The Role of Art in Eating Disorder Recovery

Humans have utilized art as a means of processing and communicating for many years, but its formal application in mental health treatment began in the early 1940s. By integrating art into the recovery process for eating disorders, one can overcome various obstacles and resistance, thus making it highly advantageous.

Some reasons for this include individuals with eating disorders choosing someone to have someone choose not to have an eating disorder.

  • Childhood trauma experienced at a young age.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  • Social distress or societal pressure to conform.
  • Unhealthy family relationships.
  • Challenges with gender identity or feelings of embarrassment when exploring or identifying sexual orientation.
  • The impact of culture on the perception of body image.
  • Low self-confidence and negative body perception.
  • The pressure to conform to a specific physique in athletics.
  • Impacts of dietary culture.
  • When examining this list, a few key themes stand out, including the verification and attractiveness, feeling of being part of a group, approval, security, and authority, which are all fundamental requirements for individuals with eating disorders.

    Alterations Resulting from an Eating Disorder

    Using art therapy is very helpful in eating disorder recoveryOnce an eating disorder has formed, the individual’s brain is affected in the way they process information due to malnourishment, severe distress, fear, and extreme preoccupation with food and weight. These changes can create barriers to therapeutic progress when using talk therapy.

    This is a challenging response to the normal disorder eating experienced by individuals, as it relies significantly on the individual’s ability to access and justify their eating disorder verbally, as mentioned above. (Hinz, 2006, p.9)

    It is important to be aware that although there are some crucial ways in which meeting needs before being met, it is important to be aware of an eating disorder. This is why art is useful because it can help individuals reflect on and change beyond their eating disorder, as the abstract nature of art does not directly challenge them.

    The Role of Art in the Recovery from Eating Disorders

    (P.26) According to Rabin (2003), the use of art in therapy allows individuals to produce a more truthful and authentic expression of themselves, as well as explore away from barriers such as resistance and denial. Many individuals who have experienced art therapy describe it as a meditative process that enables them to quickly address the core of an issue, bypassing the need for verbal language. As Hinz states, art therapy utilizes images, which can effectively cut to the heart of an issue.

    Before engaging in the art activity, it is recommended to participate in a brief relaxation, breathing, or mindfulness exercise. An artistic depiction illustrating the emergence of an eating disorder due to unfulfilled needs and its subsequent impact on one’s quality of life and ability to follow through can offer a valuable art encounter.

    This is one of my favorite art directives, as it can be done at home using simple supplies found in the house, either by creating a two-part visual using a folding piece of paper or by making a collage or drawing with materials found around the house (Hinz, 2006).

    The actuality of residing with the eating disorder will be depicted on the right side. Generate a graphical depiction of the commitments or necessities that were perceived to be fulfilled by the eating disorder on the left half.

    It is recommended to engage in processing this experience with a reliable companion, group therapy, or individual therapy. To facilitate future reflection on the fulfillment of promises and needs, sign and date the completed piece (p.49) and conclude the instruction.


    Columbia University Press in New York City published a book called “The Art of Eating Disorders: Therapy and Art in Dreams” by M. Rabin in 2003. Another book titled “Using Art to Treat Eating Disorders: Drawing from Within” by L. D. Hinz was published by Jessica Kingsley in London in 2006.

    About the Writer:

    Jessica Boghosian ImageJessica Boghosian, ACSW, is a Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker and a Clinical Therapist at Bright Road Recovery in Claremont, CA. She lives for the present moment and shares her warmth and joy at every chance she gets. Jessica currently works with individuals with eating disorders at various levels of care, including Residential, Partial Hospitalization, Intensive Outpatient, and Outpatient. She also works with individuals with other mental health diagnoses at an outpatient level of care.

    She holds a Master’s in Social Work from the University of England and currently works towards licensure. It is evident that Jessica loves her work with patients at Bright Recovery Road. She aims to meet each patient where they are in their recovery journey and walks beside them. Jessica dedicates herself to increasing their love for themselves and life, and she honors the individual journey of each patient.

    Our guest contributors provide a broad perspective on eating disorders, sharing their views and opinions. The aim is to offer a discussion on various issues by individuals who are concerned about different aspects, not necessarily limited to the views of Hope Disorder Eating.

    If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope. We understand that eating disorders can result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and we are here to help you find immediate professional assistance.