Emotional Trauma and Eating Disorder Treatment

Emotional Trauma and Eating Disorder Treatment

Often times a person will experience trauma, which can be trauma with a capital “T”, like physical abuse, a natural disaster, or a sexual assault, or it can be trauma with a small “t” which could be an emotional or relational trauma. In addition to experiencing a trauma, the person often does not have the skills or personal resources to cope with the trauma. This may lead to feeling emotionally or mentally out of control and lead the individual to use food restriction, bingeing, or bingeing/purging to gain a sense of control and avoid the discomforting results of the trauma. As the disturbed patterns related to food increase, an eating disorder may develop, which becomes their primary method of distracting themselves and regulating their emotions.

As most people are aware of what constitutes a capital “T” trauma, we will spend some time discerning small “t” emotional traumas. In order to develop into a capable adult, we require certain things from our primary caregiver, such as trust, feeling understood, responding to our needs, and teaching us how to regulate our emotions through both modeling and teaching us skills. If these criteria are not met, an emotional trauma can develop. Additionally, by nature, some people have a more sensitive temperament such that they are more attuned with their environment. These individuals need “super caregivers” who are very responsive to slight changes in their demeanor and highly responsive to their needs. These “super caregivers” also need to regulate their own emotions well when interacting with the sensitive person. At times, an emotional trauma can occur when a primary caregiver is overwhelmed with either their own needs or a family or work situation may pull them in multiple directions so that the young person does not feel heard or understood. Later in life, emotional trauma can occur from significant others, peers, and other important people in someone’s life.

At The Meadows Ranch, the treatment team recognizes that eating disorder treatment has to take into account the origin of the eating disorder and if emotional trauma played a part in its development. Knowing this, the clinical team recognizes that all features of trauma must be treated along with the eating disorder. If not, the related consequences of maladaptive behavior will pop back up through the person’s life and lead to a relapse of their eating disorder behaviors or to another maladaptive coping strategy such as using substances or self-harm.

The first step in effective eating disorder treatment includes nutritional rehabilitation. The Registered Dietitians at The Meadows Ranch guide this process specific to the needs of the individual patient. The clinical teams know that if the brain is not well nourished then accomplishing the necessary therapeutic work is not possible because the patients’ thinking is not clear. Additionally, most patients are unable to develop insightful connections between their maladaptive behaviors and past events on their own.

Through group and individual work at The Meadows Ranch, we teach skills in DBT, ACT, and CBT to help patients learn to cope with difficult emotions as they arise, by practicing better emotion regulation skills on an in-the-moment basis. As these foundational steps are established, patients will begin more in-depth therapeutic work to address their traumas to the best of their capability with the guidance of their clinical team.

At The Meadows Ranch we work to meet the needs of the individual patient. There are several program feature which may be used such as EMDR, Acupuncture, equine therapy, cognitive restructuring, family work, psychodrama, and use of the on-site Brain Center. Our goal is for patients to process the traumas and recognize the impact on their lives, which may manifest in any number of ways including, but not limited to, eating disorder behaviors. The final component of treatment is to help patients gain further connections in their lives for the reason that people tend to heal through relationships and by learning how to establish healthy boundaries.

At The Meadows Ranch, we see patients as complex individuals with common needs of nurturance and respect. Our staff strives to support each patient in learning to live in peace with others, with food, and with themselves. We find that a solid foundation in recovery is possible using the multitude of resources made available to those who seek treatment at The Meadows Ranch.

Leave a Reply