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Eur Eat Disord Rev. 2011 Jan-Feb;19(1):25-36. doi: 10.1002/erv.1011.

Un/imaginable future selves: a discourse analysis of in-patients' talk about recovery from an 'eating disorder'.

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Department of Psychology, Centre for Appearance Research, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK.



The limited efficacy of treatments for eating disorders has been well documented. Yet few studies have explored patients' views about recovery or how culturally dominant ideas might be implicated in recovery or failure to recover.


This paper explores how 'self', 'eating disorders' and 'recovery' are discursively constructed in patients' accounts of their treatment experiences.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 39 participants, hospitalised, either in Britain or Australia, for anorexia nervosa and/or bulimia. Participants were asked to discuss past and present treatment experiences and their views on their recovery and future. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed qualitatively using a discourse analytic methodology.


Participants frequently construed their eating disorder in very negative ways whilst recovery was often positively construed as, for example, entailing happiness, freedom from fear and the ability to live a fuller life. However, many, though not all, participants also talked about recovery as hard or impossible to imagine for themselves.


The paper explores how both the imagining and the seeming inability to imagine their own recovery can be understood in relation to participants' self-constructions and to culturally dominant notions of personhood and eating disorders. The implications of the analysis for therapeutic interventions are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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