Clinical Social Work Journal

, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 38–46 | Cite as

Listening to Words, Hearing Feelings: Links Between Eating Disorders and Alexithymia

  • F. Diane Barth
Original Paper


Research suggests that eating disorders often involve difficulty with affect regulation and processing of emotions. Studies also show that many individuals with these difficulties suffer from alexithymia, or an impaired ability to use language to tolerate or process emotions. Many clients with eating disorders are highly verbal, able to talk about feelings and even have good insight into the causes of their behaviors. Yet their verbal and cognitive strengths may disguise their inability to use thoughts to manage their emotions. Such clients often have a lifelong experience of appearing more capable and competent than they feel. Self-criticism and negative self-image concretized in a negative body image are part of their eating disorder. Therapeutic exploration can increase anxiety and self-criticism, aggravating feelings of inadequacy and the concomitant need for self-soothing. Techniques that focus on affect regulation have been shown to be effective, yet a psychodynamic approach can be an important tool in such an integrative practice. In this article, clinical material and theory will illustrate some of the ways that incorporating an understanding of alexithymia into the work can enhance the use of both psychodynamic exploration of meaning and also tools to manage affect and change behavior.


Eating disorders Body image Eating disorders and alexithymia Eating disorders and failure to process affects Eating disorders, language and affects Eating disorders and lack of signal emotions 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Private PracticeNew YorkUSA

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