Healing Through Nonverbal Expression: Art and Sandplay Therapy in the Treatment of Eating Disorders

Sunday, March 6, 2011: 9:00 AM-12:00 PM
Point Hilton at Squaw Peak
This workshop will explore the use of art and sandplay therapies in the treatment of eating disorders. Eating disordered patients often have limited insight and struggle to express themselves verbally, often resorting to various self destructive means of ineffective communication. Using nonverbal therapies enables self discovery and the development of rapport and trust. These nonverbal mediums facilitate relaxation, a creative outlet, healthy manifestation of internal states, containment of emotions, and the reprocessing of traumatic experiences. Didactic presentation, examples of patient’s artwork and sandtrays, and experiential exercises will enable clinicians to understand, practice, and utilize these effective methods of treatment.
Healing Through Nonverbal Expression: Art and Sandplay Therapy in the Treatment of Eating Disorders


  1. Challenges in Eating Disorder Treatment
    1. Alexithymia
    2. Diffuse Identity
    3. Need for Control
    4. Perfectionism and Rigidity
    5. Mistrustful
    6. Irrational Thinking


  1. How Art Therapy Can be Helpful in Treating Eating Disorders(art    

           demonstrating all points, directives, and identification of materials used will be

           displayed throughout)

  1. Coping Tool Awareness and Regulation of Affect
  2. Transitional Object Between Therapist and Patient
  3. Numbing and Avoidance are Minimized
  4. Concretes Awareness of ED
  5. Externalizes Shame
  6. Counters Feeling of Disconnect
  7. Development of Visual Language and Metaphor for Recovery
  8. Enables Shift in Thinking and Feeling


  1. Art Therapy and Healing
    1. Compassion for Self
    2. Development of Identity without the ED
    3. Imperfection as Natural Process is Realized


  1. Experiential Exercise (attendees will participate in art project)


  1. Sandplay Therapy
    1. Sand, Tray, Figurines
    2. Sandplay History
    3. How it is used
    4. It’s use with ED patients


  1. Group Sandplay
    1. Use in Group Therapy
    2. Members Can See the Authenticity of their Peers


  1. Exploration: How Sanplay is Helpful (Sandtrays will be displayed throughout)
    1. Facilitates Insight/Symbols and Approach to Sandplay as Door to the Unconscious
    2. Transitional Object Between Therapist and Patient
    3. Safe Place/Containment
    4. Breaks Down Maladaptive Defenses
    5. Reconnecting with Creativity and “Play”
    6. Tactile/Connection to Hands and Sand/Earth/Grounding
    7. Confrontation Empty Space and Silence
    8. Emotional Regulation
    9. Empowerment/Scene in Sand Creating Their Own World

I.  Series of Trays Depict Patterns in One’s Lives


  1. Life Sandplay
    1. Meaning in Symbols we Choose
    2. Patterns and Authentic Meaning Emerge
    3. Recognition of Pain Underlying ED
This presentation will introduce Art and Sandplay therapy as creative processes that can be used by any mental health professional in the treatment of patients with eating disorders. Although some therapists utilizing this modality are trained and/or certified many are not.  Any mental health professional can apply the healing practice of art and sandplay therapy to their methods of treatment. 

 The purpose of art therapy is similar to any other psychotherapeutic modality: to improve and/or maintain mental health and well being.  The difference of this form as opposed to more common and traditional forms is that art has the advantage of being nonverbal. Feelings, thoughts, implicit memory, imagination, symbols and metaphors which can often be difficult to articulate can find expression in the form of art.  This process involves the quiet contemplation and activity of the patient, the supportive relationship of the therapist, and the collaborative method of deriving meaning and understanding from the art. It helps clients, particularly those with eating disorders; use a “healthy” nonverbal form of communication.  Through art therapy, patients are able to gain insight, work through traumatic experiences, and enjoy a creative process.

Sandplay is a nonverbal therapy using sand filled trays, water, and figurines provided by an empathic therapist who encourages an arrangement without interactions or interpretations.  It is the task of the therapist to create a container for the patients so that the healing movement of the psyche may unfold. Eating disordered patients often experience alexithymia and have difficulty experiencing their inner state or being.  Sandplay is a healing psychological process that can access a pre-verbal place that may not be accessible through talk therapy.  Silently witnessing patients’ sandplay without judging or interpreting, in a free and protected space can be a powerful experience for these patients.


Primary Presenter:
Lane Gould-Hartline, APRN, BC

Lane received her advanced practice degree in psychiatric nursing from The University of Alabama in Birmingham. She has treated patients struggling with eating disorders for over 15 years in a variety of professional settings. Lane developed and helped implement outpatient eating disorder groups throughout the state of Alabama. In addition, she has performed workshops, participated on expert panels, and provided presentations in the field of eating disorders. Lane continues to mentor nursing students who have a passion and interest in the treatment of eating disorders. She has also been an active member in ALNEDA, the Birmingham Chapter of the Alabama National Eating Disorder Association, NEDA, and IAEDP. She is involved in past and ongoing research in the eating disorder field. She most recently co-authored the following publication: “Effectiveness of Eating Disorder Treatment in Real World Settings: Comprehensive Assessment and Outcome”; New Research Poster #N R 7-35 presented at the Annual Convention of the American Psychiatric Association (May 22-27, 2010) on Wednesday, May 26, 2010. Lane recognized the lack of intensive treatment programs for patients with eating disorders in this state, and was instrumental in the development of The Eating Disorder Center of Alabama (EDCA). The EDCA at that time was the only intensive treatment available for patients with eating disorders in Alabama. The Center provides state of the art, comprehensive treatment for eating disorders.

Emily Martinez-Whitt, PsyD

Dr. Emily Whitt is a clinical psychologist at the Eating Disorder Center of Alabama. Dr. Whitt provides individual, family, and group therapy, and psychological testing to eating disordered patients. Her groups include art therapy, body image, meditation, and creative visualization. She is involved in and recently co-authored the following research: "Effectiveness of Eating Disorder Treatment in Real World Settings: Comprehensive Assessment and Outcome", New Research Poster #NR7-35 presented at the Annual Convention of the American Psychiatric Association (May 22-27, 2010), on Wednesday May 26th, 2010 Dr. Whitt is trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), treats children, adolescents, and their families, and is an adjunct professor of psychology at The University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and The International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals Foundation (iaedp). Dr. Whitt completed her clinical internship at Miami Children's Hospital in the Department of Psychiatry and was a member of their eating disorder treatment team. She received her doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

See more of: Proposals