How can art therapy be used to treat eating disorder?

Art therapy is part of the holistic treatment approach applied to treat eating disorders at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital. Patients can develop self-awareness, adopt better coping mechanisms, improve cognitive functions, and find pleasure in art making.

The purpose of art therapy is fundamentally on healing.  Art therapy helps patients creatively express emotions they may be having difficulty expressing verbally.

It is vital that patients express their emotions. Many times abusive or deadly behaviors are used to numb the pain of not speaking up and out. Obsessions with food and weight are often attempts to cope with unresolved emotional issues such as depression, rage, powerlessness, and loss.

Art therapy is a special tool that can help provide access to those hidden feelings in a safe and non-threatening way. Patients in the Eating Disorder Program at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital participate in both guided art and open art studios in an effort to strengthen and apply their inner resources towards recovery. Art therapy techniques are used to explore the issues that have led to compulsive eating, binging, purging, starving, over-exercising, laxative abuse, etc. Art Therapy is offered as a creative source and an outlet for patients to overcome blocked feelings. Emphasis is on discovering new ways to nurture oneself.

Art therapy is often intimidating to people. Many patients think they’re not artists or they can’t draw or they’re not creative. But art therapy is about the creative process, not the creative product. Patients connect with their inner experiences and find a way to express something that they may not be able to do easily with words. That’s one reason art therapy is a natural fit for eating disorders. It takes away the shame and helps people feel empowered.

A range of materials and mediums can be used, including pencils, watercolors, clay, collages and more. If someone is feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or out of control they might prefer markers or pencils, which help foster a sense of control. Someone who is feeling “stuck” or needing to break out might try a more fluid media, like watercolor paint. And someone who doesn’t want to draw at all can use collage, for example.

Looking at the visual representation of a particular issue provides helpful understanding of the emotions involved. So a person can examine how they feel and behave currently vs. how they want to feel or behave and explore what’s keeping them from functioning the way they want to in a situation or relationship. It’s a skill that can continue to be used at home after treatment as well. Art can be used as a positive coping skill to incorporate into a long term recovery plan.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder contact Aurora Psychiatric Hospital Eating Disorders Program

Aurora Behavioral Health Services offers complete mental health treatment options, provided by highly trained professionals in a caring, confidential manner to meet individual and family needs.  If you or someone you know needs help, contact us — online or by phone at 1-877-666-7223 — as soon as possible.


2 thoughts on “How can art therapy be used to treat eating disorder?

  1. Great post. Art therapy is a wonderful thing and is quite beneficial! If you or anyone else is interested, every month on the Art Therapy website, Dr. Deah writes about various expressive arts therapy activities and ideas geared towards eating disorders.

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