Psychological Treatment for Eating Disorders

Psychological Treatment for Eating Disorders

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Eating disorders have had a substantial affect on today's society. In a recent study of female high school and college students, it was found that 15.4% of these women met the clinical criteria for an eating disorder (Lemberg and Cohn 7). Anorexia and bulimia are the two main eating disorders that these students suffered from. Anorexia is defined as being the cycle of self-starvation and the fear of gaining weight as well as low self-esteem. Bulimia is defined as the cycle of over-eating, vomiting, dieting, and exercising in an attempt to rid the body of food (Hoffmann 3). There are many treatments for these disorders. It is extremely unlikely that there will ever be a fool-proof cure for eating disorders; however, psychological treatment is necessary in the healing process.
There are many causes for eating disorders. Mental causes make up a good number of these. There are two main mental causes that both eating disorders stem from. The first cause is the pressure from society. These pressures may be specifically about weight or about other things. A pressure specifically about eating is that many women feel they must diet because of conversations about weight, size, and shape (Hoffmann 2). Another pressure that deals with weight, size, and shape specifically is television, magazines, and ads for diets, fitness, and cosmetic surgery. A woman only needs to turn on, open up, or catch a glimpse of these things to immediately feel pressured to be thin (Lemberg and Cohn 27). The other pressures society causes are pressures about public appearances and social events. Many women use food to calm their anxiety about certain social events. Other women even eat more at home before they attend social events to hide their overeating. This process only backfires because they end up eating more food than they would normally. The women who use the food to calm themselves cause themselves greater anxiety on how they look after they eat the food (Poppink 7). The second mental cause of eating disorders is that many women feel the need to be in control. They gain the control they need from their food. "The control they exercise over their body prevents them from feeling out of control or lost." Many of them use this control to forget other feelings of loneliness, insecurity, and depression (Hoffmann 2).

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These two mental causes are the most significant causes of most eating disorder cases.
The treatment of these causes only begins the recovery from eating disorders. There are two main mental treatments used. They are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Solution-Based Brief Therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the treatment that is most often used. "It is based on the premise that cultural pressure to be thin leads some individual to develop distorted attitudes about eating, weight, and shape." It uses this belief to regulate eating as well as ridding the patient of obsessive dieting. It does all this while it promotes healthy eating and also decreases cognitive fears about eating, shape, and weight (Cohen 1). This type of therapy is usually short-term and very structured. It also focuses on the present as opposed to other treatments that look for the solutions to the problem in the past. Solution-Based Brief Therapy uses seven main principles to actively treat patients. The first principle is to put the focus on the clients and their families. In this principle the therapists make sure the clients know that they are more than capable of helping themselves out of their situation. The second principle is to work with the clients to build cooperative relationships. This principle basically gives the therapists and the clients a level ground to work with each other on. The third principle is to picture life without the problem. This allows the patients to gain perspective on where they are and where they are going. It also allows them to picture what it will feel like when they get there. The fourth principle is to develop a working contract. This enables patients to feel progress as they come closer to recovery. The fifth principle is to use a team approach. This essentially allows everyone in the patients' lives to get involved. The sixth principle is to negotiate the end of therapy at the beginning. This gives both the therapists and the patients a goal to reach for. The last principle is to assign homework. This allows the patients to work on their problems between therapy sessions (Lemberg and Cohn 155-158). Both of these treatments have a good start on the recovery to eating disorders.
The most important part of recovery from eating disorders is the success of the treatments used. Case studies and statistics are the two most valid ways to determine their success. The mental treatments of eating disorders have both great statistics and case studies. Out of at least 20 studies that evaluated the efficiency of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the majority found that CBT is the best treatment for bulimia. The majority of recent studies have also shown that CBT is useful in preventing relapse in anorexia nervosa (Lemberg and Cohn 128). Case studies are more difficult to sort through. Yet the studies of CBT and Solution-Based Brief Therapy have been very helpful in the validation of the two treatments. In a case study of a 21-year-old bulimic using CBT, she was free of binge eating and vomiting by the fourth month and had reduced her exercise to 45 minutes, four days a week. She also began to exercise for health rather than the simple ridding the body of calories (Lemberg and Cohn 132). The success of this treatment should give society hope for the future.
Overcoming an eating disorder is a lifetime process that must consist, in part, of psychological treatment. Eating disorders will continue to be a problem in society far into the future. Once society enables the patients themselves to prevent the problem as a whole there will no longer be 15.4% of the high school and college female population suffering from eating disorders. However, until there is a complete prevention, the focus must be on treatment.
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