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Marsden, P. (2001). Food and Violence: Childhood Violence and Emotional Abuse as Complicating Factors in the Inpatient Treatment of Eating Disorders. Psychoanal. Psychother., 15(3):225-242.

(2001). Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 15(3):225-242

Food and Violence: Childhood Violence and Emotional Abuse as Complicating Factors in the Inpatient Treatment of Eating Disorders

Patricia Marsden

This paper considers the treatment, on an inpatient eating disorders ward, of patients who have suffered violence and emotional abuse during childhood. The complex web of relationships surrounding these patients is discussed, and it is suggested that there are multiple transferences — to the institution, to various members of staff, and to other patients — and that splitting of these transferences is inevitable. Staff experience powerful countertransference feelings, related to the patient's violent history. A central task for the staff team as a whole is to understand and contain the patient's disturbance — taking on, tolerating, and processing the projections. This demands the close working-together of the members of the multidisciplinary team, so that staff can together openly examine the patient's interaction with them and their own emotional responses to the patient and to other members of staff. If these responses are not understood by the ward staff, they can lead to conflict and inappropriate decisions. On the other hand, if the staff team together can build up a picture of the patient's relationships on the ward, and their meaning for the patient, this picture, like a particular projection of the world in an atlas, provides a ‘map’ of the patient's inner world. This ‘map’ can be used by the staff team in navigating their interactions with the patient. It can also assist the psychotherapist in her work to help the patient recognise and, eventually, own the split-off parts of herself.

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