All posts by Rachel B

About Rachel B

Board Certified Art Therapist, treating anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

Time to Put on Your “Healthy Eating” Blinders!

I’ve been thinking about how hard it is to know what “healthy” means anymore. Especially when it comes to eating. Practically every which way you turn, it seems that someone has an opinion about what’s good for you and what’s not. If you struggle with an eating disorder or disordered eating, I’m guessing that there are times when Buddha’s demon Mara comes knocking on your door to tempt you with a quick fix.

But you need to remember that your needs are individual. The well-intentioned people out there handing out advice may be feeding you some potentially toxic stuff. Toxic for you that is – it’s not really your place to assess what’s healthy or not healthy for others, so why should it be ok if the tables are reversed?

So go ahead and put on those blinders that help to keep you on track. Know that your own unique path is tailored for you with the help of professionals that know you, your strengths and your struggles. While you can acknowledge that there is a part of you that may always crave a quick fix, you can also rest assured that there is another part of you that knows better – the part that can invite Mara in for tea, look temptation in the face, laugh and resist.

Your true Self knows when you are on the right path when:

  • You are honest and transparent with your doctor.
  • You have a nutritionist and are honest and transparent with her as well.
  • You are making informed decisions about food choices (balance in portion, selection and timing) to get the vitamins and nutrients that your body needs to thrive (notice I didn’t say survive. Thrive!) on a daily basis.
  • You are not restricting in any way (remember that restricting only sets you up for binging).
  • Your doctor and nutritionist are in communication with one another AND you are following the recommendations of your team.
  • You are doing the work, going to appointments utilizing supports that are available to you in forms of people, interests and self-help apps like the Recovery Record.
  • You are paying attention to your body sensations, thoughts, emotions and subsequent behaviors.
  • You know the difference between a craving and a hunger cue and how to act on each of them.
  • You know when a slip is just a slip.
  • You are practicing self-compassion.
  • You are practicing self-care.

I know it can seem like a lot to follow, but my point is that even if your travels aren’t always perfect, there is still always a path you can follow to create and maintain a healthy you.

Keep up the good work – you know you got this!

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in working with women who experience anxiety, depression and eating disorders. 

 

Lighten up! Learning To Embrace Positive Thoughts

Have you ever had the experience of someone casually telling you to “lighten up” when in the midst of distress? If you struggle with anxiety, this might seem like the most inane advice at a time when your insides feel like they’re about to splatter all over the floor. For as much as these words might lack the sensitivity you would hope for, I hate to break the news, but there’s also some truth in them.

Who doesn’t want to lighten up, right? I’m guessing that if you believed you could, you would have done it a long time ago.

This isn’t to say that you should expect yourself to simply drop “the act” because as we know, it’s not an act at all. The physiological sensations happening inside your body are real for sure. And you also have the ability to manage how it all plays out.

You can start by identifying some of the unhelpful thoughts that show up in the first place. As you begin to pay attention to the stories you’ve created, you can intentionally bring some curiosity to them. You can be the observer. Isn’t that interesting? you say to yourself as you notice the unhelpful thoughts arise. What stories are you bringing me today, dear brain?

Remember that our minds are really great at filling in the blanks. If we don’t understand something, then we can make hasty automatic assessments that seem to make sense, then happily go on our way. Maybe you can see where there is some danger in doing that.

Is what I’m telling myself making me feel good? How does my body feel when I buy into these thoughts? If I believe this thought, will it take me down a rabbit hole that might be really hard to get out of?

The next step is that you’ll have to buy into the possibility that you do indeed have the power to create change. The key word here is possibility. If there is possibility that things aren’t exactly as they seem, then you slowly begin to take the nails out of the door that a part of you has so nicely boarded up. It’s all about creating new neural pathways that work in our favor. And you can only begin to do this when you allow for the possibility for new pathways to exist in the first place.

So, take that wall of “truths” that you’ve done such a great job of cementing into place and begin to challenge each one. Even if you don’t believe the opposite of that truth, you can begin to create some space, another possible explanation to demonstrate that it’s really not a truth at all. And that’s huge. Trust me, this is in and of itself, a positive thought and you can rest assured that this will lead you in the right direction.

