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Stemp, S. (2002). Sensing the Self—Women's Recovery from Bulimia, by Sheila Reindl, Harvard University Press, 2001, 337 ps. Am. J. Psychoanal., 62(1):89-90.
(2002). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 62(1):89-90
Sensing the Self—Women's Recovery from Bulimia, by Sheila Reindl, Harvard University Press, 2001, 337 ps
Review by: Sarah Stemp, Ph.D.
Sensing the Self—Women's Recovery from Bulimia, by Sheila Reindl, is a moving, clearly written, and clinically useful book. The author conducted in-depth interviews of 13 women who considered themselves to have recovered from bulimia. Through artful interweaving of the women's own voices as they tell their stories, together with her own clinical experience and citations from the eating-disorder literature, Reindl allows these 13 women to teach us how “recovering is a process of learning to sense one's self, to attune to one's subjective physical, psychic, and social self-experience” (p. 5). These women's deep sense of shame and their histories of having not been helped to develop a capacity to tolerate painful affects had led them to avoid turning their attention inward to their own feelings (for which they had no words). In the process of recovering, with the help of various kinds of therapies (e.g., individual and group therapy, outpatient and residential settings, and self-help groups such as Overeaters Anonymous), the women learned to identify and trust their sensed experience. During recovery, these women became involved in a laborious process of gradually developing a sense of “enoughness.” This also entailed coming to know and accept needy and aggressive aspects of self that had previously felt intolerably shameful.
These women had what the author calls “a fairly typical course of bulimia”: they had been on average 17 years old when they developed bulimia, which lasted for, on average, five years. The author defines “bulimia” by the DSM III-R's criteria, which includes recurrent episodes of binge eating and regular engagement in purging such as vomiting, and the use of laxatives, fasting, or vigorous exercise to prevent weight gain. The study participants were drawn from colleague-referrals and notices in self-help newsletters and health clubs. Since the sample size was so limited and did not control for gender, race, ethnicity, class, and many other factors, this piece of work leaves many questions for further study. What the author has accomplished, however, is an in-depth analysis of a group of somewhat diverse cases that enable her to compare her subjects' experience and to draw conclusions about issues of etiology and change.
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