The Role of Trauma-Based Therapies for the Treatment of Eating Disorders: What Does Safe and Ethical Treatment Consist Of?

Recent allegations of a treatment center therapist implanting false memories during clinical hypnosis has many people asking, “When it comes to clinics and treatment centers dealing with trauma-based therapies, what is the standard of care?”

The use of hypnosis in medical practice has long been controversial. Through hypnosis, the therapist helps patients learn to control their own state of awareness, which can help them change their own actions and thoughts from negative ones to positive ones. However, because patients are in a state of deep relaxation they are highly receptive to ideas, images, and suggestions, thereby making patients vulnerable to suggestive ideas or memories, as in the alleged case mentioned above.

PTSD and dissociation are relatively common in patients seeking treatment for their eating disorders.  In general, trauma is a significant stress which can precipitate psychiatric symptoms, including the core symptoms of an eating disorder.  Most 24 hour treatment centers – including McCallum Place –focus on resolving the dissociation, managing PTSD symptoms with medication, and building resources prior to any work aimed at uncovering new memories.  When the eating disorder is severe, most patients do not have the internal resources to effectively cope with overwhelming situations. When a patient is malnourished, they are vulnerable and cognitive functioning can be compromised; anorexia is associated with trouble seeing the “big picture”, a process important for putting information in context.   It is also important to recognize the possibility of inadvertently introducing false memories and take precautions against this potentially devastating outcome. In sum, whenever possible, active uncovering work is deferred until the eating disorder is more stable.  When a patient has intrusive memories, dissociation, flashbacks, or avoidance related to a previous trauma, the therapist will focus on resolving symptoms, building self compassion and establishing safety.  Supported exposures may be necessary to target avoidance, which is a barrier to recovery.  The goal is always to reduce suffering by challenging cognitive distortions surrounding the event.

The McCallum Place treatment planning process reviews benefits and side effects of all aspects of treatment. Our treatment goals involve helping individuals build the confidence and skills necessary to let go of their patterns of restrictive eating, purging, and compulsive exercise. We integrate medical care, meal therapy group/individual dietitian support, and personalized treatment with intensive group, individual, and family psychotherapies.
Our staff includes psychiatrists, a medical doctor, an advanced practiced nurse, personal trainer/exercise physiologist, dietitians, and many licensed therapists. Group therapies include psychodrama, art, dance, cognitive therapy, skills building, process groups, multifamily group, body image, spirituality, yoga, fitness, and goal setting. For more information about McCallum Place, visit us online at