I’m not asking you to challenge the laws of physics here, I’m asking you to question the thoughts that make you feel bad because there’s another part of you that would much rather feel good. What would happen if you checked in with the part of yourself that generates anxious thoughts – what is the purpose of it doing this? You might find some irony in the response.

The point is to break the vicious cycle. And you’re gonna have to do this with intention.

It’s not about white-knuckling it through the fear. It’s about empowering yourself to see that your fears are are most likely unfounded.

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in working with women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

Finding the Fear

My favorite definition of anxiety is fear without the presence of danger.

Anxiety can seem a little tricky sometimes when you feel the physical sensations and don’t know where they are coming from (heart beating louder, butterflies in stomach, breathing faster, etc). But if there’s no medical condition that accounts for these changes (you should always be sure to share physical symptoms with your doctor), my guess is that somewhere along the line negative thoughts are at play.

What is the story you are telling yourself? What is it that you’re afraid of?

Anxiety grows when we run from the things we tell ourselves are dangerous but actually aren’t.

Is that rustling in the leaves really a serial killer out to get you or could it be a stray cat walking by?

Is the stranger walking down the hall really making faces at you or is it possible that they are thinking about a joke someone told them earlier in the day?

Is it absolutely certain that you are going to throw up in the middle of your presentation?

Sometimes it’s about fearing the fear itself.

As you learn to cope with anxiety, you can begin to separate the part of you that senses danger – which is a good part by the way, because we do need to react quickly when faced with real danger – from the part of you that is discerning and can make an appropriate assessment of the situation.

What you need to know is that when you run from the rustling leaves or hate the stranger walking down the hall or avoid the presentation, you are confirming to your amygdala – the part of your brain that looks for danger –  that yes the danger is real and your amygdala will happily continue to amplify these things for you in the future.

In this way, anxiety is a choice because your reaction is a choice. When the discerning part of you steps up and offers reassurance to the part that is fearful – that actually there is no real danger – then the discomfort remains no more than an observation and you move on with your life until the next cue arises and you’re faced with making another assessment. Gradually, over time, this gets easier and those physical sensations begin to relax a little. Eventually you won’t need to fear the fear.

Don’t get me wrong, anxiety can get fairly complex. But when you’ve lived with anxiety long enough, it might be helpful to know that there are strategies you can use to counteract the anxiety that isn’t helpful, the anxiety that only hinders you. This is just one approach and my guess is that it’s worth a try.

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in working with women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

Magical Thinking vs Actual Empowerment

Magical Thinking. It’s one of those things that can make you feel so special when you’re a kid. When the universe seems to revolve around you and even the moon will follow wherever you go. I like to think it’s the stuff that empowers us at a time in life when we don’t have a lot of power; when the bigger decisions are made by others and we don’t really have much say in things.

It’s interesting though isn’t it that we can grow older and cognitively understand the fallacy in this way of thinking and yet so many of us continue to do it in subtle ways. I can clearly remember how in my twenties I would expect my boyfriend at the time to know just the right thing to say or not say, to know when I was happy or upset, when I wanted his company or when to give me space, what gifts to give me, what friends to bring around and when, etc. etc. And all of this was expected with no effort on my part. He would read me. He would know simply because…I willed him to? Because that would mean he was the perfect boyfriend and we were truly meant to be? And of course if he didn’t live up to this then it meant… that he didn’t care about me? I wasn’t worthy? That the relationship was bunk? It was too much effort? Slowly over time I came to learn that it was likely the latter excuse that got me stuck. The story I seemed to tell myself was that if I actually had to put in effort to get my needs met then the relationship was somehow clearly not worthwhile, which is something that I suspect most anyone with a fulfilling, long-lasting relationship will tell you is load of garbage. As it turned out, my boyfriend couldn’t read my mind after all. But I want to give myself a break here (because that’s what self-compassion looks like 🙂 ). Where did I learn that it takes too much effort to speak up in the first place? Hmmm, I can think of a few possibilities, especially as a woman. Children should be seen and not heard. A long history of gender biases by teachers in the classroom. Mansplaining. We have to acknowledge that these messages have been around forever. Often we don’t speak up because we’ve been taught not to! In our society it takes a lot of intention to be heard. It takes effort and persistence to get your needs met, to be seen and understood. And over time I’ve learned that in the long run putting in effort is waaaayy more satisfying than sitting around wishing for things to change on their own.

