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Beyond the Mask: Art Therapy and Eating Disorder Recovery

In eating disorder treatment, we often talk about the masks people wear. It’s a helpful—and powerful—metaphor for the parts of ourselves we choose to share with others, and the parts we choose to hide. Eating disorders have a way of hiding our true selves from the world, which is why art therapy plays a critical role in eating disorder treatment. We use art therapy to help our patients better understand their externally focused “mask” and uncover their fundamental self-truths about who they are and what they feel. Through this exercise, our patients gain a better understanding of who they truly are beyond the mask—and beyond their eating disorder.

Wearing a mask has recently become a reality of our daily lives, but for those with eating disorders, emotions are often hidden behind a symbolic mask. That’s why mask making has become a key part of our art therapy programs, giving individuals with eating disorders the power to transform their feelings into something concrete and give form to the joy, pain, hope, and fear that accompany the recovery journey.

Everyone has a unique recovery voice—and it is the ability to access that voice during the ups and downs of eating disorder recovery that is essential in not only maintaining, but flourishing in recovery. That’s why mask making has become a signature practice in our Expressive Arts Therapy. It reinforces a critical coping skill—authentic self-expression. Expressing the truth of who we are as well as where we are in the recovery journey supports and nurtures that individual spirit of resilience. It also provides a practical outlet for dealing with life’s challenges.

Empowering individuals to show their true selves—through art therapy.

I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact of art therapy on individual recovery journeys. Over the years, many Veritas alumni have contacted me with the wonderful news that they are pursuing art professionally, starting Etsy boutiques, and using their unique recovery voices in exciting, new ways.

Making a mask is an incredibly vulnerable act of creation that demonstrates the value of emotions and teaches we can be our authentic selves when we move through the world. Participants will use imagery and color to paint a portrait of what they want to share with the world on the outside of the mask. The ability to access that kind of authentic self-expression is often what’s needed to overcome challenges on the recovery journey.

Masks are worn in every culture around the globe. Today, they have a new meaning, but it’s important to understand how metaphorical masks can prevent authentic self-expression and impact the recovery journey. There’s no limit to what can be accomplished when the true self shines through—that’s the transformative power of art.

Beyond the Mask, a Veritas Collaborative Alumni & Family Advocate Event on December 8, 2020 offers us a chance to provide alumni with a one-of-a-kind experience that will enable them to practice channeling their recovery warrior voices. Together, we will transform blank masks into works of art, share our stories, and express our authentic selves.

About the Author

Karen Kuebler Veritas Manager, Expressive Arts TherapyKaren Kuebler, MPS, ATR-BC, LCAT, LPC, is the Associate Clinical Director at Veritas Collaborative’s Child & Adolescent Hospital in Durham, NC. Karen is a nationally Board Certified Art Therapist and a Licensed Professional Counselor in North Carolina. She has a range of experience working as an art therapist in inpatient adult psychiatry, outpatient day programs for adults coping with mental illness and addiction, family art therapy in an urban therapeutic program, and with adolescents and adults with eating disorders. She believes art therapy is an essential therapeutic component for individuals coping with eating disorders. In individual, group, and multifamily art therapy sessions, Karen utilizes the process of art making, creative writing, dramatic play, and music to help individuals access their innate strengths and abilities to face life’s challenges.