Drawing from Within: Using Art to Treat Eating Disorders

Drawing from Within: Using Art to Treat Eating Disorders

Drawing from Within: Using Art to Treat Eating Disorders

Drawing from Within: Using Art to Treat Eating Disorders

Synopsis

"Drawing from Within is an introductory guide for practitioners wanting to explore the therapeutic use of art with clients with eating disorders. It illustrates how art therapy can be used as an effective intervention to help this client group express uncomfortable thoughts and feelings through artistic media rather than verbally."

Excerpt

As a young psychologist I thought that I had to have all of the answers for my patients. I provided them with information about the physical complications and adverse effects of eating disorders. I taught them coping and relaxation strategies, and together we examined their childhoods for contributing factors. I talked a lot. And it seemed that the more I talked and the more I gave, the more inadequate I felt. I experienced patients rejecting the information almost as if they had been force-fed food. They would hold it in for a while, but soon it would come back out, largely undigested. Despite my having what I believe was a good education in the treatment of eating disorders, only some patients were treated effectively; many were not.

I first encountered art therapy when I began supervising an art therapy student at a college counseling center. With my first exposures to art therapy, I observed the power of the art to heal and aid psychological growth. I saw that art could help patients express complex ideas for which words were inadequate. Art could contain emotions that previously patients were fearful of experiencing or communicating. Art could help isolated patients engage others by allowing them to share universal symbols. The process of creating could be soothing, or even invigorating.

I began experimenting with the use of art in psychotherapy and discovered that eating disordered patients could begin to use art instead of food to purge thoughts and feelings that were troublesome to them. Later they could be encouraged to use art not just to purge, but also to develop ideas and to communicate them (Levens 1995b). Art could be used to help patients envision a positive future. As I began to use art more regularly in the treatment of eating disorders, patients appeared to more readily accept therapeutic interventions. I realized that patients did not feel force fed when working with their own images. Using art in therapy helped me realize that I did not have to provide all of the answers to my patients. The art held the answers that they needed. And these answers came from within them, not me. Using art helped patients digest information and present it to themselves in ways that made sense – literally or symbolically. Over and over again I watched as patients realistically or abstractly . . .

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