Art Therapy and Eating Disorder Recovery

Pushing Down our Emotions

Anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise are considered the basic emotions. These, and the blending of them, are where all of our feelings come from.  

Research has shown that many of our ailments are due to not expressing our emotions. The problem with not expressing your feelings is that this can backfire. Not communicating your feelings can cause them to pop up elsewhere — frequently disguised as something else. It could be an illness, physical or mental, a burst of anger out of proportion to the situation or tears at the drop of a hat.

This brings up another issue. There are a lot of us that aren’t sure what we are feeling, let alone how to express those feelings.

Food and Feelings

Individuals with eating disorders might try to gain control or numb themselves by focusing on food (or the lack of it). When we give all our energy and attention to eating behaviors, it is impossible to look at the real issue. This is why exploring ‘Food and Feelings’ is a key component of our residential treatment program for eating disorders at Ai Pono Hawaii.

Greta Gleissner, author and founder of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists explains, “Expressing yourself creatively can help “shift” your thought life. When in recovery, therapies are designed to help you recognize emotions and feelings when faced with a situation that is uncomfortable. Working with a therapist, these approaches can help to desensitize fears and/or emotions that may have triggered your eating disorder in the past. Gaining control and a sense of empowerment over the “feelings” is a very powerful tool in recovery.”

Exploring Feelings with Art Therapy

One of the therapies that AiPono Hawaii uses in our eating disorder treatment program is Art Therapy. Using different art forms, a person can sometimes express themselves better than they can with words. They can express their emotions even if they can’t name them. Art therapy can open the door to healing, provide a pathway to their disordered feelings, and ultimately, heal their disordered eating.

Our Art Therapist Caroline Kleindienst takes it a step further and provides clients with a very unique modality called Somatic Expression.

Recently Caroline and residents completed a flower mandala ritual. She explains, “At this ritual, we first connected to our breath using embodied mindfulness meditation, then created flower mandalas in order to call back the scattered parts of our lives. Eating disorders can be devastating and are very complex, but there is hope. It is powerful to witness my clients return to their bodies in a safe way through somatic movement therapy and expressive arts therapy approaches.”

Creative Approaches to Healing

Art Therapy is just one of the modalities that AiPono Hawaii utilizes at our Residential Eating Disorder Treatment Program for Women with Eating Disorders to provide healing from eating disorders. Recovery is the aim, and art is a stepping stone towards that goal. Fore more information on our Art Therapy program or to view a portfolio of client work, please visit our website.

Auntie Pearl

Staff Contributor

Eating disorders can be devastating and are very complex, but there is hope.