It’s surprising how much energy it can take to use one’s voice once you begin to initiate change. Admitting that you even need anything in the first place can be hard, especially if you’ve had the experience of being rejected in the past. I can assure you though, that it gets easier with practice. And although it’s true that just because you ask for something, it doesn’t mean that you will get it, what I think you’ll find is that knowing yourself and letting others in to know you too, will only benefit any relationship that truly matters – be it a romantic one, a family relationship, a work relationship or a friendship. When it comes to getting your needs met, it’s about being a co-conspirator as opposed to merely tagging along for the ride. While the practice of assertive (not aggressive) communication is beyond the scope of this post, maybe the first place to start is to acknowledge that you have needs in the first place. Try journaling or making a collage and share it with someone safe, someone who matters.

There are definitely still things in this world that I continue to find magical. Birth, sunsets, shooting stars, synchronicity, the creative process. But when it comes to true power, I’ve learned that the cost of sitting around and wishing it into existence, is just too high. #NeverthelessShePersisted.

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

Diminishers, Minimizers and Gross Oversimplifiers

Sometimes I think it’s no wonder that so many of us get stuck in bad habits when people in the position of authority often – and perhaps unwittingly – minimize our struggles. The best example I can think of is the “Just Say No” campaign introduced by Nancy Reagan back in the 1980’s. While I can appreciate the good intention, it definitely seemed to be a gross oversimplification of a massive problem that has only grown exponentially in the 30-plus years since the movement was introduced. Just Say No became a catchphrase for a decade and it’s interesting to think that this likely did nothing to help, and may have only worsened, the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Think about it: “the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to more than 400,000 by 1997.” If you can’t or don’t say no then what does this mean about you? You got duped? You’re a criminal? You deserve wherever it is you end up? Shame only keeps us stuck and it’s amazing how often we’re shamed for the things that we turn to, that get us through difficult situations. Whether it’s drugs, alcohol, sex, food (or lack of), you name it – sometimes these things can seem like the only viable relief out there. It’s not to say we don’t likely make bad decisions along the way, but when you look back it’s really not all that surprising to see how addiction set in when choices may have seemed limited. Maybe the problem is that we don’t always know how to ask for help, but regularly I hear stories of when someone did ask for help and didn’t get any, simply because the problem didn’t appear to be of significance at the time. In one way or another their story was diminished.

Addiction hits us hard in the reward centers of our brains. Of course we want to feel good, who doesn’t? Addiction is about taking the shortest path from A to B where A is pain and B is feeling better and our brains are really great about getting us there asap. The problem of course is that while this is super effective in the short term, few can anticipate the longer, harder and sometimes lonelier road it takes to get your life back on track once the cons of addiction become apparent (ie serious medical conditions, loss of relationships, loss of work, etc).

I think the danger is when we begin to minimize our own stories; we follow what was modeled for us and internalize the same message. And maybe it is because the struggle appears to be invisible. Or maybe because it feels too big for anyone to tackle on their own. When you take the time to connect with your Healthy Self, **You** know when something is a problem. And you know when it’s something bigger than others may be able to recognize at the moment. We don’t have to believe minimizers in the same way we don’t have to believe judgment – whether it comes from others or comes from within.

I’m bringing this up, not because I want to shame the diminishers, minimizers and gross oversimplifiers – as that would likely be counterproductive. My point is that throughout history we’ve seen how huge problems can go by seemingly unnoticed. And thankfully we can also look back and see that while the authority figures we hoped would address problems in a meaningful way but for whatever reason chose not to or were unable to, there was usually an unsuspecting someone (or many someones) who were more capable and who did take action. Just because no one has a quick fix, it doesn’t mean that the bigger problems can’t be solved. Bigger problems call for bigger solutions and this can mean turning to more than one person or place for help. Part of resilience is believing in yourself and not giving up no matter how long it takes – finding the resources that support you even if they don’t come in the form you may have wished.

One important thing to remember is that diminishing/minimizing/oversimplifying is only part of who we are, only a part of who anyone is. My hope is that when we begin to increase awareness of this phenomenon, we’ll also be better able to generate compassion towards self and others and use that as a way to move forward.

