Expressive Therapy at The Center for Eating Disorders
Expressive Therapy is a valuable form of treatment for individuals with eating disorders. At the Center for Eating Disorders, our specially trained Expressive Therapists help patients move through the healing process using art, writing, music, gentle movement and guided imagery. Expressive therapy can also play an important role in addressing body image distortions and fears of body changes.
The Healing Power of Art
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.
One particularly useful technique we use in art therapy at The Center is called body tracing. This is an experiential art project used to help patients gain insight into the level of body image distortion they experience. Body tracings provide a visual tool that patients can safely use throughout their progress in treatment to challenge and discuss negative or distorted beliefs they may have about their bodies. The creation of an altered book is another therapeutic art project patients are introduced to on the unit. Altered books are based on the premise that eating disorder treatment involves a high level of self-reflection and emotional growth. In this process, patients alter an existing book into a personalized expression of their thoughts, conflicts and emotional world. Creating and embracing this altered book is a means of capturing, recording and reflecting upon the important aspects of their transformation in a symbolic way throughout the recovery process.
A Body of Work
Art expression helps patients explore symbols and themes to increase understanding of the therapeutic process, and to improve communication with the treatment team. The body tracing, body mapping and the use of symbolic containers, such as altered books, are tools towards healing from the struggle of living with an eating disorder. The artwork and writing created by each patient during therapy at The Center is kept in a safe place as it contains a valuable record of the patient’s feelings and progress achieved from week-to-week. When patients transition out of our higher levels of care, they are encouraged to take their art folder with them, to use in their own way and to share with their outpatient providers since the contents can provide a deeper understanding of the patient’s therapeutic process.
Mindful Movement facilitates wellness for mind, body and spirit.
Expressive Therapists at The Center use mindfulness techniques to introduce patients to an awareness of restorative breathing, gentle yoga, guided imagery, reflective writing and mindful movement. These techniques help to increase body awareness and tolerance for difficult emotions and sensations. Through mindful movement and other expressive therapy groups at The Center, patients gain tools that help them to:
- Interrupt self-critical thinking patterns
- Rebuild and strengthen trust in their body
- Attune to their emotions
- Be in the present moment (as opposed to focusing on past regrets or anxiety about the future)
- Establish a practice of mindfulness that can be maintained over the long-term
These skills can be particularly beneficial for patients because eating disorders often interfere with the ability to identify emotions and with the body’s natural physiological cues regarding hunger and satiation. Mindful movement creates an opportunity for patients to welcome and attend to these physical and emotional needs, while strengthening their self-esteem and self-worth.