Dramatherapy: an embodied approach to working with people with eating disorders

Client: “This eating disorder is not me!”

Dramatherapist:”Well, who the hell is it then?”


People with an eating disorder will often speak these words, showing the power they feel the eating disorder has over them.

Dr. Laura Wood, the dramatherapist in the dialogue above, brought curiosity and compassion to support the client into understanding the role of their eating disorder and its protective function.

Dr. Wood’s approach, that is congruent with the philosophy of dramatherapy, does not use language admonishing the eating disorder. She works with the client’s resistance to letting go of the eating disorder, playfully giving it expression, supporting her clients to give voice to what the eating disorder represents and thus making space to understand what lies beneath.

Dramatherapy is an embodied approach. This means that it works with the body, giving expression through the body. This can be very difficult for many clients, even more so for people with eating disorders who are so self-conscious of their bodies. Eating disorders are disorders that are played out through the body, and therefore the body is also the place where the healing needs to happen.

The idea of ‘performance’ that dramatherapy conjures up can be very scary! And yet, here lies the healing. There is no audience in a dramatherapy session, only the dramatherapist in one-on-one sessions, and other peers if it is a group setting. Yet expressing oneself and having this witnessed by the therapist and the group members is a significant part of the healing process. Witnessed is a word that we use to mean watched with respect and engagement. Therefore it is precisely because it feels scary to be seen doing some movement or action that it can be healing when one realises the warmth and respect with which one’s movement or action is received – and it invariably is!

I had the recent privilege of participating in a workshop in Bristol lead by dramatherapists Dr. Wood, Martin Redfern and dance therapist Naomi Nygaard. Together with their embodied approach to practise, they also share a background in internal family systems. The workshop in fact focused on an embodied approach to working with people with eating disorders using an integrated application of dramatherapy and internal family systems. Through this approach, the training leaders emphasise the importance of acknowledging the different parts of the person, including the role the eating disorder serves. In this way, the client can be supported to acknowledge the healthy parts of themselves, and to care for those areas that need more support.


For more information on how dramatherapy can be supportive to you or someone you know who has an eating disorder, please call Lou on 99999562, or email loughirlando@gmail.com.



Wood, L.L. (2015) Eating disorder as protector: The use of Internal Family Systems and drama therapy to treat eating disorders in Creative Arts Therapies in Eating Disorders. Ed. Annie Hershifelt. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London, England.

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