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Editor's e-Note
February 24 to March 1 is Eating Disorders Awareness Week and this month’s E-News Exclusive explores different approaches to understanding and treating these disorders that have the highest mortality rate of all mental health conditions. In this Exclusive we learn that, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, individuals with eating disorders are more vulnerable to comorbid diagnoses such as anxiety disorders; one study showed that 41% also struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Learn how therapists are using integrative therapies vs. one standardized treatment model to benefit their patients with eating disorders and anxiety and/or OCD symptoms.

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— Marianne Mallon, editor
e-News Exclusive
A Different Perspective on Treating Eating Disorders
By Jennifer Mellace

A young patient who has been diagnosed with an eating disorder is preparing for a summer beach vacation with her family. One of her wishes for this vacation is to enjoy popcorn at the boardwalk. The young girl works with her therapist to prepare herself by bringing a bag of popcorn to her session. In the first session, the therapist holds the bag of popcorn while sitting close to her patient and then asks the girl to hold the bag while discussing her anxiety level and what she could do to reframe her thoughts and decrease her anxiety. In the first session, the young girl could only hold the bag, but she couldn’t eat any of the popcorn. During the next session, the girl comes in and immediately pops one piece of popcorn in her mouth. She had mentally prepared herself for eating that piece but couldn’t bring herself to go beyond that. The therapist validates the hard work this young patient did to get to this point and they continue with the exposure therapy.

“For patients with an eating disorder, vacation is out of their comfort zone,” says Kim Coppola, LCSW, MSW, of Kindred Nutrition and Wellness in Frederick, MD. “They will be eating meals out, eating with the family, and being presented with foods that they would not normally eat, which causes a lot of anxiety. This anxiety is often so strong that patients will avoid it at all costs, and so we work to help that person tolerate the discomfort and learn that she can survive and it’s not going to harm her.”

This exposure therapy, which involves repeatedly exposing the patient to those things that trigger fear the most until their anxiety lessens, is a form of treatment that is often used for people who live with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). So why is it being used to treat patients with eating disorders?

Full story »
Tech & Tools
Professors Create Free Research-Backed Games to Train Your Brain

University professors from New York and California designed and developed three digital games—available online and in the iOS and Google Play app stores—to help its users’ brains work more efficiently. While some digital games falsely claim to improve cognitive skills, these three games have actually proven to do so. Evidenced through a series of research studies, these games can help users boost memory, inhibition, and cognitive flexibility.

“Can games actually have positive effects on players? We believe they can, and we designed three games to support learners in developing cognitive skills that researchers have identified as essential for success in daily life, executive functions,” says Jan L. Plass, PhD, Paulette Goddard Professor of Digital Media and Learning Sciences at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture Education and Human Development and cocreator of the games.

Plass—along with his colleagues Bruce D. Homer, PhD, of the Graduate Center, City University of New York and Richard E. Mayer, PhD, of University of California, Santa Barbara—developed the games as a result of a four-year research project funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. The goal of the research was to design targeted computer games that improve cognitive skills—specifically, executive functions such as memory and inhibitory control. Upon discovering that the games successfully improved executive functions after as little play as two hours, the scholars wanted to make them available to the general public for free.

“While some children have access to the best schools and resources, this is not the case for many families from less affluent communities across the nation. We hope these games can help close the gap that this lack of opportunity has created,” Plass continues.

Read more »
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