The Art of Therapy: Using of Arts-Based Therapies in Eating Disorder Treatment

Arts-based therapies are often used to supplement more “traditional” eating disorder treatment protocols in various different settings, ranging from individual therapy to inpatient units. However, as Frisch, Franko & Herzog (2006) note, no published research provides empirical support for the use of arts-based therapies for eating disorder treatment.

You might be wondering: if there is no empirical support, why are clinicians still using these therapeutic practices? You might also be wondering why I’ve chosen to dissect an article from 2006.

I’ll address the first question in this post (teaser: it’s really hard to say!). As for my delving back into the depths of academia, there is surprisingly little literature that touches on arts-based therapy, despite its continued use. This article provides an overview of why this might be, and where we can go from here.


Arts therapy is an umbrella term used to refer to the “medicinal use of creative arts,” including dance and movement, drama, music, and visual arts. The premise of arts-based therapy is that engaging with the arts will facilitate clients’ …

Beyond Simple Solutions: The Need for Complex Ideas in Anorexia Nervosa

I often hesitate to make broad, sweeping claims about the nature, cause, and experience of eating disorders and disordered eating. However, if there is one thing I feel absolutely certain saying about these disorders, it is that they are incredibly complex and multifaceted with no “one-size fits all” solution. So, I was quite excited when I came across a recent article by Michael Strober and Craig Johnson (2012) that explores the complexity of eating disorders and their treatment. Both authors have significant clinical experience treating eating disorders.

This article uses cases studies, literature, and the authors’ collective clinical experience to respond to some of the key controversies surrounding anorexia and its treatment. Among the major controversies that have come to light of late, they focus on two:

  1. Genetic/biological causation (Biologically-based mental illness – BBMI)
  2. Family-based treatment (FBT) as the best form of treatment for adolescents

The authors’ exploration of these topics supports an overall argument: focusing on singular explanations and solutions for anorexia, particularly through the vehement defense of any particular approach, obscures the complexity of the disorder, as well …

Family-Based Treatment for Adolescents with Anorexia Nervosa: Hype or Hope?

When it comes to eating disorder treatment, few (if any) approaches are as divisive as Family-Based Treatment, also known as the Maudsley Method (I’ll use the terms interchangeably) . When I first heard about Maudsley, sometime during my mid-teens, I thought it was scaaary. But, as I’ve learned more about it, I began to realize it is not as scary as I originally thought.

As a side-note: I know many people reading this post know more about Maudsley than I ever will, so your feedback will be very much appreciated, especially if I get something wrong. I should also mention that I never did FBT or any kind-of family treatment/therapy as part of my ED recovery. (I have done family therapy, but it was unrelated to my ED; it was a component of a family member’s treatment for an unrelated mental health issue.)

In this post, I want to briefly explain what the Maudsley Method entails and put it into context. I also want to discuss some of the key research studies testing the efficacy of FBT and some …

A Study Without a Control Group? Evidence for Enhanced Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Adults with Anorexia Nervosa

Here’s a quick tip: when a study that purports to find evidence of treatment effectiveness–preliminary or not–doesn’t have a control group (a group that doesn’t undergo treatment but is otherwise similar to the group that does), you should raise your eyebrows. Or shake your head. Or roll your eyes. Whichever you prefer.

Why do we need a control group? If the treatment works, we will see improvement in the patients, so isn’t that evidence enough? Well, no.

[T]he whole idea of an experiment is to identify two identical groups of people and then to manipulate something. One group gets an experimental treatment, and one does not. If the group that gets the treatment (e.g., a drug, exposure to a violent video game) behaves differently than the control group that did not get the treatment, we can attribute the difference to the treatment – but only if we can rest assured that the two groups were similar prior to the treatment…  

The key issue is that it is always important to have a control group if you want to assess

Chronicity in Eating Disorders: How Do We Define It and What Do We Do About It?

It comes as no surprise that the earlier eating disordered individuals receive treatment, the higher the likelihood that they will make a full recovery. In other words, the duration of the illness is inversely proportional with the likelihood of full recovery.

The problem is that a lot of eating disorders are not caught early. That a lot of people don’t have access to the treatment they need. Insurance will not cover it, their doctors don’t think it is a problem or won’t treat it, or there is simply no space. And even if there is space, and insurance will  cover it, dropout rates are incredibly high and treatment success is meager. The end result? Sometimes it is a success story – a full or partial recovery. But other times, the stories make headlines across the world, and not for good reason.

So then, what can we do about the individuals who don’t recover within the first one or two years of getting sick?

Again, it comes as no surprise that this question has not been explored in much …

How Can We Treat Chronic and Severe Anorexia Nervosa? (On the Need for New Approaches)

Treating anorexia nervosa is hard. Treating chronic and severe anorexia nervosa is a lot harder. Although the situation seems to be improving, there are really no evidence-based treatments for anorexia nervosa – particularly for those who have been sick for a long time.

Patients with severe and enduring anorexia nervosa have one of the most challenging disorders in mental health care  (Strober, 2010).They have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness with markedly reduced life expectancy (Harbottle et al., 2008). At 20 years the mortality rate is 20%, and given the young age of onset this results in many young adults dying in their 30s, and a further 5–10% every decade thereafter (Steinhausen, 2002)… Patients are often under- or unemployed, on sickness benefits, suffer multiple medical complications… have repeated admissions to general and specialist medical facilities, and are frequent users of primary care services (Birmingham and Treasure, 2010; Robinson, 2009).. pose a significant burden to parents and carers (Treasure et al., 2001).

The treatments that many often claim are evidence-based are often only applicable to a select subgroup …

Should Insurance Companies Cover Residential Treatment for Eating Disorders?

Should insurance companies cover residential treatment for eating disorders?  The price tag is high, about $1,000/day on average, but evidence of treatment effectiveness  is astonishingly low. Practically nil, as I’ve recently discovered. Despite spending my free time punching away different keywords into the PubMed search bar, I came up with very little. And you know what I think? I think treatment centers should be embarrassed. And I think, wow, maybe insurance companies have a point? (A scary thought! I don’t actually think they do, though – but then, I just can’t wrap my head around for-profit healthcare, having lived all my life with socialized healthcare, and loving it.)

Carrie over at ED-Bites recently blogged about the fact that there a dearth of evidence-based treatment for eating disorders. It is a complicated issue, I know, but I do think that any organization or center that offers treatment (especially at such a high price) has no excuse when it comes to providing information about the effectiveness of its programs. I’ll repeat that: they have no excuse.  So, can I …

The Research-Practice Gap in Eating Disorder Treatment

The approaches used in clinical practice to treat patients often lag behind the most up-to-date developments in research. It can take a long time to integrate scientific findings into clinical practice. This, of course, is not limited to eating disorders or even mental health issues. This so-called “science-practice gap” exists for many reasons, which vary depending on the medical discipline.

This issue, though, seems particularly bad when it comes to eating disorder treatment.

There’s the issue of conducting good studies – how do we determine what is efficacious? That’s a complicated task. What is “recovery” and how long is long-enough for follow-up? Is what we consider to be efficacious really efficacious or just slightly better than the rest?

Then there’s the training: mental health seems to be undervalued in medical school curricula for one, but even more importantly: “Clinicians tend to give more weight to their personal experiences than to science when making treatment decision.” And can’t you really blame them, most of us tend to stick to what we know and to doing things the way we were …