August 30, 2023

EMDR For Eating Disorder Recovery

Discover how Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy shows promise in treating eating disorders in our blog post.

By Annie Wright|EMDR
Woman sitting in car, looking out.

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions with significant physical and psychological impacts. 

The treatment for these disorders usually requires a comprehensive approach, including psychotherapy, nutritional counseling, and medication. 

One therapeutic technique that has shown promise in treating various mental health conditions, including eating disorders, is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

Can EMDR Help with Recovering from an Eating Disorder? 

EMDR, a psychotherapy technique initially developed for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Shapiro & Maxfield, 2002), employs bilateral stimulation, like eye movements, to facilitate the processing and integration of distressing memories and emotions (Lee & Cuijpers, 2013). 

Its purpose is to assist individuals in reprocessing traumatic encounters,and alleviating associated distress and symptoms. 

Numerous studies have examined the efficacy of EMDR in addressing eating disorders.

In a randomized experimental trial, researchers compared women undergoing standard residential treatment for eating disorders with women who received standard treatment along with EMDR therapy (Javinsky et al., 2022). 

The group receiving EMDR exhibited positive changes in negative body image and other clinical outcomes. 

These findings highlight the potential benefits of incorporating EMDR into the standard treatment approach for eating disorders.

A recent case study explored the efficacy of combining Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in treating young adults with restrictive food intake disorder. 

The study, conducted by Scelles and Bulnes (2021), yielded positive results. 

Although the body of evidence supporting the effectiveness of EMDR in treating eating disorders remains limited, there is a burgeoning interest in its potential benefits.

A systematic review exploring the use of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) as a treatment for conditions beyond post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) discovered beneficial effects across various pathological situations. 

These include eating disorders (Scelles & Bulnes, 2021). 

Furthermore, a meta-analysis focusing on EMDR’s impact on mental health problems emphasized its potential in processing traumatic memories and managing current stressful situations, both of which are relevant factors in the context of eating disorders (Cuijpers et al., 2020).

Research studies have consistently shown a strong association between trauma exposure and the development of eating disorders. 

For some individuals, disordered eating behaviors may emerge as a way to cope with the emotional pain and distress caused by traumatic events.

For example, individuals who have experienced physical or emotional abuse may resort to restricting their food intake as a way to exert control over their bodies when they feel powerless in other aspects of their lives. 

Similarly, others may turn to binge eating or purging behaviors as a means of numbing themselves from painful memories or emotions.

Emotional Regulation and Coping Mechanisms

Trauma can also disrupt an individual’s emotional regulation, making it challenging to cope with distressing emotions effectively. 

This can manifest in eating disorder symptoms, where food or the lack of it becomes a way to regulate emotions and provide a temporary sense of relief.

Additionally, distorted body image, a common feature of eating disorders, can be influenced by the negative self-perceptions that often result from trauma. 

The trauma survivor may develop a warped perception of their body due to the trauma they experienced.

The Importance of Trauma-Informed Care

Understanding the link between eating disorders and trauma is crucial for providing effective treatment. 

Approaches that address trauma, such as EMDR therapy, can be valuable in helping individuals process and heal from the emotional wounds of their past.

A trauma-informed treatment approach recognizes that many individuals with eating disorders may have trauma histories and seeks to create a safe and supportive environment for their recovery journey. 

By addressing the underlying trauma, individuals can gain insights into the root causes of their disordered eating behaviors and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

How Do I Begin Treatment For My Eating Disorder with EMDR? 

If you suspect that trauma may underlie your eating disorder symptoms or if you have a history of past traumas, consider adding EMDR therapy as a valuable component to your treatment plan. 

Here’s a guide to embarking on your healing journey with EMDR:

  • Step 1: Finding a Trauma-Informed EMDR Therapist: Working with a qualified EMDR therapist who specializes in trauma and eating disorders is crucial for effective treatment. Seek out therapists who hold certifications and have received training from reputable organizations like the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA), ensuring adherence to the highest standards of practice. At Evergreen Counseling, 11 out of our 18 therapists are skilled EMDR therapists who excel in addressing eating disorders.

  • Step 2: Initial Assessment: Your EMDR therapist will carefully assess your individual history, trauma experiences, and eating disorder symptoms. This comprehensive evaluation enables the customization of an EMDR treatment plan that effectively meets your specific needs.

  • Step 3: Building Trust and Coping Skills: EMDR therapy entails delving into past traumatic memories, a process that can evoke intense emotions. Prior to this, your therapist places great emphasis on fostering a robust therapeutic alliance and equipping you with invaluable coping strategies to navigate any emotional challenges that may arise.

  • Step 4: Processing Trauma with EMDR: At the heart of EMDR treatment lies the processing of traumatic memories and the emotions that accompany them. For example, if you’ve endured childhood neglect that has contributed to your binge eating disorder, EMDR can be a valuable tool to navigate those memories and alleviate their adverse influence on your current behavior.

  • Step 5: Integration and Continued Support: Throughout your EMDR sessions, you’ll progressively assimilate the profound insights gained from processing traumatic memories into your everyday life. Your therapist will continue to offer support and guidance as you strive towards cultivating a harmonious and nurturing connection with food and your body.

EMDR therapy provides a hopeful pathway for individuals seeking healing from trauma symptoms during their journey toward eating disorder recovery. 

By addressing the core trauma, EMDR facilitates transformative change, enabling individuals to nurture a healthier connection with food, body image, and self-esteem.

Keep in mind that healing is a gradual journey, and enlisting the help of a skilled trauma therapist experienced in EMDR can play a vital role in your recovery. 

At Evergreen Counseling, we understand the importance of finding an eating disorder or EMDR therapist who resonates with you.

We invite you to take the next step toward your well-being by booking a complimentary 20-minute consultation call with us

Explore this website, reach out to us here or call us at 510-373-2723 to schedule your consultation.

References: 

  1. Christopher W. Lee1, Pim Cuijpers2 2013Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
  2. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for mental health problems: a systematic review and meta-analysis Pim Cuijpers1, Suzanne C. van Veen2, Marit Sijbrandij3 et al. 2020Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
  3. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): Information processing in the treatment of trauma, Francine Shapiro1, Louise Maxfield2 2002J. Clin. Psychol.
  4. EMDR as Treatment Option for Conditions Other Than PTSD: A Systematic Review Charles Scelles1, Luis Carlo Bulnes2 2021Front. Psychol.
  5. Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing: part 2 – wider use in stress and trauma conditions, Tori-Rose Javinsky1, Itoro Udo2, Tuoyo Awani3 2022BJPsych advances

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