Denial and resistance to change are prominent features in most patients with anorexia
nervosa. The egosyntonic quality of symptoms can contribute to inaccuracy in self-report,
avoidance of treatment, difficulties in establishing a therapeutic relationship, and
high rates of attrition and relapse. Individuals with bulimia nervosa are typically
more motivated to recover, but often ambivalent about forfeiting the ideal of slenderness
and the protective functions of binge-purge behavior. Few attempts have been made
to assess denial and resistance in the eating disorders, or to examine alternative
strategies for enhancing motivation to change. Review of the clinical literature indicates
a striking convergence of recommendations across conceptually distinct treatment approaches.
Clinicians are encouraged to acquire a frame of reference that can help them understand
the private experience of individuals with eating disorders, empathize with their
distress at the prospect of weight gain, and acknowledge the difficulty of change.
The Socratic method seems particularly well-suited to work with this population because
of its emphasis on collaboration, openness, curiosity, patience, focused and systematic
inquiry, and individual discovery. Four themes are crucial in engaging reluctant eating-disordered
clients in therapy: the provision of psychoeducational material, an examination of
the advantages and disadvantages of symptoms, the explicit use of experimental strategies,
and an exploration of personal values.