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How to Treat Eating Disorders with Art Therapy

written by: LotusSnow • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 1/27/2011

Art therapy has been found to be especially effective in helping people deal with their eating disorders. Engaging in the creative-expressive process in a secure and supportive environment helps patients discover their own symbolic repertoire for healing.

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    Benefits of Art Therapy

    There are a variety of benefits to art therapy treatment of eating disorders. Art therapy can help the eating-disordered client reconcile emotional or life conflicts. Through art therapy, deeply repressed emotions, traumatic experiences, anxiety, depression and stress are addressed and worked on through different mediums of art. This method also enhances cognitive abilities and increases one’s self-esteem, and promotes self-awareness. Art therapy treatment of eating disorders helps the patient through:

    • Self-discovery. Art therapy has been known to trigger emotional catharsis.
    • A sense of personal fulfillment. When a person creates something, there is a sense of pride. It helps with our sense of self worth.
    • Feelins of empowerment. When we express our emotions and fears, deals with them it gives us a sense of control.
    • Relaxation and de-stressing the client. When we draw or write or do some form of artwork, it normally relaxes us; we start to enjoy it and feel happy.
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    What is Art Therapy?

    This therapy method is commonly known as creative arts therapy or expressive arts therapy. This method of therapy encourages people to express thoughts and emotions through the creative process of art and free artistic expression. The process of art therapy typically involves a three-way relationship between the client, the therapist and the work of art. It is through this relationship that an emotional connection is forged.

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    Who Can Benefit?

    The beauty of art therapy is that anyone can take it. It is beneficial to people of all ethnicities, socio-economic status, gender and all age ranges. Art therapy also works to reduce stress, improve relationships and self-esteem. In addition, a person does not need to be a skilled artist to take art therapy. This therapy method does not require any experience or talent.

    Types of Art Therapy include:

    • Drawing
    • Creating mosaics
    • Painting
    • Clay making
    • Sculpting
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    Exploring Art Therapy Treatment of Eating disorders

    1) Art Therapy for Bulimics

    Studies show that the reason bulimics binge and purge is to “get rid of” unwanted feelings, emotions and situations. Their obsession with food is an attempt to cope with unresolved issues such as anger, helplessness, loss and depression. Through art therapy they are able to access those hidden feelings, express those emotions and the therapist will be there to help them deal with it.

    Therefore, if we incorporate art therapy into a bulimic’s treatment program it could help with their “purging” symptom. Art therapy can help the patient tap into their unconscious, and their artistic expression or artwork could become a metaphor for a purge. Instead of “purging” via food, now they can explore and express what they are trying to get rid of or “purge” through art.

    2) Art Therapy for Anorexics

    Anorexics deal with emotions by starving them. This method of therapy can help provide anorexics with an outlet. Through this method they can safely explore feelings, which are buried and also express and communicate emotions, which they deemed as “bad”.

    One technique that is used in art therapy is to ask the patient to draw an outline of their perceived body size. The patient is then asked to lie down on the paper that they have drawn on and their actual body size is traced. This method can also be used to work through their various body images issues.

    In conclusion, art therapy can be a beneficial addition to a comprehensive treatment plan for eating disordered individuals.

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