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

The Layers of Coping and Healing

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what helps in therapy and how many people, including me, have tended to dip their toes in and out of the process. There’s no simple solution obviously, or therapy wouldn’t be the big business that it is. But what’s important to me as a therapist is that I maintain faith that the process can be healing.  The fact that not only have I experienced levels of healing myself but also witnessed moments of healing with my clients, this makes me all the more motivated to spread light on the possibility of full recovery.

Sometimes the women I work with initially end up in treatment for an eating disorder with little to no insight about the underlying mechanisms that brought them there. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been told by women in recovery that they didn’t even think they had a problem to begin with. It’s only when they begin to explore questions about the impact of the ED on personal work, school, relationships, and mental health that it turns out yes, the concerns are valid. A wise woman recently shared about her frustration that the world view of EDs still seems to be categorized as a vanity issue and I was relieved to see that her artwork was able to reveal the knowledge of pain beneath it all. Not that I want anyone to feel pain mind you, quite the opposite. But the truth is that healing won’t likely take place until the pain is addressed in one way or another. And the irony is that as far I can see, EDs often begin as coping mechanisms to distract from the pain in the first place, with the intention of taking you as far away from it as possible.

It may not seem fair to generalize this when the experience of an ED is so individual, as is treatment. But still, in my experience as a therapist, I find time and again that somewhere beneath all the depression, anxiety and symptom use is a vulnerable place that is often avoided at all costs, and understandably so when you consider the shame and stigma associated with mental health disorders. It’s as if the whole process starts with the use of unhealthy coping mechanisms to move away from pain, and once in treatment new coping mechanisms are set in motion that take you on a path toward wellness. At times people may choose to stop there, but I think it’s important to point out that while healthy coping mechanisms can have healing qualities, healing is not a coping mechanism in and of itself.

It’s a slippery slope, this process of recovery. At times a well-meaning therapist may go too quickly into the pain, or conversely someone who is eager to get the process over with might go straight to the pain without being prepared to do so and either of these scenarios can be disastrous.

I find that healing is the thing that is supported by healthy coping mechanisms on either side, like little bundles of light that have a continuous need to be protected, cared for and nurtured. These moments of healing might come in the form of “a-ha” moments or a release of emotional tension from one’s body, and without these healing moments chances are you can remain in survival mode indefinitely. I often come across women who find themselves somewhere in the limbo of recovery who are “managing” symptoms to get by and yet feel there is much more therapeutic work to be done even after they’ve discharged from treatment centers, and I agree with them. There is more work, and there is more possibility for a better existence. It’s the difference between surviving and thriving.

Sometimes the healing process spans both time and a variety of therapists – where ideally one action builds on the other – but I truly do believe that for most, if not all, full recovery and healing is a possibility; it is an option.

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

Enhancing Intuition through Mindfulness and Art

Sometimes even the most “put together” people can get thrown off course and get swept up in the tide without even realizing it at first, me included. Recently I found myself being pulled in different directions between work, family and relationships and with so many “shoulds” running through my head, I felt the pressure – and desire – to keep up with obligations and others’ expectations of me and not really knowing how to make it all happen.

The other morning I did the best thing for myself that I’ve done in a long time. I created space for my intuition and invariably I find that it’s always, always the right thing to do. I had to get back to basics of course because it seemed that I’d been ignoring intuition for a while. In my yoga practice that morning, I allowed my body to dictate my needs. Before this I had been feeling the need to accomplish something – to push myself in some way that I didn’t necessarily want to be pushed. But something told me to stop. So I listened. I began to stretch my body in gentle, non-traditional yoga poses and while one voice in my head was saying “yeah, but this isn’t really yoga” I could also hear another compassionate voice echoing the encouragement of the more nurturing teachers who have said “it’s ok, do what your body tells you to do, just trust and listen.” And I can say that thankfully I have access to the latter and it worked. This gentle compassion led to a more fulfilling yoga experience that left me feeling satisfied and nurtured in a way that I’m sure I would’t have felt otherwise.

It’s sort of ironic to think that the intuitive path is less accessible at times you are faced with outside pressure, as judgment and comparison thoughts scream through one’s head. It seems that intuition may abandon us at times when we need it most. But maybe it’s the opposite – that we’ve abandoned it. So often we’re given the message that pushing through is the best approach, or the only approach, that we can’t even hear the wisdom of self-compassion when it knocks on our door.

