Embodiment in eating disorder recovery and mental health treatment with Rachel Lewis-Marlow

Mar 23, 2022

How do you incorporate embodied healing into eating disorder treatment? Why is it important to have a bottom-up approach for body-to-brain communication in recovery? What is the role of the provider’s embodiment in eating disorder recovery?

MEET RACHEL LEWIS-MARLOW

Rachel Lewis-Marlow is a somatically integrative psychotherapist, dually licensed as a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Massage and Bodywork Therapist. She is also a Certified Advanced Practitioner in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and has advanced training and 30 + years of experience in diverse somatic therapies.

Rachel is also the co-founder of the Embodied Recovery Institute, which provides training in a trauma-informed, relationally oriented, and somatically integrative model for eating disorders treatment. Recently, she authored a chapter on the application of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy to eating disorders treatment in the book, Trauma-Informed Approaches to Eating Disorders.

Visit the Embodied Recovery Institute and connect with them on Facebook and Instagram.

IN THIS PODCAST:

  • Reconnecting the mind and body – (06:11)
  • Why somatic approaches help treat eating disorders – (07:10)
  • Embodied recovery for eating disorders – (10:00)
  • The role of the provider’s embodiment in eating disorder recovery – (22:15)

Reconnecting the mind and body

[Stitching is about] how we allow that new felt-sense experience to build cognition, and how do we allow [our minds] to make meaning from that present moment, new somatic experience to build the belief about who we are and what the world is like for us to be in. (Rachel Lewis-Marlow)

The concept of stitching is about reconnecting the mind and the body in a bottom-up approach, where someone is encouraged to make sense of an experience through what they feel and what they are presently feeling.

This contrasts with the standard top-down approach, where people often rely on their minds to understand what they are experiencing instead of sticking with and feeling the experience itself.

This way of stitching, of linking our felt-sense experience to our emotional experience and our cognitive meaning-making [processes], is how we do that. (Rachel Lewis-Marlow)

Why somatic approaches help treat eating disorders

Embodied work is a missing piece in many standard treatment plans of eating disorders. It is essential because information about the world travels from the experiences of the body to the mind, and people experience the world as children long before they have the language to decode and organize everything.

Those [body-to-mind] foundations are there, and if we do not provide people with experiences to have a new somatic organization through new somatic experiences, then what we’re asking people to do is to constantly swim against the foundational current of what their body is telling their brain. (Rachel Lewis-Marlow)

Encouraging somatic experiences to reconnect the body-to-brain circuit is what helps people to communicate better with their body and understand what their body needs.

Therefore, people will no longer distrust their bodies and work against them, but instead learn to communicate with and trust their physical experiences again, which is a cornerstone to recovering from eating disorders.

Embodied recovery for eating disorders

It is a weaving together of many different theoretical and therapeutic maps to help us understand how eating disordered behaviors are an expression of neurological dysregulation, and what is impacting [the] body’s capacity to co-regulate … and self-[regulate]. (Rachel Lewis-Marlow)

It is a way of assessing the underlying somatic foundation of eating disordered behaviors and thoughts so that mental health professionals can build interventions that speak directly to the body in its own language.

Embodied recovery looks at:

  • Movement patterns
  • Birth history
  • The role the body plays genetically in nutrition
  • A person’s attachment system
  • Helping someone to understand how their body regulates
  • Using the body as a resource for healing

Embodiment is the intersection of awareness and the body. The awareness of our bodies, and the awareness of how we experience the world through our bodies.

The role of the provider’s embodiment in eating disorder recovery

The first thing, the last thing, and everything in between that you do to help your client is for you to show up in your full embodied self during treatment.

You cannot ask your clients to go someplace that you are not willing to go.

Three levels of somatic providers:

  • Somatically aware: they understand this is important but they cannot facilitate the somatic experience.
  • Somatically oriented: they know how to facilitate this for their clients but it is still a top-down approach where they use cognitive cues instead of physical cues.
  • Integrated provider: they use their somatic organization in an intentional and nuanced way to have regulated treatment with their clients.

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Resources Mentioned And Useful Links:

BOOK | Andrew Seubert, Pam Virdi, Rachel Lewis-Marlow, and others – Trauma-Informed Approaches to Eating Disorders

Visit the Embodied Recovery Institute and connect with them on Facebook and Instagram.

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