A young person's perspective on art therapy and eating disorders

In this video, we hear from a young person who participated in art therapy. She reflects on how art therapy helped her express how having an eating disorder affected life and how it made her feel. She also gives insight into how creating art makes it easier to have open discussions about difficult topics and memories.

Audio Transcription:

YP: It’s like a table, but it’s a cloud. And it was anchored down, but the rope snapped. And there’s four people sitting at it, all ready to eat dinner. But on the place where I’d sit the food is kind of like a monster, there’s barbed wire around it and the magnifying glass is on the monster to make it look bigger.

And then everybody else’s plates – there’s an eye where their food would be, sort of looking at where I’d be. And the knife and the fork have faces and arms and legs, like ready to run away.

Therapist: Is there a sort of like a map? A world map?

YP: Yeah.

Therapist: Can you say a bit about that? Or what that bit’s about?

YP: Sort of that, at that point the food was like my world. It was all that was going on.

Therapist: It seems like it was a very scary place.  

YP: Yeah. Pencils were what felt safest. Just to use that and get messy and not have so much control over it either. Yeah.

Therapist: So, going back, looking in the picture again. So now the possibility of eating, the knives and forks would run away. So, you couldn’t eat, and the food was monstrous. I’m just thinking about the eyes of the other three people’s food. Can you say a bit about that?  

YP: When we used to eat all together, all their plates always have more food on than mine and look different and they’d just look at me. Like I don’t know, just sit there. I hated it, being there. I’d rather just be on my own or at least just with mum. But when there’s too many people, it was just horrible. 

Therapist: When you look at your relationship to food there, what’s your relationship to food now?

YP: It’s a lot better now, but sometimes I still think about food in that way. But I suppose it’s easier just to get on with it and just be okay with food.

Therapist: I remember you describing you never had any enjoyment of food. Are you able to enjoy it at all now?

YP: Suppose that’s a work in progress. And I still think about when seeing the dietician, she talks about food like petrol. And if I want to do lots of stuff then I need more and it’s easier because I want to carry on doing what I do.

Therapist: Tell me what this one’s about.

YP: So, it’s me finding someone that I loved.

Therapist: And it’s about to burst?

YP: Yeah.

Therapist: So, this was a very important time for you because you hadn’t talked to anyone else about being gay, had you?

YP: No, not really.

Therapist: And it’s still sort of like a secret in the family and your mum had guessed a bit, hadn’t she?

YP: Yeah. Well, it wasn’t very nice.

Therapist: And the two of you were literally in a bubble, cut off from other people.

YP: Yeah, only some knew.

Therapist: Then the ending of that relationship was a very important phase for you.

YP: Yeah.

Therapist: How do you think doing that picture helped in the process?  

YP: Getting things out in the open and allowing it to be talked about. Instead of me bringing it up, the picture sort of did it for me. And it felt better that the picture was there first and then talking about it afterwards. More than me talking about it first and then drawing a picture about it.

Therapist: Because it did feel it changed a lot in the therapy after.

YP: Yeah, I think that’s why I did it in pen, not just colour, but it was felt tip. It felt more permanent than pencil.

Therapist: How has, I mean as a general thing, how has art therapy been different from talking? 

YP: Just being allowed not to talk if you don’t want to. It’s not based on talking, so if you don’t want to you can just draw instead of talking which is a lot easier.

Therapist: What would you say has made the most difference for you in art therapy?

YP: Just through pictures… you can find a way to understand. More than just thinking or talking [when] you get confused. It’s easier.

Therapist: Seeing it helps it make sense.

YP: Yeah. 

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