Dr. Sera Lavelle, Dr. Karolina Pekala, Dr. Rebecca Hoffenberg, and Dr. Meghan Downey are Clinical Psychologists who specialize in using hypnosis and therapy based in clinical research to help people overcome their battles with food. They specialize in treating children, teens, and adults who struggle with a variety of issues related to eating, ranging from emotional eating and a difficult relationship with food, to more severe struggles such as anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia. The goal is not just to help clients end these behavior, but also to stop viewing food in terms of good and bad in order to end the cycle of overindulging and self-blame.
The difference in our approach is that we fully understand the psychological reasons that people struggle with eating. Our therapists hold doctorates in Clinical Psychology and have specialized training in eating disorders and other concerns related to food. At NY Health Hypnosis & Integrative Therapy, we use advanced hypnosis techniques to help clients find balance and get in touch with their bodies, while also using CBT, mindfulness, EMDR, and analytic therapy techniques to help resolve internal conflicts and find peace with food.
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Dr. Sera Lavelle, Dr. Rebecca Hoffenberg and Dr. Meghan Downey are our experts in helping people overcome struggles with food that are complicated or complex, such as binge eating, emotional eating, and night eating. They understand that people struggle with food, not because they lack knowledge about eating, but rather, because they alternate between being too restrictive and then overindulging in a way that leaves them feeling badly - both physically and emotionally.
Dr. Sera Lavelle is an expert in helping people with compulsive behaviors around food such as binge eating and emotional eating. She understands that it is not just stopping the behavior, but that it is a complex struggle involving a cycle of intense wants that feels overwhelming, followed by a period of self-deprecation, blame and doubt. This is what fuels the cycle. Dr. Lavelle uses her deep understanding of the struggle to help people understand their unconscious motives, while using hypnotherapy and guided imagery to find a way to get in touch with their equally powerful urge to end this cycle, so that they break and discontinue this cycle.
Dr. Hoffenberg's area of expertise is in binge eating and emotional eating. She takes a relational, person-centered approach that incorporates mindfulness, ego state therapy, and EMDR. Through this, she builds awareness of triggers to the restriction/binge cycle, helping to facilitate self-compassion and aiding in a person’s ability to stop the behavior before engaging in self-sabotage. She finds that the implementation of relational EMDR is particularly helpful in overcoming these battles, and she combines her training in EMDR for food issues with her relational EMDR training. As such, she is able to identify early beliefs that lead to these behaviors and stop those beliefs from affecting the present.
Dr. Downey’s approach combines hypnosis and holistic therapy for disordered eating, focusing on binge eating, night eating, and complicated relationships with food. She approaches disordered eating by treating the whole person, such as their interpersonal challenges (e.g., relationship conflict, challenges with communication), intrapersonal difficulties (i.e., self-trust, self-esteem and self-confidence) and transpersonal issues (e.g., spiritual emergence or awakening). She has a vested interest in working with individuals suffering from disordered eating, including both binge eating and restrictive eating, mood concerns (e.g., anxiety and depression), women's health (e.g., prenatal and postpartum challenges), and singular and complex trauma. By focusing on the whole person, she allows people to gain insight into the reasons they turn to food, while awake or asleep, understanding that the dynamics of our relationship with food are complicated and complex. By incorporating the whole person, both consciously through therapy and unconsciously through hypnosis, she is able to help people find peace with food that is sustainable and not just a short-term change.
Some issues with food extend beyond emotional or disordered eating, and they are severe enough as to interfere with a person’s everyday life. While we do not view a person in terms of their diagnosis, there are times that it can be helpful to think in terms of the level of stress and impairment it causes. For instance, when eating struggles are severe enough, they may fall into one of these categories: anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and/or binge-eating disorder.
Dr. Sera Lavelle and Dr. Karolina Pekala are experts in combining hypnosis and therapy to help people struggling with eating disorders. While many think of anorexia as a severe restriction, bulimia as binge and purging behavior, and binge eating disorder as eating large quantities in a short amount of time, they rarely fit into one clear category and are not mutually exclusive. Instead, they are different ways of attempting to control our thoughts and feelings through food. For some, it is the idea that we can feel ‘good’ about ourselves if we restrict enough, or that we can only be happy if we overindulge. Although they are complex and interconnected, Dr. Lavelle has more of an expertise in eating disorders that focus on binging, while Dr. Pekala focuses on eating disorders that center more on restricting.
Dr. Lavelle and Dr. Pekala not only address the eating behaviors themselves, but also the thought preoccupation, body image issues, obsessive thinking, and compulsive behaviors that accompany and are inherently part of eating disorders. Regardless of the disorder, they find that it is often not the weight or the food itself; instead, the problem often lies with the constant psychological battle between feeling like they need to starve themselves to look good and overindulging when they’re feeling overwhelmed.
While most of our therapists specialize in working with adults, Dr. Karolina Pekala and Dr. