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The Plastic Brain: Creativity and Neuroplasticity in Eating Disorder Treatment

Thursday, March 23, 2017: 3:45 PM-5:15 PM
La Sirena II (Green Valley Ranch)

Background: People with eating disorders often have cognitive deficits which present challenges even to motivated clients. Cognitive remediation therapy has demonstrated efficacy in other mental health populations. Presenters will explain the most common cognitive issues and how they impact functioning and will demonstrate creative methods to target them using improvisational activities.

Objectives: -Participants will learn about the cognitive deficits commonly found in ED clients. -Participants will learn about recent research in cognitive remediation for ED clients. -Participants will experience and learn creative improvisational techniques and exercises that they can use in their practice.

Cognitive skills functioning can either support or impede therapeutic interventions and the recovery process. Eating disordered clients have shown deficits in several areas, including mental flexibility, set-shifting, central coherence, planning, and problem-solving. Our clients often adhere to rigid rules about food, strive for perfection in their appearance or performance, fail to see the big picture due to focusing on details, and fail to engage in long term planning due to anxiety and fear.

Cognitive remediation is a treatment that has shown promise in treating eating disorder populations, and has proven effective in other mental health populations, such as dementia and psychotic disorders. Using cognitive remediation, clients engage in cognitive tasks to build skills, effectively rewiring neural pathways and improving daily functioning. This therapy challenges clients' abilities in mental flexibility, set-shifting, central coherence, planning, and problem-solving, building neurological scaffolding in support of eating disorder recovery. Improvement in these areas can enhance clients' interpersonal skills, increasing confidence and decreasing social anxiety and fear.

Improv has shown promise in treating anxiety disorders, often comorbid in people with eating disorders. The act of improvising, and the spirit of improv (i.e. saying "Yes, and...", and risk taking) is antithetical to the typical way of being for persons with restrictive eating disorders. These clients often obey strict self-imposed rules around what foods to eat, and when and how much to eat. They may isolate due to social anxiety or in response to the demands of their eating disorder behaviors, becoming fearful of taking social risks involved in making and maintaining friendships. Other clients may be chaotic and impulsive with food, exercise, and relationships indicating a need to practice response inhibition, attention and planning, skills that are also inherent in the practice of improv.

In this workshop, presenters will illustrate how to utilize improvisational games as cognitive remediation exercises. Using playful games, interaction with others, and a look at the current research, presenters will illustrate how to help clients break from their eating disordered routines and build neural pathways to support cognitive flexibility.

Participants will learn about common cognitive deficits found in the eating disordered population, cognitive differences between people with eating disorders and healthy controls, and between different eating disorder diagnoses. Participants will be engaged in discussion and will experience firsthand improvisational activities that can be used in group therapy. Under the guise of playful fun, improv games target the key cognitive remediation tasks of mental flexibility, set-shifting, central coherence, planning and problem-solving; skills that clients need for recovery. Presenters will provide information about research that supports the use of cognitive remediation with this population.
Primary Presenter:
Gillian Tanz, LCSW

Gillian is a licensed clinical social worker with almost 10 years of experience treating severe mood and anxiety disorders in multiple settings. She earned her graduate degree from Fordham University and is trained in cognitive remediation therapy. Gillian has had the privilege of working with people from all walks of life, and loves helping people discover their talents, strengths and authentic selves. Gillian sees her clients as her greatest teachers and looks forward to each new healing partnership. Gillian is passionate about human rights and enjoys yoga, hiking, art, New England seasons and dogs.

Sarah Chipps, PsyD

Dr. Chipps is a graduate of the California School of Professional Psychology and received her post-doctoral training at the University of Nevada, Reno in the treatment of eating disorders. She specializes in the treatment of eating disorders as well as substance abuse. Dr. Chipps is the Clinical Director at Monte Nido River Towns, a 14 bed residential facility for women with eating disorders.

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