Art Therapy Studio Chicago, Ltd.
by Tricia Morales ATR, LCPC
An individual I worked with in art therapy asked me to help her create new meaning for a pair of jeans she used as inspiration for continued restriction and diminished life in her eating disorder. Together we worked to create new meaning through art therapy by turning this life limiting pair of jeans into a symbol of hope for recovery in the creation of a dream catcher. The dream catcher was formed by cutting up the jeans into strips, dying them different colors, and weaving them around the outside of the dream catcher hoop. This jean covered hoop contained the repetitive soothing motion of woven yarn to create the web to catch her dreams for recovery from her eating disorder. The remaining strips of jeans were used to hang from the bottom of the hoop. The final addition of a loop of yarn at the top provided the completion of this dream catcher to be hung in a space of her choosing as a reminder of the possibilities in recovery – finding a new way to relate to her body via the process of physically creating this art piece.
Millions of men and women suffer from eating disorders at some point in their lifetime. These disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or OSFED – other specified feeding or eating disorder according to the DSM-5. (http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-facts-eating-disorders)
If you are struggling with an eating disorder or have a loved one that is, art therapy at ATSC could be a necessary starting place, change in treatment approach, or addition to current treatment. The story above highlights the trust built in relationship between the patient and art therapist to find new meaning for a pair of jeans and her body image that continued to hold her prisoner in her eating disorder. The following is an overview of common underlying feelings, co-morbid diagnoses, and additional treatment used for the healing process of art therapy with women and men that suffer from eating disorders.
Brief Eating Disorder Definition
Quickly I would like to provide you a brief definition of a few eating disorders most commonly seen, anorexia (process of starving oneself at times to death), bulimia (bingeing and purging through the use of vomiting, over-exercise, laxative use, diuretics, starvation, etc.), binge-eating disorder (consumption of large quantities of food), and a combination of the above mentioned disorders.
Common Underlying Feelings and Co-morbid Diagnoses
As the eating disorder progresses it often leads to increased isolation. Shame experienced about the use of eating disorder behaviors leads to increased disconnection from self and others. Food has likely become the most intimate relationship in your life assisting with avoidance of emotions. Others in your life may not understand leading you to experience more despair. Prolonged social isolation intensifies experiences of depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidal ideation and other related disorders. Through art therapy you can begin to form a trusting, non-judgmental relationship with the art therapist and art supplies to increase feelings of connection and practice expression of underlying feelings of shame, loneliness, sadness, anxiety, pride, guilt, or anger.
One of the most significant steps is working to admit that your relationship to food is unhealthy. The role you have given food in your life is self-created for coping with pain. This pain you have hidden under your relationship to food is what can be explored through art therapy for healing. This pain may stem from childhood – not feeling like you are enough or past verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. PTSD is a common co-morbid diagnosis for those suffering from an eating disorder.
Art provides a safe way to explore the hurt or loss you have witnessed or experienced that you may not be able to put into words. Through art you can practice being kind to your inner child. This can be accomplished using collage, painting, drawing, sculpture, weaving, or other media. Taking the images of past hurt you are experiencing in your mind and placing them on paper, canvas, or another surface of choosing can help you find a new way to relate to the image via writing or dialogue. This work provides new understanding about self, your relationship to eating, past trauma, sexuality, challenging emotions, and your body.
Mindfulness Practice in Art Therapy
An important part of art therapy is the use of mindful practice. By actively focusing on art making you are practicing mindfulness participate, which can lead to slowed heart rate, breathing, and potential feelings of relaxation. Mindful art helps give your mind a rest from obsessive thoughts about food (Another common co-morbid diagnosis is OCD). This can be a practice you continue outside the art therapy sessions by starting an art journal or altered book. This book can be a place for you when feeling emotionally dysregulated or uncertain to let go of perfection and allow yourself to freely create inside the safe pages of your book. Through creating you are allowing yourself the necessary connection to your emotions leading to increased experiences of positive feelings of accomplishment, connection, and joy. You may not have allowed yourself to experience these emotions due to feeling unworthy. This space for new understanding may help you clarify an approach you want to take in an important relationship or depict the internal conflict you are experiencing as you work towards recovery from your eating disorder.
Important Additional Services
Eating disorders are complex and often require a combination of treatment providers including a therapist, family therapist, dietician, MD, and psychiatrist. With physical complications to the body present within this disorder it is recommended to seek assistance from medical professionals. They can assist with the potential for re-nourishing the body and mind by managing after effects of purging/restricting/overeating/other physically challenging behaviors.
Art therapy at ATSC can provide a place to begin exploring the needs for treatment and work you are willing to do in recapturing your mind and body for a valued life. Together you and I will work on determining a starting point for treatment that you feel is most relevant to assisting you with healing in your life.
Does any of the information in this blog resonate with your life experience?
Do you have a desire to heal from your eating disorder and other treatment is not working?
Have you tried art therapy for treatment of your eating disorder?
It is time to take charge of your life, begin/continue the process of letting go of your eating disorder, connect and create new meaning via art making at ATSC!
Dr. Mary Andrus DAT, ATR-BC, LCPC