|Guided Imagery and Eating Disorder Treatment
Written by: Joanna Poppink, M.F.T., psychotherapist specializing in eating disorder recovery - Rated 5.00 out of 5, 3 people have rated it.
Guided imagery and other methods that reach under the conscious thinking mind
can be useful in helping people recover from eating disorders. People with eating
disorders often have secrets from hemselves. These are secrets about which they have little or no awareness.
Guilt, shame and severe self-criticism accompany most eating disorders. People
believe they are doing something weak and wrong byabusing themselves with too
much or not enough food, or by taking laxatives or vomiting, or by compulsively
exercising to work off calories. They can be merciless in their self-punishing
But eating disorders are not about food or being bad or deficient. Eating disorders
are usually about trying to protect oneself from unbearable fear. This fear is
so thorough and long standing that often people do not know they are afraid. Even
knowledge of their fear can be a secret from themselves. The source of their fear
and what their fear means is the secret (or is among several secrets) that trigger
the eating disorder behavior.
Guided imagery, done gently and respectfully, can be very helpful during various
phases eating disorder treatment.
I have used guided imagery for many years with clients who suffer from nameless
and bewildering fear and emotional pain. Many are women struggling with various
forms of bulimia. Going to a relaxed state and letting images from the unconscious
come forth is a way a person can say what they cannot say, or even think, in the
language of day to day conversation.
Being able to name our fears is the first and most important step in being able
to resolve them. Rather than feel helpless in the grip of fear, we need to change
our perspective so we can grasp what it is that frightens us. To do that we must
find a way to articulate those fears.
Guided imagery allows complex feelings to emerge in an understandable and non-threatening
way. At first, the specifics of the person's secrets remain protected. At the
same time, the person can use a metaphoric language to name what has been nameless
in their emotional lives.
For example, a woman may find herself in a lovely green meadow on a sunny day.
She happily walks on a path that becomes rockier as she proceeds. She becomes
increasingly anxious as the day gets darker. She approaches a forbidding, neglected
With no interpretation at all the psychotherapist can stay with the person's
experience. What the person feels and thinks in this imagery are feelings and
thoughts she has in her daily life. But in her daily life they are not as precise
and compact. And, most importantly, she does not examine her experience with a
trusted and trustworthy knowledgeable companion.
At an early stage the woman can explore the meadow and the path where she feels
happy and comfortable. Perhaps she can also look at where her path in life feels
rocky and dark, if she's ready. More likely it will take some time before she
can move with her fear to explore what the dark
house holds for her. As she explores her imagery with her psychotherapist, she
gains strength and confidence in her ability to stay present with her
feelings. She can move through some unconscious prohibitions and bring awareness
to the neglected structures within her.
Eating disorders serve the purpose of taking people away from their intolerable
feelings. Through imagery work with a reliable and dependable psychotherapist,
a client can develop more strength to tolerate her feelings. As she learns to
trust and rely on more of her own inner resources she is able to come closer to
a greater understanding of her underlying fears and her secrets.
The more she can know and remain present with her feelings, the less she needs
her eating disorder as an escape. She learns to bear her own
human experience. She also learns to have respect and compassion for her ability
to rally her own strength to meet her fears.
Eventually meaning in her imagery will come forth. She will understand her surface
happiness, her dark, hidden fears and the lonely, hard road she walks.
Over time she will also reap the benefits of experiencing the imagery itself.
She learns relaxation methods while in an anxious state.
She discovers that she can communicate and share with another human being while
experiencing intense feelings.
As she gains compassion and respect for her courage in exploring her inner world,
she decreases and finally stops her self-punishing thoughts. As she learns to
remain present to herself and other people while she is in an intense emotional
state, she increases her self-esteem. And as she faces and resolves her inner
terrors she no longer needs to use her old eating disorder escape routes.
The road to recovery from eating disorders is complex. It requires patience,
time, compassion and support as well as a deep appreciation of unconscious processes.
Using guided imagery as part of the treatment can help create links between the
client and her unarticulated inner experience that contributes to her eating disorders.
Joanna Poppink, MFT, licensed psychotherapist, specializes in working with people
with eating disorders and their loved ones.
10573 West Pico Bl. #20, Los Angeles, CA
Joanna Poppink, L.M.F.T. 15563
Eating Disorder Recovery Specialist
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