Psychological Testing in the Treatment of Individuals with Eating Disorders

By: Susan E. Justitz, Ph.D.

What is the clinical rationale, purpose, and importance for using assessments with those with a formal eating disorder?

Psychological testing can be extremely valuable during all phases of psychotherapy. Psychological testing first off allows for us to realize the patient’s baseline psychological functioning. It further allows for us to periodically measure traits and see the progression of these traits throughout the course of therapy.
In addition to helping monitor progress, personality testing also allows for us to identify common features or characteristics that patients with an eating disorder tend to struggle with. Identifying personality traits that might be making treatment or recovery more difficult are discovered and analyzed. Awareness is brought to the patients’ attention so they may be conscious of when these traits are interfering with recovery. Further, highlighting aspects of their personality that can be heightened and help with recovery are noted and patients are encouraged to rely heavily on those traits.

What personality traits do you typically see in the results for those with an eating disorder?

Those with an eating disorder tend to have a high degree of perfectionist traits. They typically are very rigid in their thinking. They also tend to isolate and withdraw when struggling with their eating disorder. They may at times show passive aggressive characteristics and they are frequently very non-confrontational. Being driven by a need to please is also another common characteristic. Patient’s personalities can heighten some of these traits and thus affect their mood. For example, a patient may naturally be very extroverted but their eating disorder is making them want to isolate and withdraw. Once pointed out to a patient that some of their unhappiness is simply missing time with friends, patients may focus on regaining that aspect of their personality, which often does not seem as overwhelming of a task as other things.

What type of clinical diagnosis or co morbidity diagnoses do we find for patients with an eating disorder?

It is very common for those with a formal eating disorder to also have coexisting issues with depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive traits. Obtaining a grasp of the degree one is struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder, for example, can help us tailor their treatment program in such a way that helps reduce or eliminate their obsessive thinking. Learning stress management techniques is another vital component of treatment for our patients, and even more so for someone presenting with a high degree of anxiety. We understand that many people turn to an eating disorder as a means of coping with anxiety. If we assess anxiety and eating disorder symptoms separately, we obtain a clearer understanding of how treatment is progressing. Similarly, depression symptoms vary greatly yet some are directly related to an eating disorder. Acquiring insight as to how depressive symptoms and eating disorder symptoms coexist can provide vital information as well and help direct specific treatment interventions.

Why does WWC offer learning disability, ADHD, and ADD testing for those with an eating disorder?

In addition to standard personality testing, Walker Wellness Clinic also offers testing in the areas of learning disability identification and attention deficient hyperactivity disorder. These services are available to our patients with formal eating disorders, but they are also available to the general community. We often find many individuals struggle with the transition from middle school to high school or high school to college. In some instances an undiagnosed learning disability or issues with ADHD is the culprit. Without formal diagnosis, individuals’ self esteem and academic performance suffers. We find that early detection of these areas along with academic modifications can help individuals stay positive, motivated, and successful in the scholastic endeavors.