Eating disorders are a group of mental health conditions that includes anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Roughly 30 million Americans will develop the symptoms of one of these conditions at one time or another. Decades of research indicate that you can potentially ease the symptoms of an eating disorder with the help of psychodrama, or drama therapy. With this therapy, you use acting principles to explore the internal emotional conflicts that drive disordered eating.
Eating Disorder Essentials
All eating disorders involve some sort of disconnection between the nourishing act of consuming food and the effect that this act has on the mind and body. Depending on the specific disorder in question, this disconnection can lead to serious or even fatal consequences that include:
- A dangerously low heart rate
- Dangerously low or high blood pressure
- Electrolyte imbalances that damage the heart or trigger severe dehydration
- Ruptures in the gastrointestinal tract
- Tooth loss
- Loss of muscle tissue
- Type 2 diabetes
- Pancreatitis (pancreas inflammation)
Most people are familiar with anorexia and bulimia. However, the most common eating disorder is binge eating disorder, which includes the food binging behavior found in people with bulimia but does not include the food purging behavior that comes with that illness.
What Is Psychodrama?
Psychodrama helps patients explore aspects of their thoughts and emotions that they tend to hide from themselves and others. During each session, participants go through a warm-up exercise designed to create a mutual atmosphere of trust, safety and togetherness. Next, during the active phase of a session, each participant uses dramatic techniques to act out personally relevant scenes with the help of the therapist (and, in some cases, other group members). For people with eating disorders, these scenes may directly or indirectly touch upon food-related issues. In the final sharing phase of psychodrama, the therapist helps each participant process uncovered emotions.
Does It Help?
Psychodrama can provide a number of benefits for people affected by eating disorders. First, it can help people see beyond the emotional/psychological perspective that supports a dysfunctional pattern of eating. It can also help people with eating disorders:
- Understand what’s driving their behaviors
- Take responsibility for their eating behaviors
- Understand the roles played by other people in their lives
- Develop supportive relationships with others and healthier coping skills
Therapists will make a case-by-case assessment to determine which patients will likely benefit from incorporating psychodrama into their eating disorder treatment. Sources: National Eating Disorders Association: Types & Symptoms of Eating Disorders National Eating Disorders Association: Get the Facts on Eating Disorders American Counseling Association: Drama Therapy as a Counseling Intervention for Individuals With Eating Disorders