Gina Macdonald, MA, LPC, CEDS, author of Mind Your Own Body: A Body Image Handbook, joined us for an interview on her book. What follows are our questions in italics, and her thoughtful responses.
In your introduction to Mind Your Own Body: A Body Image Handbook, you inform your readers of your goal of providing the “information necessary to the development of a positive and cohesive body image.” How do you define a “positive and cohesive body image”?
As newborns we form our body image through movement, sensory perceptions and physiological experiences. We rely on these “kinesthetic modes of knowing” to establish our body as a personal reference point. All relationships depend on this point of reference, as relationships are connections between two or more.
Attunement and attachment are keys to developing a cohesive body image and in rebuilding a cohesive body image. Our own sensory motor interactions with a newborn’s body provide psychological soothing for them. An “empathetic resonance” forms the foundation of the psychological self to form “unity of mind and body” with “evolving cohesion of body self and image.” (Canner 1982, Kreuger 2002,) “An individual with a healthy body image is generally satisfied with his/her body. Although he/she may experience some dissatisfaction, it rarely interferes with the ability to feel good about oneself, to seek pleasure from the body, and to engage in relationships. There is the capacity to be compassionate towards the body, and to adapt to bodily changes that result from pregnancy, aging and other natural occurrences. Time is spent nurturing the body, and taking care of oneself. The focus is on health and how one feels, rather than how one looks. Concern for outer appearance and internal aspects of self are in balance.” (Crosky and Huston 1994)
Please share a bit about the 4 levels within which you see Body Image existing.
- Tactile and Kinesthetic
You’ve identified some emotional boundaries that can challenge a person’s sense of self. One example is “giving as much as you can for the sake of giving.” Can you please speak to this as a possible factor during the experience of an eating disorder?
Learning to set boundaries is “key” to treating eating disorders and body image. Knowing “what is enough” OR “how much is enough” permeates into food, relationships, money, exercise, sleep, etc. The example of “giving too much” or “giving for the sake of giving” is an example many clients identify with, as they are approval seeking to compensate for feeling inadequate or needing reassurance. Other examples resonate with our clients, as they have not learned to recognize and/or honor the internal cues within themselves, which could help them trust and be confident in choosing how to set boundaries.
What is the connection between body image and accepting a compliment?
With all the hard work our clients do rationally (given all the distorted styles of thinking they adhere to), replenishing their mind/body gets pushed aside as they cannot tolerate being judged and can only tolerate feeling numbness. Acceptance of a compliment equates with letting someone in – to trust them with personal information. For some it is the body they protect, for some it is other aspects of the self. It takes practice to activate the brain receptors and learn to receive positive information.
Of the various experiential tasks presented, you offer a section on breath and breathing. What is your favorite?
Ratio breathing helps to calm down.
Emotional breathing helps to tolerate and/or derail from an overload of emotions and sensations.
What are some of the insights a therapist can learn by observing a client’s expressive movement?
First and foremost, try not to interpret the meaning of a client’s posture, gesture or expression. Rather allow the client to do so. For example, rather than saying, “that looked angry or aggressive”, a clinician might say “that looked strong and powerful. What were you feeling?” This is where training in movement analysis comes in to assist us. Through attunement, we can experience the energy of another’s feelings and/or emotions and connect to them in a non-verbal manner. The process of increasing the other’s own awareness requires the professional to guide them into a space to do so in a non-judgmental way. Kinesthetic awareness, kinesthetic empathy, attunement, rhythmic synchronicity are ways of being present in ourself, so the client can feel US being aware, empathetic, engaged, attuned and above all non-judgmental.
Please tell us about what led you to develop your book.
What led me to write my book? The final straw that motivated me to write this book was to hear our sitting President body shame women publicly. It bothered me that a leader with political power could not recognize the millions of women and females impacted from such words – often to the point of developing an eating disorder. Chiefly, I wanted to share information on body image for staff (therapists, directors, doctors and other clinicians). There are many misconceptions regarding body image of which even eating disorder therapists are not aware. An example is talk therapy leaves the body out of the body’s healing process or in Brach’s words, improvement that is “apt to be only a temporary remission.” (From: Bringing The Body Back into “Body Image”: Body-Centered Perspectives on Eating Disorders by Adrienne Ressler and Susan Kleinman (p.329). This is why I stress the importance of experiential healing in the treatment of eating disorders (which undoubtedly helped me during the early 70’s when facing my eating disorder).
About the author:
Gina Macdonald MA, LPC, CEDS is a licensed Professional Counselor in Connecticut. She provides a safe confidential space for treating adolescents, young adults and adults (ages 11-70 years) who struggle with Eating Disorders, food and weight issues and body-image issues.
Gina has worked in hospital settings and treatment centers focusing on these issues for 20 years as a therapist and treating staff professional. Her specialty is the area of body-image disturbance (distortion and/or dissatisfaction). She is also a certified yoga instructor and has taught yoga for 22 years.