Helping young people to build a positive body image

Check out this free activity from bestselling author Kate Collins-Donnelly’s upcoming book Banish Your Body Image Thief. Collins-Donnell_Banish-Your-Bod_978-1-84905-463-8_colourjpg-print

This activity will help young people to be more aware of, and to understand, their own body image and how to develop this in a healthy way. Examples of poems, drawings and songs from other young people will help them get started and show that they are not alone in how they feel.

Download the activity here

Read more about Banish Your Body Image Thief

Read more about Banish Your Self-Esteem Thief, also coming soon from Kate Collins-Donnelly.

With eating disorders and action therapy, slow is the way to go

JKP author Karen Carnabucci, a licensed clinical social worker and board-certified trainer, educator and practitioner of psychodrama, sociometry and group psychotherapy, discusses pacing of eating disorders and actions therapies workshops and training sessions for clients—With eating disorders and action therapy, slow is the way to go. Karen is the co-author of Healing Eating Disorders with Psychodrama and Other Action Methods: Beyond the Silence and the Fury.

When we work with people with eating disorders and dieting struggles, we suggest going slow—very slow.

Some of our clients, trainees and others are surprised about the pacing of our workshops and training sessions where we encourage meditative Healing Eating Disorders with Psychodrama and Other Action Methodsbreathing, mindful movement, frequent pausing during meals and dramas that proceed step by step and scene by scene. After all, psychodrama is supposed to be “dramatic” with lots of lively action—right?

Although it is true that psychodrama has sometimes been labeled with a reputation for a rat-a-tat style of dramatic scenes – which certainly can be useful in dramas that focus on play or take place in educational and theater settings – such a speedy pace is not always helpful for eating disorders treatment.  

In the case of eating disorders, slow is the way to go. In our book Healing Eating Disorders with Psychodrama and Other Action Methods: Beyond the Silence and the Fury, we encourage thoughtful pacing as we seek to model to our clients another option for living.

Here is why:

  • Our culture favors a certain kind of body shape and weight and level of attractiveness that is not realistic for most people to meet. This same culture promotes quick fixes and fast food at the expense of learning how to savor food, the experience of eating and the process of living. Women are encouraged to try faster dieting techniques for losing weight—28 pounds in 30 days!—and men are given quick-time promises for products and gadgets to bulk up their muscles or carve those abdominals. Being able to invest time in recovery can be an important relief for our clients who may have felt pushed and pressured most of their lives to look a certain way. When we take our time, recovery becomes not a wild race to the finish line but a slowly evolving process as the person learns to improvise new ways of responding to life’s challenges.
  •  The natural rhythms of the body have been greatly disrupted by disordered eating.  Appetites are skewed for high or low, and the sleep cycle is often disrupted along with other basic body functions. All body systems—circulation, respiration, digestion and elimination plus the reproductive system, endocrine system and the nervous system—have subtle rhythms of their own, and we must give permission to our bodies to learn how to return to these natural rhythms. Experiencing moments of slowness with meditative walking, quiet reflection, gentle yoga poses and periods of listening interspersed by periods of action are a few of the many ways to support and integrate the experience of slowing down.
  • People with eating disorders and body distress are likely to have a history of trauma, whether it is sexual abuse, childhood maltreatment, early disruptions in attachment to caregivers, such as separation from mother due to premature birth, early illness, death of mother, and intergenerational pain. When we encounter trauma as professionals we must be careful that we do not rush our clients into re-experiencing the trauma bare of strengths and resources. We like the Therapeutic Spiral Model, a modification of psychodrama for trauma survivors, which focuses on identifying and integrating personal, relational and spiritual strengths before trauma material is addressed. As the person actually experiences these strengths and resources, he or she will be able to consciously and effectively address the trauma in a manner that leads to genuine healing.

Of course, there are times when our dramas with eating disorder clients became raucous with laughter and cheers, and there may be singing and drumming or stomping of feet when the client, the drama and the developmental stage of the group properly calls for these experiences. The skilled psychodramatist will be able to move between all of these scenes and experiences to guide the client to a new life.