But my belief is that as a life rule, it will always be important to take time to nurture and enhance intuition. And what are the benefits of listening to the the intuitive voice within? For one, I think it creates longevity – how many times has the pushing, punishing voice started you down a path only to have it falter and send you reeling backwards? I think intuition guides you to the best available path that life has to offer. I think that in the long run it makes life easier, not harder.

I write this because I know that so many women out there don’t have access to intuition in this way. So often life circumstances can lead to self-denial, impulsivity and/or self-doubt that intuition sadly gets left by the wayside. My belief though, is that we all have an inner voice that can guide us back to a healthy path and intuition, and that intuition can guide us towards a more fulfilling life.

Maybe to start, you can begin to take a look at where those pressuring voices come from in the first place. The push voice might come from well-meaning teachers and coaches. It might also come from a misguided concept of tough love. Maybe it comes from the critical voices of family or peers. If you listen, can you hear who is saying those words to you – or maybe who is implying those words to you? Does it really come from within? I think it’s important to question that. When part of our brain – the amygdala – is actually built to detect danger as part of basic survival – including in social survival – it’s really not so surprising that this part can feel so much louder. “If you don’t do well in the game/match/race/performance then you will let your team down!” “If you don’t get an A on this test then your peers will surpass you and you’ll be left behind!”

Not to say that pushing through doesn’t have it’s time and place, because I believe that it can and does. But how do you know which way to go? When you’re in recovery for an eating disorder, there may be times when pushing through is a life-saving necessity and even though it may feel like crap, you can remind yourself that it’s temporary as you take steps to nurture healthy intuition all over again, or maybe for the first time.

I get that recovery can feel like all control is being taken away and that maybe the loss of control is one of the things you most feared to begin with. I believe you can still enhance intuition while you bring intention to work through recovery.

Next, try to identify your strengths, embrace them and build on them.

Let go of expectations and work with what is there in front of you.

Gradually you can learn to approach something instinctively rather than with conscious reasoning, because that’s literally what working intuitively is all about.

Nuances matter the way that brush strokes matter or the way composition matters through the lens of a camera.

Do this through mindfulness as you consider nuances in each part of your body, how it feels and how it works. As you consider your environment and take in what supports you and what doesn’t. As you consider your thoughts to identify what is helpful and what isn’t. As you look in the mirror and verbalize the things you can admire in all that you are and do in physicality, character, and style.

Do this through art making. Just because we can’t draw like Renoir, it doesn’t mean we can’t engage in self-expression that resonates with who we are, and open our eyes to what markings are still beautiful in their own right. Where would we be without people like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Willem De Kooning, and Ralph Stedman – artists who’s art might be considered perfectly imperfect? What would happen if you allowed yourself the same consideration?

Take watercolors for example, which can be one of the most frustrating mediums to work with. It’s only because I’ve learned to embrace all the nuances they have to offer that I’ve come to love the process. Painting on wet paper is a completely different experience than painting on dry, especially as you watch colors bleed into one another; when you allow water to create natural movement. Or when you learn to direct the water to concentrate flow and have pigment follow its path. Or when you allow one part to dry only to come back to it to later and create a sense of shadow and depth. To make each brushstroke thick with pigment or watery and translucent. To manipulate pigment with media like rubbing alcohol or sea salt.  Watercolor is my favorite “letting go” medium because there are so many factors that contribute to unpredictability and yet you can still create guidance within that realm that can feel so satisfying. It’s as though you let go of control while gaining a sense of control at the same time. It’s not about becoming a master watercolorist (though it may happen for some), it’s about paying attention. When you apply a similar approach to almost any other medium, it only gets easier. I know for me at least, that once I start practicing intuition with small decisions, I find that the big decisions can move intuitively as well.

