Eating disorders are complex, as they are both a psychological and medical illness. There is a range of eating disorders, which include: Anorexia Nervosa (in which there are two subcatagories: restricting and binge/purge), Bulimia Nervosa, Food Phobia, and EDNOS (Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified).
All of the above are serious and potentially life threatening disorders. If caught in the early stages, eating disorders are much easier to treat, but often, when found in the later stages, more intensive interventions are necessary. These may include: medical interventions, hospitalization and inpatient treatment. It is necessary to medically stabilize the indiviual before outpatient counseling can begin.
There are many myths and misnomers in regards to eating disorders; these myths lead to stigma around this illness, keeping those who are suffering with or family and friends who may be witnessing a loved-one showing signs of an eating disorder, to not take action...or take action too late.
There is so much information, both truthful and false, out in cyberspace regarding eating disorders. Education is key! Many families blame themselves for their child's illness...and unfortunately outsiders may blame the family. This is a complete falsehood! Eating disorders are NOT caused by parents. Also, people may accuse the individual suffering from this diagnosis, saying that the individual "wanted" to have an eating disorder. Again, another falsehood. No one chooses this illness.
So what needs to happen? Depending on the severity, type, and history of the individual, medical stabilization/hospitalization, inpatient treatment, day-treatment/outpatient treatment/counseling, education, medical and psychological treatment, art and expressive movement, and family support are just some of the treatments that are and can be used to save someones life. This is an illness where you can't give up, where compassion and perseverance are necessary!
Above, I listed art therapy/creative expression within the treatments used when working with someone with an eating disorder. As an art therapist, I believe that having a creative/expressive outlet for the patient and family is essential. As with many other diagnosis, applying the use of art and expression can be extremely helpful in giving the individual a voice when there are no words. The individual has already begun to change and morph their body, which in a sense, is an expression and a way of communicating to others (though the individual may not be conscious of this at the time). Art allows for a safe bridge between the individual struggling with an eating disorder to begin to have a dialogue with themselves, their families, as well as their caretakers/providers/counselors and medical team. Art allows for a safe space where healing can begin.
I have only touched on the very tip of all the information there is on eating disorders, within this blog. There is so much information, that I can not even begin to do it justice, but I believe that this is an important topic and that there needs to be more discussion about it...to bring it out of the closet and shake off some of its untruths and stigma! The exciting piece for me, is that there is continuing research on eating disorders. I do believe that the more we are all educated about diagnosis and illnesses (whether it be mental illness, emotional, or physical illness) the sooner and more successfully we can treat them!
Below are some resources and information that will help to educate you further:American Art Therapy Association - Eating Disorders Toolkit
"Art therapy has been found to be extremely effective with clients with eating disorders, as it facilitates greater awareness of thwarted needs, desires, and distresses and provides simultaneously, a metaphorical and concrete outlet for expression that promotes a greater emotional vocabulary, both visually and verbally. It is a way to meet clients where they are, in an honoring way."
Michelle L. Dean, MA, ATR-?BC, LPC, CGP, DVATA HLM
Art Therapy Blog
A resource I often review and enjoy reading about using creative healing through art! The article, "Eating Disorder Therapy Through Art" uses a survival story regarding a personal story from a young lady who battled her way through an eating disorder and and used art and creativity to heal.
"Kartini Clinic is a medical and mental health treatment facility dedicated exclusively to the treatment of eating disorders in children and young adults. We take a medical approach to the treatment of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or food phobia, as well as those whose disordered eating contributes to obesity or wasting conditions."
Kartini Eating Disorder Blog
This blog is written by Dr. Julie O'Toole, the founder and current medical director of the Kartini Clinic in Portland OR.
"F.E.A.S.T. is an international organization of and for parents and caregivers to help loved ones recover from eating disorders by providing information and mutual support, promoting evidence-based treatment, and advocating for research and education to reduce the suffering associated with eating disorders."
"The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is the leading non-profit organization in the United States advocating on behalf of and supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders. Reaching millions every year, we campaign for prevention, improved access to quality treatment, and increased research funding to better understand and treat eating disorders. We work with partners and volunteers to develop programs and tools to help everyone who seeks assistance."