New Post from JKP author Linda Ciotola—Learn to Love Your Body Through Yoga

Linda-Bio-PictureJKP author Linda Ciotola, M.Ed., TEP, ACE Certified Health Coach, Personal Trainer, Fitness and Yoga Instructor shares her experience and expertise from a recent 90 minute workshop—Learn to Love Your Body Through Yoga. Linda is co-Author, with Karen Carnabucci, of Healing Eating Disorders with Psychodrama and Other Action Methods—Beyond the Silence and the Fury.

In our book on healing eating disorders we emphasize the benefits of a holistic approach to the treatment of issues such as disordered eating, body dissatisfaction, related mood disorders and more.  Action methods which involve the body as well as the mind, heart, and spirit are particularly effective and lend themselves to collaboration with several other modalities which we explore in our book:  art, music, mindfulness, Reiki and other energy work, acupuncture, yoga, and more.  Case studies and a variety of examples illustrate a number of creative options.Healing Eating Disorders with Psychodrama and Other Action Methods

In a recent 90 minute workshop given at a yoga studio, I combined action methods, education, mindfulness, poetry, art and yoga so participants could experience the power of integrating these modalities.

Following introductions and group guidelines (confidentiality, self-care, freedom to choose one’s level of participation and an overview of class, and so on), I introduced the class to the concept of “the Witness Role”—the part of the self that can step back and observe thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without judgment and with compassion.

Prior to class, I had blessed the room with Reiki and placed a selection of artistic photograph cards (spring landscapes*) along the window sills.  Group members were invited to select a card that could “ . . . hold the Role of the Witness for you throughout today’s workshop.  Share the card and reasons for choosing the card with one other person in the room whom you do not know.”  Then, cards were placed somewhere in the room where each card could “hold the role of the Inner Witness” for the time of the workshop.

Then, returning to our circular seating arrangement, class members were instructed to look in their folder for a copy of a poem which I selected related to the theme.  After reading, members shared verbally which lines of the poem resonated with them.

Following this, was the teaching of basic yoga principles specifically as they apply to issues around making peace with food and the body and developing “the Self-Care Role”.  Topics included “Yamas” of non-harm to self and others; truthfulness to self and others; being authentic; discerning the difference between needs and wants; moderation; and releasing attachments to outcomes.  Next, the “Niyamas” for cultivating a healthy inner life:  external and internal purity; “the body is a temple of the spirit”; practice of contentment and maintaining equanimity—responding to life with love and faith, not from fear; cultivating passion for health rather than obsession with weight or appearance; practice of self-observation (i.e. Inner Witness Role) by taking time to pause and breathe to understand one’s reactions and triggers; and the practice of surrender.

Next, ways of incorporating these into life were explored, beginning with the breath and the experience of noticing one’s breath mindfully followed by yoga breathing.  Following this was meditation on and off the mat, both with movement and in stillness.  And following was brief teaching about the power of positive affirmations; journaling; the necessity of movement balanced with stillness; getting support and practicing gratitude.

All teaching points were covered in handouts including the research supported benefits of Hatha Yoga such as the elevation of serotonin, helping alleviate depression, ADHD, anxiety and yoga’s multiple physiological benefits.

The class drew to a close with members each returning to the space where “the witness card” had been placed.  “Take the role of your witness and look at ‘yourself’ (envisioned on the mat or bolster where they had been seated) and in a few sentences from the Witness Role, tell yourself what you observed and the ‘take home’ message from the workshop.”  After each participant did this, the circle re-formed and each person stated his/her name with a hand on heart re-affirming the pledge of confidentiality and self-care.  For closing, the word and gesture, “NAMASTE” which is a slight bow, hands held in “prayer pose” by the heart, meaning “The Light in me honors the Light in you.”

The workshop feedback forms showed a consensus of the group members’ experiences as:

. . . inclusive, thoughtful, gentle, non-judgmental . . . loved the learning and the helpful reminder of how to incorporate yoga into my recovery . . .

*Thanks to Landscape photographer and poet Alma Nugent for providing these.

For more information or to buy Healing Eating Disorders with Psychodrama and Other Action Methods, please visit our website.

