EATING DISORDERS are primarily focused on three main types: Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating. Eating disorders can become life threatening due to the medical complications that can arise from eating habits developed through the disorders. As a result, it is important to view art therapy as a supplementary therapy for sufferers who may need to receive specific medical treatment to make a full recovery.
It is common for people to experience unhappiness with body image, and to engage in dieting for either short or long term periods. For those who are experiencing anxiety or depression, food is often used as a coping mechanism to deal with negative feelings. Using food in this way does not always suggest the presence of an eating disorder. Eating disorders typically focus on more extreme dysfunction with eating, food and body image.
Aside from medical consequences, eating disorders also have a multitude of negative psychological outcomes such as:
- Low self-esteem
- Shame and guilt for hiding eating disordered behaviours
- Perfectionism and obsession followed by subsequent disappointment at not meeting self-imposed standards
- Depression and anxiety
- Social isolation
Art therapy can play an integral part in addressing some of these experiences. Creative art can help the individual in expressing hidden emotions surrounding body image, self-esteem, and overall mood. Through art therapy, clients can explore the many facets of body image perception and express deeply held self-belief that they may normally struggle to express verbally.
Individuals with an eating disorder often display perfectionist qualities as they endeavor to obtain the ‘perfect’ appearance. Art therapy is helpful when addressing perfectionist tendencies as it relies heavily on the premise of individualism. Exploring creativity helps the individual engage in the process of personal expression where the focus is on self-exploration instead of ‘beautified’ outcomes. It is the role of the Art Therapist to emphasize non-judgement in art therapy sessions.
Art therapy can be used as a mindfulness technique to help the individual stabilize moods, and reducing anxiety and fears. Art therapy can also be used as a distraction technique if the individual is attempting to delay bingeing or purging activities. In this instance, art therapy will enable the individual to direct coping techniques to creative self-expression.
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