The International Forum Features ITALY: Promising Research & Clinical Approaches - How the Virtual Restaurant and Mandala Therapy are being used to treat food phobias and eating disorders

Sunday, March 6, 2011: 9:00 AM-12:00 PM
Point Hilton at Squaw Peak
Part I describes an innovative research study on whether virtual stimuli are as effective as real stimuli and more effective than photographs through testing anxiety reactions to real food, virtual reality food and photographs of food in patients affected by anorexia and bulimia compared to a group of healthy subjects. Part II demonstrates how the mandala is used in the treatment of eating disorders to help symbolize the symptoms, develop greater self-awareness, shift perceptions from a linear (exclusive, obsessive, competitive, dual) modality to a more circular (inclusive, co-operative, welcoming) one, and make behavior changes that reflect that shift.
Part I: 60 Minutes : Alessandra Gorini (teleconferenced from Milan)
  • Our research data shows that virtual stimuli can be as effective as real ones (and more effective than static pictures) in generating emotional responses in patients suffering with eating disorders.
  • Preliminary research results provide initial evidence regarding the potential of VR in a variety of clinical contexts, including the treatment of eating disorders
  • Using a cognitive behavioral approach, the use of VR (as opposed to real stimuli) can help eating disorders patients cope with food fears and phobias
  • Immersion and interaction are the key factors that make the difference between the VR and the PH conditions. In the latter, subjects can only passively observe static pictures; in the former , they can actively explore the environment, approach the food and virtually touch it, as they might in real-life situations.
  • Unlike exposure to photographs, in vivo exposure and guided imagination, VR offers good ecological validity (and also a fair internal validity), while allowing strict control over the variables.
  • Research results indicate that even very low cost VR software may be used to screen, evaluate, and eventually treat the emotional/anxiety/phobic reactions provoked by very specific stimuli in patients suffering from eating disorders and other specific psychological conditions.

Part II: 75 Minutes : Anna Scelzo & Anna Badini

  • What is a ‘mandala’ and where it comes from?
  • Introduction to Jung and the mandala drawing
  • How and why the mandala is being used in the treatment of eating disorders
  • How mandala is used in individual and in group therapy (Power Point presentation)
  • Case studies focusing on particular issues such as:

    - How trauma is overcome with mandala therapy

    - Looking for the boundaries of our bodies with the help of mandala therapy

    - Mandala as a way towards the Self

    - Overcoming the disorder through the ability of symbolizing

  • A taste of ‘mandala’(experiential): let’s have fun together and play with ‘mandala’!

Part III: 45 minutes : Suzanne Ricklin & Anita Johnston 

Opportunity for Q & A /Discussion of presentations by 3 members of our Italian faculty and Forum attendees;  facilitated by moderators  and teleconferencing(a first for iaedp).

Part I:

Many researchers and clinicians have proposed using virtual reality (VR) in adjunct to in vivo exposure therapy to provide an innovative form of exposure to patients with different psychological disorders. The rationale behind the 'virtual approach' is that real and virtual exposures elicit a comparable emotional reaction in subjects, even if, to date, there are no experimental data directly comparing these two conditions. To test whether virtual stimuli are as effective as real stimuli, and more effective than photographs in the anxiety induction process, researchers tested the emotional reactions to real food (RF), virtual reality food (VR) and photographs of food (PH) in two samples of patients affected by anorexia (AN) and bulimia (BN) compared to a group of healthy subjects. The two main hypotheses were: (a) the virtual exposure elicits emotional responses comparable to those produced by the real exposure; (b) the sense of presence induced by the VR immersion makes the virtual experience more ecological and consequently more effective than static pictures in producing emotional responses in humans.

Part II:

One of the hallmarks of Jung's contributions to the field of psychology is the concept of the archetype,  which can be described as inherited patterns of thought and experience that shape our perception of the world.  These patterns are innate, universal, and cross all cultural boundaries.  One of these archetypes is the circle, or to use the term Jung adapted from Sanskrit, the mandala.  According to Jung, “the mandala is not only a means of expression, but makes an effect.  It reacts upon its maker.”  It assists in bringing forth unconscious material as well as in developing greater awareness of the individual self, creating a unity “which, though once possessed, has been lost, and now must be found again.”  This part of  the workshop will demonstrate how the mandala is used to treat eating disorders, help symbolize the symptoms, develop greater self-awareness, shift perceptions from a linear (exclusive, obsessive, competitive, dual) modality to a more circular (inclusive, co-operative, welcoming) one, and make behavior changes that reflect that shift.

Part III:

 Q & A /Discussion

Primary Presenter:
Alessandra Gorini, PhD

Alessandra Gorini was born in 1976 in Milan, Italy. She obtained her candidate diploma in experimental psychology in 2001 with a thesis on the functional neuro imaging of reasoning processes. In 2004 she obtained a Master in Clinical Neuropsychology at the University of Padua. In Maastricht, she obtained a second Master (2006) and PhD (2010). She worked as researcher on a European Project regarding the use of virtual reality for the treatment of anxiety disorders. Her growing interest in virtual reality has produced a significant number of international peer-reviewed publications. She has a research position at the University of Milan.

Anna Scelzo, BSc, MsD

Anna Scelzo works as clinical psychologist and psychotherapist at a local hospital near Genoa and in a private practice. She has been working in the field of addiction and eating disorders for the past ten years both with individuals and groups, adolescents and adults. For the last three years she has been also involved in the treatment of obesity, including patients who have undergone bariatric surgery. Anna has conducted workshops for community organizations, schools and healthcare professionals. For the past six years she has been using mandalas in the treatment of eating disorders creating an ‘integrated therapy' system including psychodrama.

, Anna Badini, MD

Anna Badini, psychiatrist and psychotherapist, works at the Mental Health Department and the Center for the Treatment of Addiction near Genoa since 2000. She has gathered experiences in the treatment of Eating Disorders at a Center called ABA, which is the first Association in Italy dedicated to the Treatment of Eating Disorders. Since 2005 she is Responsible of Day-Care Treatment of ED in the department where she presently works. She treats both individuals and groups.

, Anita Johnston, PhD

Anita Johnston, Ph.D. developed Hawaii's first in-patient eating disorders treatment program at Kahi Mohala Hospital in 1986. Currently, she is Director of the Anorexia & Bulimia Center of Hawaii which she co-founded in 1982, Clinical Director and Founder of ‘Ai Pono Eating Disorders Programs in Honolulu, and Senior Advisor/Clinical Consultant for Focus Center for Eating Disorders and Moonpointe Eating Disorders IOP in Tennessee. She is author of Eating in the Light of the Moon: How Women Can Transform Their Relationships with Food Through Myth, Metaphor, and Storytelling, and an international speaker and workshop leader with a private practice in Hawaii.

and Suzanne Ricklin, LCSW-C, BCD, CEDS

Suzanne Ricklin is the co-founder of Century Mental Health, Inc. in Columbia, Maryland. A psychotherapist in private practice for 25 years, she specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, depression and anxiety. Suzanne created and developed In Vision Concept Cards to help address the skill base deficits of her clients. She is a speaker and workshop leader, a Board Certified Diplomate, a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers and an iaedp Approved Supervisor. Suzanne earned her Bachelors degree in Elementary Education from the University of Maryland and her MSW from the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

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