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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Case studies of the bulimic experience Gibson, Michelle Louise


Although reported cases of bulimia are continuing to increase, much about the cause, nature, and treatment of the disorder is still not known. This thesis sought to develop a detailed body of knowledge based on three case studies of the subjective experiences of bulimic women. Three self-selected women from the self-help group, Overeaters Anonymous, volunteered for the study. Participation was contingent upon the completion of a DSM-IIIR symptom checklist identifying substantive amounts of bulimic behavior. Each woman participated in a one-hour case history pre-interview; twelve, one-hour sessions; and a one-hour follow-up interview six weeks after sessions terminated. The twelve sessions were intended to provide a safe environment in which to explore the bulimic experience aided by the use of art therapy and guided imagery exercises where deemed appropriate by both counsellor and client. Four findings in the study validated existing phenomenological research. They were: fear of losing control leading to feelings of abandonment; the use of bulimia as a protective shield; a desire to purify; and global and food-specific shame and guilt. Nine themes extended findings from previous research. They were: a sense of Godlessness, self-doubt, feeling like a 'freak', opposing attitudes/desires on a single issue, self-pity, disenchantment with the perceived female role, exceptional concern for the perceived down-trodden, the memory of an unsafe childhood, and fear of intimacy. A final finding extended research through charting an overall pattern of experience of the bulimic woman's journey of healing. Participants reported positive benefits from the use of guided imagery in that they felt it enabled them to access previously inaccessible thoughts and feelings. These findings may be useful for both theoretical and practical application.

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