I love Disney movies. Not just because I’m a kid at heart, but because they manage to bring in the adult viewer by embedding fundamental life lessons into the storyline. Disney has done this for me again with their newest creation, Frozen. Working in a clinical environment, it is hard not to equate this tale with the modalities and tools with which we encourage our adolescent eating disorder patients and their families to use to help cope with strong feelings and urges.

Frozen chronicles the lives of two sisters born to the king and queen of Arendelle. The eldest daughter Elsa was born with the power to create and manipulate snow and ice, activated when Elsa felt any strong emotion. Being that emotions can sometimes be unpredictable, Elsa’s parents warned her that she must conceal her feelings or she would cause something bad to happen. In an effort to protect their youngest daughter Anna, the king and queen also forbid Elsa from contact with her little sister.

As many of you who are familiar with eating disorders know, it is very common for families to try and shield the sibling(s) of a patient with an eating disorder from treatment and talk of the illness. Like the king and queen of Arendelle, we know that our patient’s parents are simply trying to protect the sibling. What we also know is that keeping children like Anna in the dark about their sibling’s illness can leave them feeling isolated, disconnected and confused. In the movie, Anna keeps knocking on Elsa’s door asking her to play, not understanding why Elsa keeps telling her no. She realizes that something is wrong, but her questions aren’t being answered leaving her feeling even more alone. Here at Walden we have found the participation of the sibling(s) in treatment to be a very powerful addition to eating disorder treatment.

Joanna Imse, LICSW and lead adolescent clinician at the Walden Braintree clinic has used the theme song from Frozen, “Let It Go” with her adolescents learning about Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). “Many of our clients struggle with what they call ‘bad’ or ‘negative’ emotions and try to push feelings like fear, sadness, anger, disgust etc… away,” says Imse. “This song illustrates that if you continue to push emotions away, versus allowing yourself to experience them, it often comes back around with more intensity.”

Because Elsa had been holding in her emotions for so long, she was unable to contain them anymore, and ended up turning the entire city into snow and ice. DBT teaches us that if we address these feelings as they come, instead of suppressing them until they take over in a really big way, then we can more healthfully manage these stronger emotions.

Finally, the song “Let It Go” helps the adolescent eating disorder patients in our Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) groups. The following quote is really useful to our patients who struggle with distorted thinking. “Let it go, let it go, and I’ll rise like the break of dawn. Let it go, let it go, that perfect girl is gone.” In CBT, our patients work hard to identify and challenge the distortions they experience around specific situations, beliefs regarding food and/or their bodies. “Like Elsa, our clients often feel they need to be ‘perfect,’” Imse said. “These distortions interrupt their recovery. There is a lot of black and white thinking in eating disorders; one is either perfect or a failure with limited ability to recognize anything in between.”

We like that Elsa says, “that perfect girl is gone,” because it means that she has finally accepted that she (nobody) can be perfect; and that is totally fine.

Do you like Disney movies too? Let us know how another Disney movie has inspired you or someone you love to choose recovery; let’s talk about it, join the conversation!

About the author:

Natalie Cohen is a Marketing and Community Relations Associate for Walden Behavioral Care.  She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Maine in Orono. Her favorite part of working at Walden is being able to act as an advocate for clients suffering with mental illnesses through spreading knowledge and awareness of not only Walden’s programs and services, but eating disorders in general.  Ms. Cohen’s passions include writing, social media and being able to converse with medical professionals, clients and her co-workers. In her spare time, Natalie enjoys spending time with her dog Bella, family and boyfriend.