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

Lin, Bailey; Malson, Helen; Bailey, Lin; Clarke, Simon; Treasure, Janet; Anderson, Gail; Kohn, Michael


Bailey Lin

Helen Malson
Associate Professor in Social Psychology

Lin Bailey

Simon Clarke

Janet Treasure

Gail Anderson

Michael Kohn


Background: 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. Aims This paper explores how 'self', 'eating disorders' and 'recovery' are discursively constructed in patients' accounts of their treatment experiences. Method 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. Results 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. Discussion 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. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and Eating Disorders Association.


Lin, B., Malson, H., Bailey, L., Clarke, S., Treasure, J., Anderson, G., & Kohn, M. (2011). Un/imaginable future selves: A discourse analysis of in-patients' talk about recovery from an 'eating disorder'. European Eating Disorders Review, 19(1), 25-36.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 1, 2011
Journal European Eating Disorders Review
Print ISSN 1072-4133
Electronic ISSN 1099-0968
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 19
Issue 1
Pages 25-36
Keywords eating disorders, patient views, discourse, self, recovery, qualitative research, body image
Public URL
Publisher URL