An article on Anorexia and Art therapy

Anorexia Nervosa and Art Therapy: Supporting an Adolescent Through Art

Malinda Hill

April 7, 1998


Anorexia nervosa is a bewildering form of human suffering. It confounds most peoples’ sensibilities and is a daunting challenge, even for the most experienced therapists. Hilde Bruch (1978), who has written extensively on the theory and practice of psychotherapy in anorexia nervosa, considers anorexia to be characterized by an underlying disturbance in the development of self, identity and autonomy. The process of therapy with anorexic individuals involves helping them 1. discover their creative and human potential and 2. give up the hateful, unlovable, empty and defective self image that underlies the illness.
Bruch believes that traditional psychoanalytic interpretative therapeutic approaches only confirm the client’s sense of inadequacy and interfere with the development of self-awareness. Bruch devised a therapeutic approach aimed at centering, cultivating, and nurturing the self. The role of the therapist is to provide, through encouragement and support, an opportunity for growth and healing of the self.

Successful treatment of anorexia nervosa entails a complex integration of therapeutic and medical approaches since both physical and psychological issues must be dealt with. Consistent change in her abnormal eating patterns becomes possible when some of her underlying problems have been resolved, particularly those involving relationships and personal communication. Therefore, in order to begin the lengthy process of recovery, the client needs to be involved in a supportive therapeutic relationship where she is introduced to more direct methods of communication.


Bruch (1973) suggested that art therapy could be used as a means of stimulating the individual’s awareness of feelings. Mitchell (1980) also views artwork as a valuable tool to gain self-awareness. He contends that art work represents a less threatening and more controlled means of expression. Wolf, Willmuth & Watkins (1985) also agree that art therapy helps to increase an individual’s awareness of unrecognized or unacknowledged feelings, becomes an outlet for expression, and offers an opportunity to increase self-control. Wolf (1985) found that the artwork serves as a good indicator of the issues and conflicts occupying the client.

According to Wadeson (1980), the ideal qualities of an art therapist include honesty, empathy, consistency and respect. Wadeson emphasizes the importance of a non-judgmental, flexible style, a caring attitude, and a genuine concern and an ability to instill trust and confidence. Despite a reluctance to admit it, and anorexic adolescent desperately needs another person who relates to her honestly. Through a supportive therapeutic relationship, the adolescent is encouraged to express her feelings and explore her Continued here…

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