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

Reawaken Your Healthy Self

I think that most people can identify with the feeling of being thrown off balance at given times throughout life. That feeling you get when you’re deep in a relationship, or work, school, trying to catch up with bills or just plain old busy – times when so much of your energy goes into just trying to keep your head above water. It can happen when life throws you off track – like when you experience the loss of a loved one, or you lose your job or go through a divorce – or even start a new job or get married. The worst of course is when trauma happens (little t or big T) and it truly does seem like you need to rely on time to heal wounds. But the more I do the work that I do in this field and the more that I learn about theoretical approaches, the more I recognize the need to help people become centered again and reestablish the sense of Self that seems to get lost. As Carolyn Costin says in her book, 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder, “Your healthy Self will heal your E.D. self” and I couldn’t agree more. Of course that may be easier said than done when the act of reconnecting with one’s sense of Self often requires a lot of intention, and yes, sometimes a lot of time too.

For many people this act of centering is just a matter of grounding oneself through things like meditation or connecting with a similar sense of flow through loved activities such as sports or art making  🙂 . But for others, the process is a little more elaborate when Self seems to have taken a hiatus. I regularly meet women who are terrified of letting go of their eating disorders because they feel that their E.D. is their identity and what will become of them without it? I get it, I know it’s a lot of trust to ask for, but I truly believe that once you start looking for healthy Self, you will find it.

Some of the wise women I’ve worked with have been able to describe the healthy Self as an inner spark that they’ve had a sense of since childhood – the part of themselves that knows right from wrong, that knows they are innately good, healthy and deserving people. Sometimes, I’ve been told, this part of themselves has had to be shelved in order to adequately deal with hostile environments – when using one’s voice may have meant violent repercussions. And so Self goes quiet, internally, perhaps until safety returns and treatment is sought, and only then is one able to take action.

As far as I can tell, curiosity and exploration are essential when it comes to reawakening Self. In Buddhism, Beginner’s Mind means cultivating an attitude of openness, eagerness and lack of preconceptions – and I believe these are absolutely qualities needed to discover Self again. Become curious as if you are exploring aspects of yourself for the first time – and know that Self is doing the exploring. What are your values as opposed to the values that may lead you towards dysfunction? What are some strengths that you have? Although it can be helpful at times, I believe that Self doesn’t ultimately need to rely on external validation to know its worth. Even the most rudimentary of strengths are worth identifying. Mindfulness teaches us to observe our thoughts as clouds going by in the sky. Self is the observer. Self is the one high up on the mountain where it can see clearly all that is happening below. True Self knows what feels toxic; it knows the difference between survival mode and thriving. It knows when competition feels healthy and when it’s more of a hindrance. The healthy Self is a like a good friend who wants to encourage you to do and have what’s best for you. It takes your physical, mental and emotional well-being into consideration and takes you down a path towards health and wellness. It might feel a little angelic or as though it’s a higher power. The healthy Self knows the difference between enabling and nurturing because it knows the values that are true to you. It knows your soul. It knows that living a life of secrets and lies will be more harmful than helpful in the long run. Your healthy Self knows what’s keeping you sick, and might also understand that there’s a reason for the actions you’ve taken in life and why things have played out in the way they have, and it can do this all with a sense of care and compassion.

If you’re not there yet, you can always try what Costin suggests and use your imagination: simply ask yourself, If I had a healthy voice, what would it say? I believe that most, if not all, people have access to Self that can lead them through recovery. It’s the place where you can find clarity, perspective and freedom, where you can be with yourself in the present; it’s calm and confident, open-hearted and lighthearted. And I believe that it’s from this place that all other work can be done.

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

Respect for Our Protectors

A couple of weeks ago several young wise women in an eating disorder group opened my eyes to the degree of hopelessness that their generation seems to face. I don’t mean to say that they weren’t willing to fight the fight, because there they were showing up to “feel the feels” as they say. But rather to them it seemed that they could show up and do the work and this fight would only continue indefinitely with little to no promise of a silver lining. What I heard was a desire to find healing and getting no glimpse of it. And it’s true…in the “soft science” of therapy, there are no absolutes. I can’t make the promise. As every therapist knows, we all want the magic wand that will make everything better and none of us seem to have it.

The good news is that there are some really brilliant  approaches to treatment these days, and in therapy, semantics is everything. In a recent training I found myself with ever increasing hope for the hopeless. As I learned more about the different parts of ourselves and how they interact with one another I came to have a newfound respect for our defenses (e.g. avoidance, projection, etc). Oftentimes defenses can be pretty innocuous with only minor inconveniences to communication in relationships and may even resolve naturally on their own with a little bit of insight. On the other end of the continuum however, defenses can become so strong that they might appear to turn against us, even creating scenarios of life and death situations. And here’s where it gets tricky, because then it seems there’s a tendency to turn against our defenses at all costs and demonize them. But if we step back for a minute to take a look at where the defenses come from in the first place, most likely you will find a source of hurt and pain that needed to be protected.