C’mon everybody – get writing!

Vanessa Rogers is the author of Working with Young Women, Working with Young Men, Let’s Talk Relationships, 101 Things to Do on the Street amongst others. In this article she gives her writing tips for aspiring authors. And, if you’re feeling inspired feel free to send in your proposals to

They say that there is a book in all of us, and judging from the number of emails and Tweets I get from people in the youth work and social education field inspired to write their own, it would certainly seem to be true. So this is a collective response to those of you who have asked me for ideas of how to start writing, and to share my personal experiences of writing a book. I hope it is useful – but please remember this is only my way, which I made up as I stumbled along the way.

When I start a new resource book it is because the subject holds a compelling fascination for me. For example, Working with Young Women (Jessica Kingsley Publishers ISBN 9781849050951) came out of lots of girls’ groups that I was facilitating at the time. The young women came to the group because they had been identified as at risk of offending and aggressive behaviour, but the more I got to know them the more I thought that a lot of their behaviour was actually a response to the bad relationships they had with their peers, parents and boy/girlfriends. It seemed to me that their anger and aggression was a coping mechanism that until now had worked for them. So, this made me question how young women can build a sense of self, gain confidence and assertiveness, look at the role models they have and their aspirations for life – in a way that is interesting, non-judgemental and fun. After all, through the group work I was basically asking them to change their existing coping behaviour, (which whilst not necessarily socially acceptable to all, gave them the kudos and ‘respect’ they sought), to take a chance of being vulnerable and exploring things that hurt to find a better way with me. But it seemed that this was the foundation for everything else – e.g. if you value yourself and your body you are more likely to respect it and look after it.

So from here, as for every other book I have written, I devised a series of questions that I wanted to answer. These help me keep focused and distill the essence of what I am trying to do.

After that, I spend about 3 months researching the topic. I do this by reading around the subject and trawling the Internet for ethical and correct data and statistics, but also by speaking with other practitioners and as many young people, or in the example above as many young women, as I can, to ask my questions and test out some of my theories. By now I usually have at least one box file filled with clippings and stuff, as well as my trusty notebook (I always have at least one hardback notebook on the go) filled with points to remember and ideas for games, quizzes or activities.

One thing; all of my session plans have to be tried out with young people before I will include them. For me, this part is one of the rules of my work to keep it ethical and grounded – it has to have been tried and tested and I have to know that young people will learn from it and more importantly enjoy doing so.

As I write constantly this means that I often have ideas stashed on my computer that are developed later when the opportunity presents itself. I try my best to include lots of learning styles in the activities and this might mean that I write the same learning outcomes three times, with three different ideas for delivering them. So, as I try them out with young people I use the one that goes best and dump the rest. I also ask young people to give me feedback as the book comes together, which I value as they don’t hold back if they think it won’t work!

Once this is done, I stick my main points on bits of paper around my desk and tell everyone that I am going to be ‘writing’. To my family this means that I am likely to be distracted, a bit bad tempered and the dinners will be rubbish for a while – but the good news is that I will be in the house for days on end and easily tempted to buy take-aways!! To my friends it means that if I do see them I am probably going to bore them witless by obsessing over my blossoming (or not) book. All training and other work is put on hold. And then – I write it.

I tend to write ‘all over’ my books – meaning that I might write part of the intro, then get a bit stuck so move on to one of the later chapters.  It may look chaotic but it isn’t – more like putting a jigsaw together, because by this stage I know exactly what I want to write and how it will look at the end. I tend to really get into this bit so write day and night, with no adherence to office hours – I actually prefer working through the night so it is pretty usual for me to be writing between 2 and 5 a.m.

Once it is done – which usually takes about 7 days end to end – I put it away for at least 3 days before getting it out and editing / doing the final writing.

Then it is off to Jessica Kingsley Publishers …… and I miss it like mad …… get a bit sad, like at the end of any relationship …… do any edits or re-writes asked of me by the editors and proof readers ….. and leave the printers to get on with it. In my head it is over.

