Art therapy is based on a belief that the creative process is healing and life affirming. For many people, emotional pain can be difficult to express verbally, and those who struggle with eating disorders often find it particularly difficult to use words to describe their experience. Art therapy provides a creative outlet for these pent up emotions and feelings that are too painful or overwhelming to put into words. Emotions can be intimidating, especially for those not used to feeling them. Working with an art therapist is a safe way to experience the emotion, while gaining confidence in one’s ability to cope. In time, you begin to develop a sense of trust in your own feelings and the ability to speak about them.
Art therapy for eating disorders can be done individually or in groups. Patients are sometimes given a theme or directive and asked to explore it metaphorically through the creative process. Others prefer to work in a more self-directed fashion, using the art to express thoughts and feelings as they arise. Body tracing is one example of how art therapy can be used to challenge the physical and emotional body image distortions that are common for people with eating disorders. Patients are often surprised by the insights and realizations they gain through art therapy.
In art therapy there is no such thing as good or bad art. No experience or talent is required. Art therapy is not about producing the next Michelangelo or Picasso, but instead about freely and spontaneously expressing oneself through the artistic process. It is an opportunity to non-verbally express thoughts and feelings that are held inside. Preferences for art materials vary: some prefer pencil and paper, others enjoy the fluidity of watercolors, layering of tissue paper, the intensity of oil pastels, or the grounding of clay. Patients in art therapy often find that the art media they are working with is related to the meaning of the piece they are creating.
There are many benefits to adding art therapy into one’s treatment for an eating disorder. In addition to helping improve emotional health, art therapy can build self-awareness, challenge body image distortions, reduce stress, and assist in healing the emotional effects of trauma. Perhaps most powerful is the potential for personal transformation and the empowerment which comes from the creative process.
Art therapy, which has been a valuable part of the Center for Eating Disorder’s Inpatient, Partial and IOP programs will be offered on an outpatient basis beginning January 5th, 2009. For information, please call (410) 938-5252.
To learn more about how Expressive Art Therapies are being used at the Center for Eating Disorders, visit: