appropriate for the current patients participating, but will also challenge them and encourage change and recovery.  We use recipes from the Walker Wellness Clinic Cookbook, the internet, and from the patients–their favorite recipes or ones they would like to try.

Why is cooking effective with the eating disorder patient population?

  • Cooking is therapeutic;  it can be artistic and fun and when you experience all those benefits while doing it with others–it makes relationships stronger, which helps people be well and get healthier.
  • The classes give us an opportunity to discuss, appreciate and reduce anxiety associated with normal food ingredients (i.e. oils and eggs) or discover new ingredients (i.e. we all learned what fenugreek is last week!).
  • All of the classes have been a positive experience, even if the food does not turn out perfectly (or at all).  So we are creating positive experiences with food that will override negative associations.  Brain research shows that creating these new “roads and thoughts” in the brain really can stop people from going down the roads and thoughts that lead to illness.

Clinical observations and experiences noted:

  • Many patients do not taste or sample the foods while they cook.  Normal eaters and cooks do sample and taste.  I taste and sample while we cook and encourage them to also…with clean spoons.
  • The patients share tips and techniques with one another–so we are all learning from one another (i.e. a new way to cut an onion or use fresh garlic)
  • Many patients come to the first class very concerned, hesitant and even a little resistant, but almost everyone is comfortable after one, maybe two classes.

Criterion to meet before enrolling:

  • Be willing to engage and participate.
  • Be willing to try all things prepared in cooking.  Patients can choose the portion sizes they want or need to meet their meal plan, but all patients must taste each dish.
  • Be a current patient or alumni patient from The Walker Wellness Clinic.

How are cooking classes at Walker Wellness Clinic different than cooking classes elsewhere?

  • Most eating disorder treatment facilities do not offer cooking classes.
  • Cooking classes offered in hospitals or health facilities are often focused on teaching people to cook with less fat, sodium and lower calorie.  These kind of classes could trigger patients with eating disorders to continue eating from a set of rules, instead of eating mindfully and intuitively eating.
  • Classes offered through cooking schools are usually much larger and less hands-on or experimental.
  • The Walker Wellness Clinic at Cooper Aerobics Center endorses and often refers to Cooper Wellness Program, which offers cooking classes that teach others how to incorporate healthy eating habits and foster healthy lifestyle changes.

The Therapeutic Magic of Sandtray Therapy

By: Natalie Hutson, M.A., L.P.C.

Sandtray therapy is a creative arts approach to working with eating disorders. Within the sandtray environment, the therapeutic healing process occurs naturally, enabling the patient to freely express or re-live experiences and emotions without judgment, interruption, or criticism. Patients arrange and symbolically transform objects in ways that foster and promote therapeutically positive changes in their lives. Individuals with eating disorders commonly feel they have little or no control over their lives and thus take control over something they can-food, weight, exercise, or body shape. Sandtray therapy allows patients to have total control of the action of therapy and to experience a sense of their own power. Sandtray provides patients the opportunity for self-exploration and self-expression, increasing their self-awareness and acceptance. Through this self-awareness and acceptance, patients are able to integrate, and filter through, the opposing messages they receive from their environment and reconcile their own true experiences.

Sandtray therapy is usually done adjunctively to talk therapy, which carries the interpretive aspects of the psychotherapeutic work. The heart of sandtray therapy lies in allowing the inner self to guide one’s choices, and then it allows one to listen to the message one is giving oneself about creating, overcoming, and completing a phase of growth and healing. Through the process of sandtray therapy, patients experience healing through a growing sense of self-control, empowerment, and safety. Within this calming and safe environment, patients become more creative, confident, and expressive. Sandtray therapy allows patients to express overwhelming experiences and feelings symbolically in a caring relationship, promoting healing.

 
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