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Button Your Lip…Zip it Up!

by Dr. Deah on Feb.18, 2011, under Tasty Morsels: by Dr. Deah Schwartz

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week starts next week!  For Therapists looking for ideas for NEDA Week:  Here is one rather simple expressive arts therapy directive that I used with adolescent and adult patients dealing with body image and disordered eating. (And it is not in the Leftovers DVD/Workbook Set).

Bring in a jar of buttons and zippers. These can frequently be purchased inexpensively at Good Will type stores or if you establish a working relationship with a neighborhood cleaners or fabric store they will often donate them.

Have the client take a large piece of paper.  Provide a variety of markers, magazines, glue and tape, and put the buttons and zippers out in front of them. Have each person choose at least one item (but they may choose more if they want) and incorporate the buttons and zippers into a drawing or collage.  When they are finished, have the client give the finished piece a title.  Depending on the size of the group and how much time is available, have each person share the art piece with the rest of the group.  Some folks may only want to share the title; others will want to talk about the piece more extensively. Of course each therapist has to set their own parameters about time limits and rules. (We do give guide lines for group structure in the Leftovers Workbook).

If your group is an expressive arts group, and you use multi-modalities, use a writing therapy exercise to develop the narrative about the picture.  Then take the  person’s narrative about the piece and role play the story.

Using buttons and zippers with this population is effective because most people struggling with Eating Disorders, Body Dysmorphia, and or Body Dissatisfaction have at one point in their lives used the ability to (or not to) zip or button an article of clothing as a barometer for their success or failure in weight loss.  Dieters often talk about zipping their mouths closed or

button up your lips!! You are on a diet!

buttoning their lip. Some people have gotten their jaws wired shut in attempts to lose weight.  The use of buttons and zippers to open and close things also has meaning as it relates to a person’s sense of self control and efficacy in the world.   What do they choose to let in? What do they want to keep out? When we talk about loosening our collar button, it usually means relaxing from formal constriction to casual and approachable.

Whether it is on a metaphorical or literal level, I’ve found clients’ response to this directive to be enthusiastic and resulting in beneficial social interactions with other group members and insights into their own behavior.  It is a playful non threatening directive that unzips the unconscious and allows the patient to expand their awareness.

2 comments for this entry:
  1. Ragen Chastain


    This is a great exercise. I’m so glad that you are out there doing this amazing work. Thank you for everything that you do!


  2. Dr. Deah

    Thanks Ragen, the feeling is mutual!!!

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