Using Art Therapy in the Treatment of Eating Disorders

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Using Art Therapy in the Treatment of Eating Disorders

Art Therapy, while still a fairly new method of treatment, is quickly becoming a more and more relied upon tool used in the treatment of a number of psychological and emotional issues. Art Therapy has largely grown out of the psychiatric movement with connections to theorists who placed high value on symbolization and the unconscious, such as Freud and Jung. The use of Art Therapy did not come into the forefront until the 1940’s, the result of pioneers in the field such as Margaret Naumberg. The first therapist to really use Art Therapy in practice, she believed that art gave her patients an opportunity to express themselves and reach their unconscious and in turn give therapists a better idea of the root of their problems and how to treat them. Different therapists use different aspects of the therapy and the approaches used in its practice have grown and branched out to include a wide array of applications. The attributes of art therapy are numerous and include: a decreased use of defenses since verbal communication is more easily manipulated, the creation of a permanent object that can take focus off of the client, and the release of creative energy. When looking at the use of the art therapy in the treatment of eating disorders, the attributes stated above have been proven to be successful and beneficial. Because body image, attitudes about food, and perceptions of physical beauty are forms of knowledge not easily expressed verbally, art therapy has become an ideal method in the treatment in eating disorders (Soh, Touyz, & Surgenor, 2006). Individuals with eating problems are typically very sensitive about their food-related behaviors and do not like to discuss them or share them with others. It is proposed that providing individuals with an alternate means of communicating their issues, through art for example, may provide for a better understanding of their conditions. This is especially important when culture and ethnicity are taken into consideration. Because of the varied differences in the classifications of eating disorders amongst women of different ethnicities, a large number of minority women remain undiagnosed with eating disorders (Soh et al., 2006). Art therapy can be a powerful communication link when dealing with these issues cross-culturally. Images and symbols often transcends languages barriers making it easier to assess when one actually has an eating disorder. (Soh et al., 2006) Art therapy also plays an essential role in the area of managing control. Eating disordered patients often use food to negotiate and mediate between their inner world and their external environment and the art that is created during sessions may help build a connection between the inner and outer world of the client and as well as between the client and the therapist. In theory, that images or objects created can temporarily become a substitute for the use of food in gaining control and the feeling of managing power. Being able to focus their attention on something other than food can give eating disorder patients a healthy option of object transference. By giving them this option, they are able to have an outlet for their need to extreme need for perfection and power.

Problems with body image can be assessed and treated in a number of ways through the use of art therapy. Mary Crowl provides accounts of her work with twelve adolescent girls with eating disorders and issues with body image distortion who received art therapy twice a week in an inpatient setting. While identifying major areas of conflicts most apparent in their drawings, Crowl found the most obvious to be one of self-image. Repeated drawings of the self as a “little girl” where immature bodies with hair ribbons, bows, and ruffles where often drawn. These symbols are thought to illustrate the stunned psychological and emotional growth that is a central dynamic in eating disorders....
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