Dialectical Behavioral Therapy to Treat Eating Disorders

Dialectical behavioral therapy is a beneficial approach to treating hard-to-reach patient populations.  It is especially helpful in treating patients with eating disorders.  As Director of Psychology at The Walker Wellness Clinic, I often find overriding themes from my patients’ lives of mistrust, perfectionism, conflicted family relationships, and obsessive-compulsive ideas.  These issues are usually in addition to depression and anxiety that one would expect to accompany an eating disorder.  When you add extreme emotional distress to this mix, patients’ hope begins to fade.

The basic tenets of dialectical behavioral therapy focus around emotional regulation, distress tolerance and a new level of acceptance and understanding.  The ideas of DBT help patients who suffer from these overwhelming emotions by allowing them to experience and validate their emotions without being consumed by their emotions.  It helps them stabilize their mood so that they are can return in full force to address the issues at hand. Through activities such as distraction, stress management, safe place visualization, and assertiveness training, patients begin to better understand their emotions and more importantly, are able to change their reactions to their emotions.

The idea of radical acceptance calls for patients to accept the fact that their current situation is a result of a long line of events and decisions and patients must be able to accept their situation without judging it.  When patients learn to focus on the here-and-now, they develop the skills needed to be non-judgmental.  The focus of therapy shifts to creating a balance in various aspects of the patient’s life.  The most important balance created with patients is the balance between change and acceptance.  The idea is change and acceptance, not change or acceptance.  Oftentimes patients feel if they accept something, they are giving up hope to change it.  In DBT, patients discover they can, and should, do both.

Therapists at the Walker Wellness Clinic utilize a combination of dialectical behavioral, cognitive behavioral and person-centered therapeutic skills to create a nurturing and supportive yet challenging environment.  In such an environment, patients will discover their strengths and find the determination and motivation they need to beat their eating disorders for good.