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If you suffer from an eating disorder now or have in the past, please email Joanna for a free telephone consultation.


Eating Disorder Recovery
Joanna Poppink, MFT
Eating Disorder Recovery Psychotherapist
serving Arizona, California, Florida, Oregon and Utah.
All appointments are virtual.


butterfly catapillar metaphor symbol


This *graphic is based on a closeup picture of a butterfly wing. Catapillars do not go to sleep and emerge as butterflies. Just like us, seeking to transform into an eating disorder free person living a lovely new life, the metamorphis of the catapillar butterfly experience is one of acknowledgement, battle, disintegration, transition, creativity, determination and emergence.

Read on for detail and description of  "Experiential Levels of Patient and Psychotherapist during Eating Disorder Recovery Work."


The catapillar is an eating machine. At some point in its eating marathon it stops, builds a cocoon and withdraws from the extenal world. There the imaginal cells of the butterfly become known. What follows is a ferocious battle as the catapillar cells and the butterfly cells fight with all the strength and determination they can muster. The catapillar cells defend against the onslought of the butterfly cells. The butterfly cells are powerrul and relentless as they consume the catapillar cells. During the process the catapillar turns into a gooey mass. The mass contains the vicorious butterfly cells which use the material to painstakingly work to create the new entity, the butterfly.

When the time is right the butterfly emerges, slowly and gently so its delicate wings dry properly and can be capable of flight.

The metaphor in this process for eating disorder recovery, to my mind, is outstanding in its accuracy.

I'll write more about this and share my talk to colleagues about this subject at my Los Angeles chapter meeting of California Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT).

Here's the handout I gave to the members of the audience. I've received many requests for this handout so I'm posting it here. Feel free to share it as long as you include the full author attribution at the bottom of the page.

Experiential Levels of Patient and Psychotherapist during Eating Disorder Recovery Work

Levels of Recovery Work – Patient (dormant and disguised energy moves from eating disorder to authentic living)

  1. Suspicion and rigid grasp of eating disorder behaviors
  2. Fear/Trust as eating disorder behaviors fall and anxiety grows
  3. Wonderment that anxiety can quell as new learning, skill acquisition begins
  4. Rage and fear about past history. (Grief permeates almost all levels.)
  5. Fury, fear and shock that growing beyond level 4 is their private work
  6. Delight and new psychological strength based on growing competence and higher quality relationships
  7. Daring mixed with fear as powers of discrimination are tested
  8. Discovery and recognition of personal courage as authentic beliefs and values are embraced
  9. Practice in moving toward authentic goals based on authentic personal values as eating disorder behaviors fade and fears are tolerated with new and healthy coping mechanisms.

Levels of Recovery Work - Psychotherapist (knows and is certain of energy, gifts, talents, spirit emerging)

  1. Non judgmental alert interest while listening.
  2. Hold steady while anxiety and bewilderment spikes
  3. Allow yourself to care and even love while honoring boundaries
  4. Relate emotional experience to human experience
  5. Listen, reflecting and sometimes interpreting life stories and dreams
  6. Recommend and support keeping a journal
  7. Recommend new learning (UCLA extension catalog can be a co-therapist)
  8. Relate new or unusual thoughts and behaviors to cultures where they are the status quo
  9. Relate beliefs to cultures and faiths where they are the status quo
  10. Support and encouraging action steps that honor authentic values and goals
  11. Celebrate achievements even if they are fledgling or failures on the path to fulfillment
  12. Relate personal work to the work of the world


Video: What does it mean to be a girl? 

The Butterfly Metaphor 

The Butterfly Story 

Jeffrey Sachs at the Earth Institute 

Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder. Joanna Poppink. Conari Press.

Cradle to Cradle: 

How Large-Scale Change Really Happens - Working With Emergence

Margaret Wheatley Ed.D. and Deborah Frieze ©2006


 Questions for readers:

  1. What levels of experience in recovery do you recognize?
  2. What was it like or is it like to be there?
  3. Can you share your challenges at different levels?
  4. What levels of experience listed here surprise you?
  5. Can you please think about your surprises and share them with us?


* pix  Seamless Pattern Stock Photo By panuruangjan, published on 02 July 2014 Stock Photo - image ID: 100272089 Beautiful seamless pattern made from butterfly wing.




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