I try and build a break in at this point so that I can have fun with friends and family and shake off the topic that has been all consuming for what might have been up to a year. And then, just when I think that I have had enough of writing, something sparks my interest – and the whole cycle begins again.

I hope this helps – but as I say all writers are different and I am sure you will find your own way of working. My only advice would be, write for you and choose a subject you feel passionate about – if you aren’t at the start, you definitely won’t be at the end! My very best wishes and good luck with it – let me know how you get on.


In Search of Youth Work by JKP author Vanessa Rogers

An interesting and thought provoking article from JKP author, Vanessa Rogers on what it is to be a youth worker today. Vanessa is the author of a number of titles on working with young people including, Working with Young Women, Working with Young Men, Let’s Talk Relationships, 101 Things to Do on the Street, and new from JKP the Little Books on Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco Set.

What is Youth Work?

Today I realised that I have been a youth worker for over 15 years, yet I still struggle to explain exactly what that means, especially to someone outside of the profession. It is not a simple answer and I have even been known to say, ‘social worker’ in certain social settings just because it is easier.

The irony is not lost on me; that I am prepared to betray my profession, even though I feel so passionately about it, because I can’t be bothered to explain what I do and that it involves more than playing pool and sorting out squabbles about which track to play next on the iPod in the youth club. Explaining detached youth work is even harder, and has even been met with snorts of laughter at the thought of being paid to wander the streets talking to unknown young people. ‘But what is the point?’ is a constant refrain.

It has not always been so. There was a time not that long ago when it would be hard for me not to weigh in with my views. In fact, many of my ex-students could stand testament to the fact that, ‘what is youth work?’ is one of my favourite assignment titles, and the 500 words produced in response are a constant source of interest and heated debate.

Then it dawned on me that perhaps the sinking heart I get whenever someone asks me what I do for a living is not merely personal apathy, but because I have had the conversation one too many times. The sense of justifying what youth work is, why it matters and the unique place it has in supporting young people – not only amongst friends, family and strangers but also with youth workers and other professionals – has become habitual. I realised that I am a bit tired of the struggle and don’t want to spend time any more time analysing the process at a cost of actually doing it less.

It hasn’t always been so difficult, although I am in no way harping back to some mythical golden age of youth work. I am simply pointing out that if you had asked me 15 years ago what I did my answer would have been pretty easy – an area youth worker for the Youth & Community Service responsible for developing girls work, work with young parents and managing a large and busy youth wing on the site of a school in an area described as ‘deprived’. So far, so clear.

The role of a Youth Worker

Fast forward and my role, but not my professional title, has changed so many times that writing a CV can be a daunting thing. Terminology for the young people, or ‘client group’, has changed from young people ‘at risk’ through ‘vulnerable’ to ‘targeted’; youth services have dropped the ‘ & community’ tag and been variously part of the education, leisure, Connexions and social care departments.

Responsibilities have changed to include meeting parents, undertaking social care assessments, creating community profiles and measuring work by the number of accredited outcomes achieved.
What constitutes ‘youth work’ has changed so many times that it can now be tagged on to virtually any service that works with young people.

But is this a good or bad thing? Is the increase in those using traditional youth work skills to engage with young people something to be celebrated or lamented? All I know is that ‘youth work’ is a notoriously difficult term to describe, and it isn’t getting any easier. The task of trying to find a pithy one-liner to sum up the collective aims of so many different clubs, societies and detached projects is almost impossible.

Perhaps it is that so many people now describe themselves as ‘youth workers’, whilst working in areas more traditionally associated with social workers or youth justice? I have even spoken with police officers that say they do ‘youth work’. Really? Are the professional boundaries so completely enmeshed? Please note this isn’t about professional qualifications, or even the lack of them, more a questioning of how the ethos of voluntary participation and the gradual process of building positive relationships and engaging and empowering young people fits within a law and order or social care framework.

The ethos at the heart of Youth Work

Historically, youth work did not develop just to ‘keep people off the streets’ or to provide aimless amusement, it has always offered social and political education in an informal environment. Good youth work may look as if it just ‘happens’ but the success of it actually depends on good planning, clear aims and measurable outcomes. This ethos should be at the heart of all youth work – especially detached projects. Surely an exciting detached project that motivates young people to get involved should result in more, not less, youths on the street? And that should constitute success?

