Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date. The use of she/her/hers pronouns in some articles is not intended to be exclusionary. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.

Author: Kara Lowe, CTRS, TRS

Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date.

One of the most common dangers therapists are faced with is dependency. If a therapist helps a person to overcome a problem or conquer an addiction, it is very easy for the patient to feel that they need their therapist to overcome other problems. Aaron Beck shared the following insight into this problem,

“The troubled person is led to believe that he can’t help himself and must seek out a professional healer when confronted with distress related to everyday problems of living. His confidence in using the obvious techniques he has customarily used in solving his problems is eroded because he accepts the view that emotional disturbances arise from forces beyond his grasp. He can’t hope to understand himself through his own efforts, because his own notions are dismissed as shallow and insubstantial. By debasing the value of common sense, this subtle indoctrination inhibits him from using his own judgment in analyzing and solving his problems.” (Beck, 1976) When I first came across this quote, I read it several times and thought about how this relates to me and what I do as a recreation therapist. I thought about patients who stop using their own abilities to solve problems and how this can make their problems become worse. I wanted to make sure that this unhealthy dependency was not a part of my recreation therapy practice. I have learned from my experiences a few tools which help to promote autonomy and limit this dependence. I have also learned that some of our clients do need to learn to depend on support systems until they are healthy enough to depend on themselves.”


If you teach a person a variety of skills and how to use those skills to self-sooth, in the long run they will be more selfsufficient and more confident in their abilities. They can learn that they are able to change the course of their life in the future as problems arise. Self-soothing takes a certain degree of individual motivation and patience to wait for uncomfortable emotions to pass in time rather than immediately. However, at some point in treatment this needs to happen for the individual to make a lasting change. I like to help patients experience a variety of self-soothing techniques throughout treatment. There are a variety of interests and stages of life people are in who seek help to heal. At one time in life a person may resonate with certain interests and that resonation may change as life conditions change. It is important to have a variety of selfsoothing techniques in hand for the various circumstances that arise in life.


Children, ancient civilizations, and modern-day healers use art to put personal experiences outside of one’s self. Often times when you see problems/challenges outside yourself in a clear picture, it becomes clear how to resolve the issue. When a problem is trapped in a confined area many times the solution seems jumbled and unattainable. By simply expressing honest feelings in a non-threatening manner, a person can experience a release. Also, creating artwork actually increases the release of endorphin, a natural pain reliever. When a person is in a more relaxed/less anxious state of mind, they are better prepared to make big decisions and properly work through difficult circumstances. Pat Allen writes in “Art Is a Way of Knowing” that in addition to teaching us what it is to be human and alive, art is also “a way of knowing what we actually believe” (Allen, 1995).


According to Victor Frankl in “Man’s Search for Meaning,” “All neurosis can be cured by becoming involved in a cause higher than self.” (Frankl, 1963) While this idea works it is easier imagined than accomplished. Many people feel that they need to be perfect in every way before they can serve another, when in reality none of us is perfect and able to serve in every capacity. Each of us have strengths and weaknesses. There are many capacities in which we can serve and by doing this we tap into a higher purpose and add meaning to life. Viktor Frankl wrote, “We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: 1) by doing a deed; 2) by experiencing a value; and 3) by suffering.” (Frankl, 1963)

However, because this service plan works so well to heal; it can become unhealthy (like the many other good medicines when used improperly). Some people overdose on service, running themselves into a weary delirium for a good cause. Others set up such high expectations for their service that no one human being could ever accomplish it in a lifetime, let alone a week. One secret to experiencing healing from service is to set aside specific time to serve. Another is to enter the day with a quiet heart ready to receive opportunities for service within your range of capabilities. Focus on and do what you can do rather than worrying about what is out of your range of possibilities.


According to the theory of self-efficacy, as a person learns and masters a skill, their general sense of self-efficacy improves. In other words, if a person learns and masters a difficult task, they know that with focus they can learn and master other difficult tasks (Feather, 1969). Self-efficacy can be improved through verbal persuasion, physiological feedback, seeing others succeed, and mainly by succeeding yourself.

Being involved in activities which improve self-efficacy (belief in one’s ability to be successful) will help a person to reach their full potential in all aspects of life such as:

1) Improving social self-efficacy, believing that you can nurture a positive and healthy friendship.

2) Improving hopefulness for the future and belief in one’s ability to contribute to society.

3) Improving faith in one’s ability to manage stress, depression, and anxiety. As a person finds success in one difficult aspect or task, it is important to point out those skills which will cross over to equal success in other challenging aspects in life. Actively experiencing and knowing exactly how it feels to overcome a challenge will empower an individual when future difficulties arise.


It is possible to heal from mental illness without developing dependence. As a person overcomes an illness or addiction they can learn to trust themselves even more. They can learn to monitor themselves to reach out for help as needed, but trust their intuition when they are in a healthy state of mind. We all have times when we know we are not in the proper state of mind to make a big decision- whether it be stress, illness, or unhealthy life patterns. Learning to recognize those times, choosing to reach out for help, and accepting support can help to make us even more independent.

Works Cited Allen, Pat. Art Is a Way of Knowing. (Boston: Shambhala, 1995). Beck, A. T.. Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders. (New York: New American Library, 1976).

Feather, N.T. Attribution of Responsibility and Valence of Success and Failure in Relation to Initial Confidence and Task Performance. (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1969, Vol. 13, No. 2, 129-144).

Frankl, Viktor. Man’s Search for Meaning. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963)