Expressive Therapy, the Brain and Eating Disorder Recovery, Part 1

by Caroline Leibman, MA, BC-DMT, NCC

Expressive therapy groups are alive and well at McCallum Place and Cedar Springs Austin and available as an adjunct to our core evidence based treatments. They focus on bringing our patients with eating disorders into balanced and integrative healing. Current research in neuroscience points out that therapeutic interventions must engage all three areas of the brain: the neocortex, limbic region, and the lower brain, together known as the triune brain, in order for safe and lasting healing to occur. At McCallum and Cedar Springs we have a holistic and balanced approach and use expressive therapies to address the triune brain, including Dance/Movement therapy, Authentic Movement and Psychodrama.

The Triune Brain is a concept within the field of neuroscience which refers to the brain, within the brain, within the brain. It is a concept which describes the basic architecture of the brain, its three levels of information processing, and the importance of offering therapeutic interventions so that all three areas of the brain are addressed, bringing optimal healing for each individual.

The lower brain, sometimes called the reptilian brain, is the first area to develop from an evolutionary perspective. Among its tasks are the governing of arousal, basic instinctual action tendencies like reflexes, learned and more practiced movement impulses, and the sympathetic actions of fight, flight, and freeze.

The next level of the brain to develop from an evolutionary perspective is the limbic brain, sometimes know as the mammalian brain. Among its functions are the mediation of emotions, emotional responses to events, and affective knowledge. It also facilitates some social behavior and learning.

The last level of the brain to develop is the neocortex, which enables cognitive informational processing such as self awareness, conscious thought, and the consolidation of information. It mediates abstraction, perception, reasoning, language, and learning.

In addition to engaging the brain so that the mind and body are working together for a patient’s optimal healing, the essential concept of mindfulness must also be present.

John Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as the awareness that emerges through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience. Dan Siegel in his book, The Mindful Brain, asserts that mindful awareness harnesses the frontal areas of the neocortex, the sub-cortical limbic brain, and the lower brainstem into an integrated coherent state, engaging the triune brain. This promotes neural integration, which in turn facilitates resilience, well-being, empathy, and self regulation. In other words, mindfulness facilitates healing where those struggling with eating disorders most need it and provides the very benefits they need in order to heal and repair their lives.

In the next blog post Caroline will discuss, in more detail, the three types of expressive therapies we use to facilitate this healing.

Caroline Leibman is a board certified dance/movement therapist and a nationally certified counselor who holds an MA in Education from Washington University in St. Louis. She completed her graduate work in Dance/Movement Therapy as well as a Professional Diploma in Dance and Movement Studies at the Laban Centre, London, England. She trained in Authentic Movement at the Authentic Movement Institute in Berkeley California, and with Janet Adler, PhD.  Caroline offers a blend of verbal and body-oriented therapies integrating Jungian thought, creative arts therapies, mindfulness, and spiritual practices to promote healing. She has a background in working with issues of trauma, eating disorders, depression/loss, and anxiety.