Eating Disorder Treatment with an Innovative Approach to EMDR

Author:  Susie Morgan, MA, MA, LMFT

SusieMorganI find remarkable efficacy in treating the compulsive behaviors that are often integral to Eating Disorders through a modified EMDR method called the Feeling State Addiction Protocol (FSAP).  The initial research on the FSAP, by Dr. Robert Miller, is promising, and more research is needed.

The FSAP works from the theory that addictions and compulsions are often birthed in the moment when a person experiences an intensely desired positive feeling while engaging in a certain behavior.  The fireworks that are experienced in that moment are the result of the behavior eliciting the sensation that a pre-existing need has been profoundly met.  For instance, a child being deprived of love and safety in a neglectful home finds the only comfort available in sneaking ice cream, or a teen being ostracized by peers experiences a wave of superiority as she feels the bony edges of her hips, which to her represent ideal thinness.

The experience of the positive “feeling state” is so potent because of the person’s specific history and emotional/relational vulnerability.  When the positive feeling state is paired with the behavior, it is as if the two become neurologically welded together.  Subsequently, a person will compulsively seek to recreate that feeling state by engaging in the behavior (e.g. overeating or restricting), often at great cost and despite white-knuckled effort to change.

The FSAP appears to break this neurological bonding, in a similar manner to the way in which standard EMDR breaks up the “stuck” traumatic memory.  As the intensity of the bond between the feeling state and the behavior lessens, clients find that their urges and cravings to engage in their anorexic or bulimic behaviors diminish and even disappear.

Often, this process brings the person’s original vulnerability to the surface, as it can no longer be numbed or hidden with the compulsive behavior.  The standard EMDR Protocol can then be used to resolve the underlying painful experiences that created the felt “need” for the Eating Disorder in the first place.

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 Author:  Susie Morgan, MA, MA, LMFT