These protectors show up when no one or nothing else has. Keep in mind that the source of pain is subject to individual perception – what may not seem particularly painful to some might be excruciating for others; it’s all about the felt experience. We all need protection in the face of overwhelm, otherwise how do we get through life at all? One of the first steps in this work as I’ve learned, is to have some respect for the mechanisms that stepped in to protect us in the first place. It doesn’t make sense after all, to simply bypass and condemn the rescuers that showed up when no one else was able. I suspect that there are more of us than not who are in need of this type of healing and in many ways it is a privilege to engage in this type of work (on both sides of the coin). My wish for those of you who are ready for the next step in the process of healing, is that it be performed, as much as possible, with precision and care, sensitivity and curiosity, and of course with kindness and respect.

“I didn’t ask for this role but I’ll play it” – one of my favorite lines from Frances McDormand’s protective mom character in the movie Almost Famous:

Parts of me and parts of you – a family dinner scene from Inside Out:

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

Food, Mood & Awareness – with free download

The more I learn about eating disorders, the clearer it becomes that food itself is rarely, if ever, the underlying main issue. It seems that more often than not eating patterns are somehow used to manage overwhelming emotions, and eventually habit sets in where eating becomes an equal part of the problem. And while there are varying approaches to treatment out there, I like to think that  most therapists are working towards the same goal – to help our clients find balance in everyday life with the ability to address and tend to emotional experiences in a healthy way. I love that there are so many apps available these days to help normalize eating behaviors and knowing that different approaches are helpful for different people, I thought I’d go ahead and put something out there myself. No, I shamefully admit that I have yet to become superwoman enough to devise my own app (jk) but I have decided to provide readers with a handout – the Food, Mood & Awareness Tracker – that you can print out and use as needed. My hope is that it will provide a visual for you over time – so you can see what your own behavior patterns are and how your actions affect your emotional experiences and possibly other aspects of your life as well. You can find the link for the handout below. But first, here’s how you use it:

The top section of the handout is in graph form to track your mood and energy level – use a blue dot to track your mood and a red dot to track your energy level. This is subjective input with 1 being the lowest, 10 the highest and 5 is average or neutral – it really just needs to make sense to you. For the greatest awareness, I suggest that you try tracking your mood before and after each meal and before and after each symptom use. I know this may sound a bit tedious, but you may learn a lot about your tendency toward certain behaviors. For energy level, probably tracking this 1-3 times a day would be enough.

The next section is food intake – be sure to create space for each meal, even if you don’t have one. Write down everything that you consume. And be sure to make note of any snacks, big or small.

Then there is symptom use – something that varies on an individual basis (restricting, binging, purging to name a few). These behaviors may or may not coincide with meal times. Don’t forget to include exercise if your team has determined that this is a form of purging for you.

The last section is where you outline significant events that take place. It might seem like a no-brainer to recognize that getting married, losing your job or a fight with a significant other may affect your mood. But to be fair, there are so many things we do while on auto pilot, that it just makes sense to jot them down anyway. I also strongly encourage you to take note of the things you do to care for others as well as the things you do for your own self-care.

I suggest that when you start using the FMA Tracker, you dedicate a page for each day, at least at the beginning. Maybe go for a full month of pages in this way, then if you like you can start using one page for a whole week – or not – whatever makes the most sense for you. I’m no psychic, but I suspect that over time this tool will help you identify possible triggers that may keep you in the habit of looking for a quick fix, and that in the long run the things that may be most helpful are those related to self-care. One caveat here: the FMA Tracker is intended to use in conjunction with a team effort (dietitian, therapist, psychiatrist, et al) – please don’t assume you can create lasting change all on your own. Try it for six months! I know this may sound like a long time, but when you consider the tenacity of eating disorders – sometimes ten, twenty, even forty or more years, six months is really just a drop in the bucket. I wish you all the best – let me know how it goes!

Click here for the Food, Mood & Awareness Tracker – free download!

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders.