Psychotherapy and eating disorders

  • By Team TDO

Eating disorders are serious mental disorders where the person is extremely obsessed with his/her weight for any reason and is constantly thinking about ways to lose weight. The obsession is so overwhelming that it takes a toll on all aspects of life.

Eating disorders are of various types:

  1. Bulimia Nervosa: Where the person vomits out everything after eating in an attempt to lose weight.
  2. Anorexia Nervosa: Where the person starves himself chronically to lose weight
  3. Binge Eating: Where a person eats well and after a while purges it all out.

Treating a person with anorexia can be extremely difficult. The person has a strong self-belief that her body is distorted and there is always a little weight that is extra that has to be lost. This negative self-perception can be the result of several stressors. What one needs to concentrate on, is this negative self-perception. In doing so, psychotherapy can be of great help. Psychotherapy is the process where with a multi-disciplinary approach one reaches the root cause of the problem and resolves it. The following are the main methods of psychotherapy used in treating anorexia and other eating disorders:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: This method focuses on understanding how a person's thinking works and then works upon positively altering those thoughts. In the case of anorexia, the pattern of false thinking and belief about one's body is recognized objectively and altered, thus changing the way one thinks about food and eliminating this unhealthy reaction to it.

Interpersonal Therapy: Here the therapist doesn't deal with the body weight and food at all. Instead, the fears, insecurities and pressures that form the basis for such a negative perception of the body are the ones that are dealt with.

The therapist encourages patients to:

  1. Express their feelings.
  2. Motivates them to discover ways to tolerate uncertainty.
  3. Helps them develop a strong sense of independence.
  4. Helps them speak out about any traumatic, sexual or abusive event in the past that may have become a basis for this eating disorder.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy: This is a form of behavioural therapy that employs an aggressive and emphatic approach towards the thinking pattern of an anorexic person. Motivation to understand the effects of starving and motivation to adopt better eating habits forms the core here. This is often offered as a group therapy.

Family Therapy: Anorexia is a disorder that not only affects the individual but her family as a whole. Hence family therapy sessions form an important part of the recovery process. Involving the family in the process helps them understand anorexia better and their inputs about ways with dealing the negative thoughts.

The methods to treat anorexia are all individualistic. Each sufferer has reasons specific to them and the same method cannot be used for all. It requires great skill and experience on the part of the therapist to deal with such disorders.