The development of an eating disorder is in itself an act of communication. It is an extreme form of communication that the unconscious undertakes to protect the person from other very painful and deep issues. Dramatherapy supports a client to work through these at the safe distance of talking about them through character, or through stories and myths, at a place where the client may not be consciously aware. It is a gentle approach that supports the client into awareness of feelings and behaviors otherwise locked in the unconscious. This awareness allows for healing from the pathological communication that is the eating disorder.
As a client explores different means and media of expressing themselves, within the safety of the relationship with the therapist and with the group (if in group therapy), an increase in confidence unfolds. This is a significant aspect of working therapeutically with people with eating disorders many of whom have very low levels of self-esteem.
The therapist engages different creative techniques to support the client at the stage of recovery where they may be at. Sensory exercises support reintegration of the connection between the body and the mind; exploring meaning through images, masks and props that are external to the body support the client’s connecting with the internal and unconscious aspects of their being and developing trust in the therapeutic relationship before being able to engage through their body; improvisation and dramatic play support them to grow more confident in their body and explore new ways of being.
Because dramatherapy engages both the body and the mind, the process works towards healing the connection. For example, we often use sensory exercises that allow a person to reconnect relationally. Sensory exercises can be a mindful experience supporting the client to relax while focusing on a positive experience that engages both their body and their mind allowing, amongst other things, relief from anxieties.
The experience of engaging creatively through the body can be experienced as threatening, especially by the notion of ‘being watched’ that comes with drama. Working in the body and ‘being seen’ touch upon the most sensitive areas for people with eating disorders. Hence the use of distancing techniques (through images and stories) and working through external media ( cloths and plaster of Paris) before moving into dramatizations.
As clients are moving through different stages of recovery and they become more comfortable with the dramatherapy process, a process of dramatic play and improvisation can support them to discover new ways of being in their body. The disorder manifests through rigid ways of being in the body. Dramatic play also supports developing a more spontaneous way of being that is essential for day-to-day healthy functioning.