by Mel Dodworth

Curbing the Craving: How Art Can Heal


Mel Dodworth now works in writing and editing – however, prior to this she worked in social care, helping those who have addiction problems. Mel is herself a recovered addict and felt able to draw on her own battles to care for others less fortunate. She’s a mom to two young girls now and in her spare time she also works for local mental health charities as a volunteer


Curbing the Craving: How Art Can Heal

The way we analyze “craving” and “coping” can carry many different resonances with a range of people. Often the concept of healing takes on many separate components, of which coping is one of them – which is why the overall process of recovery is both complex and sometimes long. Healing entails short-term and long-term processes which an individual will undergo; in the context of binge eating disorder (BED), this means: acknowledging the problem, establishing patterns, identifying potential causes, factors, and triggers, eliminating them or learning to cope with them, and combating BED and moving towards a full recovery from the physical as well as psychological health aspects to become a confident and empowered individual.

Aspects of Healing

While recovery from BED and other eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia can take place in a number of stages, there isn’t always a consecutive order unless it is under a specific step-coordinated program. Eating disorders can be triggered by a range of factors, including chemical composition, lifestyle, culture, etc. and when they become coping mechanisms for dealing with anxiety or depression, for instance, then part of the remedy is to eliminate those factors which might trigger a body into a compulsive response. Yet this can take time and resources – difficult relationships/family life, work/life balance etc. and other pressures cannot always be avoided easily, and possible contributors or causes of BED and other disorders such as trauma cannot be eliminated overnight. Additionally, PTSD may not be the only issue which is tied into BED; depression, anxiety, and other disorders may also play a role.

This is why treatment involves “replacing” the coping desire or need to binge eat with one which is healthier, curbing short-term anxieties and also providing a long-term solution through the process of working through emotions and psychological factors. This is handled in psychiatric as well as therapeutic contexts, and here, both psychological and holistic techniques can be used separately or in conjunction to help individuals in solo or group settings. One of these techniques is an increasingly popular field known as art therapy.

Art therapy operates on the basis of helping people to deal with different situations and factors through the use of various media which are viewed as well as the creation of art works. It is defined commonly as “a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process of making art to improve a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being” and the Free Dictionary defines it as “a form of expressive therapy that uses art materials, such as paints, chalk and markers. Art therapy combines traditional psychotherapeutic theories and techniques with an understanding of the psychological aspects of the creative process, especially the affective properties of the different art materials”.

Art Therapy and Eating Disorders

Art therapy is virtually accessible to everyone; artistic ability is completely irrelevant. People from various backgrounds are able to tap into art therapy to help them mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually; the practice is now being used to help people who suffer from PTSD, anxiety, dementia, and other mental, as well as physical health problems (including terminal illnesses). Because art therapy engages the brain, increases cognition and coordination, and provides a “safe space” in which to communicate, process, and work through feelings which may not be easily accessed by words, it is an ideal approach to healing for many people. This is why it is particularly effective in treating eating disorders.

Art therapy can provide an incredibly useful outlet which explores the constructs of body image and the feelings associated with it. It can serve as a kind of catharsis and it can also help to construct a more confident sense of self within the individual as they embark on a journey of self-discovery and character building. And while this will serve a long-term purpose, the materials introduced through art therapy also give individuals an outlet they can consult when they need to find a way to cope.

Art therapy also branches out into other genres within the arts – there is also music therapy, which operates on the same principles (listening and performing) as well as dance therapy, and film therapy (which is usually based more on the analysis of films which deal with a specific issue). There is also therapy which can be practiced through poetry and other writing mediums in which the freedom of word usage can be liberating and empowering. As these techniques become more widely practiced and more hospitals, schools, museums, private homes, prisons, workshops etc., our society can continue to promote safe, holistic, and proven practices which not only help individuals with eating disorders to cope, but to develop their sense of being.

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