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A young woman making art
June 7, 2023

Utilizing Expressive Arts in Eating Disorder Recovery

Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder are complex mental health conditions that require a comprehensive treatment approach. While traditional therapies play an important role in the recovery process, integrative interventions such as expressive arts and movement therapy can also offer unique benefits.

At Veritas, we facilitate expressive arts alongside therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and family-based therapy (FBT). Combining these interventions offers additional avenues for self-expression and exploration, ensuring patients receive treatment highly tailored to them.

Discover our eating disorder treatment centers.

The Power of Expressive Arts in Eating Disorder Treatment

In eating disorder treatment, expressive arts groups involve active art-making and creative processing to support patients in navigating thoughts and emotions surrounding food and their bodies. The practice encompasses many expressive activities to support a patient’s personal growth, enhance self-awareness, and address treatment goals across varying diagnoses. These goals may include creating coping methods for eating disorder triggers, exploring and addressing difficult emotions that have been avoided, and more.

During an expressive arts session, our therapists may guide patients with prompts or exercises, or alternatively, provide patients with the freedom to express their own ideas. As the session unfolds, patients are encouraged to share their artistic process—what they are thinking and feeling as they create. The beauty of expressive arts lies not in creating a flawless piece of art, but rather in using creative materials to translate and express one’s feelings and unique experiences.

Expressive arts provide an opportunity to explore and heal the psychological challenges associated with eating disorders. Among other benefits, it enables patients to confront and challenge the harmful grip of perfectionism, connect with their identity beyond their illness, and defy societal norms that perpetuate unattainable beauty standards.

Challenging Perfectionism

Perfectionism is a common struggle for people experiencing eating disorders, often manifested in rigid food rules, all-or-nothing thinking, and a fear of failure. Art-making offers patients a low-pressure and non-judgmental space to express themselves without the burden of perfection. Working with different creative mediums, patients can challenge unrealistic expectations and confront the fear of not meeting impossible standards – a skill that serves them throughout recovery and beyond.

Helping Patients Discover Identity Beyond Their Eating Disorder

Art-making allows patients to explore and rediscover their identity beyond their eating disorder. Through the medium of art, they can communicate their thoughts, emotions, and experiences, ultimately developing a more profound sense of self outside their illness. This exploration can become a catalyst for personal growth.

Encouraging Self-Expression and Communication

Expressive arts provide an alternative mode of communication, allowing individuals to express complex emotions and experiences that may be difficult to put into words. Visual and symbolic expression can become powerful communication tools that facilitate insight, foster connections, and deepen therapeutic relationships in ways not afforded by traditional methods of communication.

Defying Societal Pressures

Art-making also allows patients to explore their relationship with body image and our culture’s impossible beauty standards. This examination can provide a deeper understanding of harmful cultural narratives, as well as an outlet to challenge them. 

Eating disorders require a comprehensive treatment approach that takes into account the individual needs of the patient. Integrative interventions such as expressive arts can play an important role in this multifaceted approach, offering unique benefits that empower patients on their journey toward recovery. 

If one of your patients needs individualized best-practice care for their eating disorder, make a referral today by calling us at 612-402-3061, using the referral form, or directing your patient to our website to request an eating disorder assessment.