Study Suggests It’s Important to Target Shame Early in Eating Disorder Treatments


Certain therapies, such as Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT) and the work we do at ACT With Compassion, are based upon the idea that shame plays a role in the maintenance of a variety of mental health struggles, including disordered eating. Yet, the evidence-base for how shame and self-compassion affect therapy and remission over time is more limited and sometimes contradictory.

Early Reductions in Shame Predicts Subsequent Improvement in Eating

apples_267.jpgIn order to explore whether shame contributes to the maintenance of eating disorder symptoms, a group of researchers in Canada tracked the levels of shame and self-compassion experienced by individuals in an inpatient program for eating disorders over 12 weeks. The researchers found that patients who had relatively large, early (i.e. within the first 4 weeks) reductions in shame experienced fewer eating disorder symptoms by the end of treatment. In contrast, patients who had relatively small, early reductions in shame did not improve over the course of treatment. While early increases in self-compassion did not predict symptom reduction, increases in self-compassion predicted faster reductions in shame over the course of treatment.

Clinical Take-Away

This research suggests that shame may contribute to the maintenance of eating disorder symptoms; therefore, it may be important to target shame in therapy, especially early on. Helping clients develop self-compassion could help them in combatting feelings of shame.

Interested in learning more? Read the original study here.

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