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Treating the Eating Disorder Self: A Comprehensive Model for the Social Work Therapist
By Mary Anne Cohen, LCSW
NASW Press

Reaching wide and deep, Treating the Eating Disorder Self is the first book to explore both the inner and outer worlds of the emotional eater, providing a clinical perspective and an analysis of how psychodynamics, multicultural issues, sexual identity conflicts, and social media impact clients’ relationships with food and their bodies. Both novice and seasoned therapists will feel enlightened and encouraged by the author’s nuanced approach to tailoring treatment to the unique fingerprint that every client presents.

Using 200-plus case examples from her practice as the director of the New York Center for Eating Disorders, Mary Anne Cohen, LCSW, provides an in-depth view of how abuse, trauma, attachment disorders, and personality traits contribute to dysregulated eating. She examines how factors such as PTSD, cognitive fallacies, and mood and personality disorders impact eating dysfunction as well as treatment approaches such as dialectical behavioral therapy, intuitive eating, Health At Every Size®, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and medication.

The author illustrates how the client’s relationship with the therapist can be a major tool for enabling clients to overcome their primary fear of trusting food more than people. Through case examples, Cohen describes the therapist’s essential work as staying attuned to the tension clients feel throughout therapy as they yearn to give up their eating disorder and fear the emotional pain they will experience when it is gone. To help clients learn to trust the therapist, and subsequently themselves, she stresses the need for authenticity by both parties, from laughter to tears, and their ongoing reflection on, and examination of, what is happening within the relationship.

What sets this book’s approach apart from that of other “how to” treatment models is its focus on how clients’ gender and culture affect their views of their bodies and the meaning of food in their lives. She uses her vast experience working with Black, Hispanic, Asian, Muslim, Orthodox Jewish, and Native American women and men with varying gender identities and issues to explore how several factors are integral to assessment and treatment and how they bear on an affected client’s perception of themselves through their own eyes and those of society. As well, Cohen encourages clinicians to shed their biases and preconceived notions by viewing clients in context and exploring intrapsychic gender and cultural issues along with more traditional “clinical” aspects that bear on eating dysregulation.

No book on treating eating disorders would be complete without examining the considerable impact that social media has on clients’ experience of themselves and their world. The author takes a neutral stance on social media, explaining how it can harm or help the client. She also addresses issues such as telemental health and the nature and role of therapist-client communications in their relationship, all with an eye toward assessing what works for the client and what doesn’t.

In order to heal the eating disorder self of the client, the therapist must “unlock the past, revitalize the present, and create hope for the future.” This book teaches therapists how to do all that and more.

— Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, MEd, is a licensed psychotherapist, motivational speaker, and international author who has specialized in the field of compulsive, emotional, and restrictive eating for more than 30 years.