Put simply, providing young people with a ‘good time’ is not enough. Effective youth work should offer young people the opportunity to meet, socialise, develop new skills, explore the world around them and learn to question and challenge what they see effectively. Detached projects should not be about forcing young people off the streets and away from adult eyes, but more about building trust and developing interesting projects that are relevant to their needs, reflecting the things of importance to them. Which is unlikely to be the same as the media focus on demonizing young people as part of a lawless counter-culture.

As I see it the need to build two-way respect between young people and other members of their community is paramount – after all it is hard to encourage young people to take up their responsibilities and become active citizens if they are treated like social outcasts. Why would you want to be part of something that clearly doesn’t want you?

Perhaps the answer is purely financial. In the struggle to chase funding and secure projects we have been forced to chase the pound, rather than offer what young people truly want. Or maybe as numbers dwindle in traditional old-style youth clubs what’s on offer is simply outdated and no longer meets the needs of teenagers. In that case let’s stop hanging on to the solutions of the past and try new ideas.

Listening to Young People

Young people can be innovative and visionary, with energy and enthusiasm to shape and change the world. To do this they need to find ways to get their voices heard and be able to see that their participation in things like youth councils, forums and consultations actually makes a difference. To be honest, as an adult I am happy to give my opinion on things that matter to me but I get disheartened and then disinterested if nothing ever comes of it and I don’t receive any feedback. Too often I think young people are let down because although they are told that their opinions count, when it comes to money and budgets, they don’t. Participation has to be more than a paper exercise or a way to ‘tick boxes’.

Reclaiming Youth Work

So I think it is time for youth workers to stand up and reclaim youth work by celebrating how different it is to other work with young people. It should be seen as a whole, not as a useful pick’n’mix to compliment other services, and defined in our own terms – whether that is through a Youth Work Academy or some other collective process – before someone else does it for us.

In another 15 years time I don’t want to still be ducking the question, ‘what do you do for a living?’ – I want to be able to say (still with pride), ‘I am a youth worker’, and for that to mean something.

Using analogies and metaphors to understand and help defeat a child’s eating disorder – An Interview with Ahmed Boachie and Karin Jasper

Dr Ahmed Boachie is Program Director of the Eating Disorder Program at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, and Staff Psychiatrist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario. Dr Karin Jasper is Clinical Mental Health Specialist and Research Co-ordinator of the Eating Disorder Program at Southlake Regional Health Centre, and Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Toronto.

Drs Boachie and Jasper are co-authors of the new book, A Parent’s Guide to Defeating Eating Disorders: Spotting the Stealth Bomber and Other Symbolic Approaches. Here, they discuss their unique approach to helping parents and professionals get to grips with the challenges faced by young people with eating disorders and, ultimately, help overcome them.

How did you each come to work in the field of eating disorders?

AB: I trained as a child psychiatrist in Great Britain with extensive developmental pediatrics background knowledge. With eating disorders there is always a need to understand the child from both perspectives. Bringing this integrated perspective also really helps parents appreciate the need to intervene without delay, and to understand how indispensable their role is in helping their child recover. Eating disorders are among the most common causes of morbidity and mortality in children and they have a high potential for becoming chronic. Yet, in comparison with other illnesses they are paid little attention. It is still very common for an eating disorder to go undetected until it has become entrenched and is affecting a child or teen’s physical, psychological, and social development.

KJ: At first what caught my attention was the impact of our culture’s obsession with dieting and body shaping as solutions to nearly every life challenge. I saw that this obsession was particularly stifling to the lives of girls and women. It has intensified and today increasingly affects males as well. Specializing in the area of eating disorders, what I see is that children and teens who are caught in the grip of the disorder and whose lives and development are at stake, are able to recover. When they first come for treatment their personalities and voices are muffled and muted by the eating disorder. As their parents help them get well, their individuality returns. It’s the most beautiful thing!

Tell us about the new book – what is unique about the approach it takes?

