Feminist therapy offers the idea that much of what we call mental illness may actually be demonstrations of social disease and symbolic responses to sex and gender roles.
Many disorders in women (including eating disorders) can be seen as a predictable responses to the long term preferential treatment of men.
Additionally, eating disorders like anorexia may find their genesis and function as a prevention/survival response to traumas historically occurring for women at higher rates than their men counterparts (i.e. rape, domestic violence, etc)
Feminist therapists suggest social factors are at least as important to explore when considering a woman’s psychological wellbeing as understanding her personal and family history.
As a woman who has had the blessing and misfortune of being both therapist and patient in recovery from anorexia nervosa, I have come to identify as a feminist therapist and propose the following areas as important topics for exploration in therapy:
We are pressured in contemporary American culture have a good, rational reason for all we do. However, part of eating disorder recovery is also knowing how to go with the gut and follow desires. It’s getting in touch with the “I wanna” feelings as much as the “I ought to” sensations. It’s permission to have wants, not just needs and shoulds. In anorexia recovery, it’s often a sign of recovery when one has found a balance between responsibility and pleasure.
We are also encouraged in our culture to see dependency as weakness and condemn asking for help. We are discouraged from being clingy or needy lest we be a burden. Self-efficacy is important but so is healthy interdependency with others. Eating disorder recovery is not a “do-it-yourself” project. A signpost of recovery can be getting to the place of realizing that even if you could do it on your own, would you really want to? Dependence and anti-dependence can be equally (and simultaneously) problematic for the anorexic.
The sensory and nonverbal in our culture is often deemed childish or crazy. Adults are to think and speak clearly and rationally. Yet how many of us have said “I’m fine” while our eyes were welling with tears or fists clenching? As Bessel Van Der Kolk says. “The body keeps score.” ED recovery takes so much more than “talk therapy”. The senses in the body are doing almost all of the communication. This is why I so strongly believe in the expressive arts as a foundational part of anorexia recovery because it allows communication happen when we are at a loss for words.
Feminist therapy offers the idea that eating disorders aren’t just a patient’s personal problem but rather they are symptoms of social issues that require more than personal therapy. Montecatini supports patients who want opportunities for activism by sponsoring events like Burn The Lies, the next of which will take place Friday, Feb 24 at 5pm at Moonlight Beach.