A contemporary psychodynamic framework can add much to our understanding of eating disorders. Eating disorders are associated with complex comorbidities, high levels of mortality, and therapist countertransferences that can complicate psychological treatments. Mainstream models currently focus on cognitive, biological, or cultural factors to the near exclusion of attachment functioning, and the individual’s dynamics. As such, standard models appear to exclude person-centred and developmental considerations when providing treatments. In this article, we describe a contemporary psychodynamic model that understands eating disorder symptoms as a consequence of vulnerability to social pressures to be thin and biological predispositions to body weight. Individual vulnerabilities are rooted in unmet attachment needs causing negative affect, and subsequent maladaptive defenses and eating disorder symptoms as a means of coping. We describe how this model can inform transdiagnostic eating disorder treatment that focuses on symptoms as well as specific attachment functions including: interpersonal style, affect regulation, reflective functioning, and coherence of mind. Two clinical examples are presented to illustrate case formulations and psychological treatments informed by these conceptualizations.
Keywords: Attachment behavior, eating disorders, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating disorder.