Our book is innovative in that it uses analogies and metaphors to crystallize an understanding of eating disorders and crucial aspects of their treatment, which can improve the therapeutic alliance among professionals, parents, and children. Children and teens with eating disorders think that no one understands them and find it difficult to trust anyone, which presents a major obstacle for recovery. Parents often try to calm their children’s anxieties about food and weight-gain by minimizing expectations for food intake. The analogies and metaphors in our book help parents understand eating disorders in a way that allows them to ally themselves with treatment rather than with the eating disorder. Children who believe that others grasp their experience find it easier to open up. They feel understood, respected, appreciated, and supported, thus decreasing their guilt and improving their listening. Professionals may find the book increases their understanding of the complex presentations of eating disorders and thereby find it easier to explain them to parents. It can help everyone to work together effectively.

Why is the use of metaphor so effective in helping young people with eating disorders and their parents understand eating disorders and treatments?

Just as comedians make us laugh about things that are difficult to talk about and help us focus on the right rather than the wrong things, with metaphors and analogies we can make eating disorders understandable, reduce parents’ self-blame, and help them focus their strengths in a way that facilitates their child’s recovery. Children or teens may be unable to appreciate the real danger they are in because they are focused on the perceived “benefits” of the eating disorder and are fearful of being without it. Analogies and metaphors can help them shift their focus and see that there is a way out.

The 911 Call

A young person with an eating disorder may ask for help and then deny that she wants it, like someone who has an intruder in her home and calls 911 but, when help arrives, finds that the intruder is standing at her back with a gun, forcing her to say everything is all right after all. After some time living with the illness and giving up hope of being rescued, the young person may also start thinking of the intruder as her protector, believing that it is better to live with the eating disorder than to give it up for some other coping mechanism which may not work. When parents bring the young person for treatment, she experiences the professional who treats her as an unhelpful or dangerous alternative to her protector, the eating disorder.

– from Chapter 1: Rationale for Anologies and Metaphors

What are some common obstacles that parents face when trying to help their child overcome an eating disorder, and how will this book help?

The most important obstacle is that parents have traditionally been put to the sidelines in the treatment of their children with eating disorders. More recently it has been demonstrated that parents have a central part to play in helping their children get well. Our book will help by making eating disorders and their treatment transparent to parents in a way that empowers them to take the key role in their children’s recovery.

There are many myths about eating disorders that contribute to delays in identifying and treating them – for instance, that a girl who eats candy, chocolate, and chips cannot possibly have an eating disorder, or that boys don’t get eating disorders at all. Once recognized, thinking that an eating disorder is just a phase and that the child will just grow out of it, can contribute to delay in treatment. Because eating disorders also resemble other illnesses like depression or digestive problems, especially in the earlier stages, it can be difficult to get a diagnosis that leads to appropriate referral for treatment. Illnesses like pneumonia are not like this – it is straightforward to get a diagnosis and treatment. Specialized treatments for eating disorders may be available, but can also be expensive or difficult to access because of location or long waiting lists.

Eating disorders are a-motivational illnesses, which is to say that the person with the eating disorder does not feel motivated to change or is unable to sustain a motivation to change that would see her through treatment. There are perpetuating effects of the eating disorder related to semi-starvation – for example, depression – that contribute to the child or teen’s a-motivation for treatment.

A child or teen with an eating disorder needs her parents to understand the nature of the illness, to persist through systemic barriers, and to guide her firmly but compassionately through the process of recovery. Our book helps by using analogies and metaphors to inform parents about this process and to help motivate them through it.

Parents are the Priceless Resource

What is the most priceless thing to human beings? Air. It’s everywhere and it costs nothing. It comes to you even if you make no effort to find it. Just because we take it for granted, doesn’t mean it isn’t priceless. Parents may ask: “Is there any other facility I can take her to?” thinking that a more specialized or better hospital will be the answer. This is not the answer. It is you helping her to eat that will make the difference. The key is your own presence and involvement, at whatever stage of the illness your child may be.

– from Chapter 1: Rationale for Anologies and Metaphors

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.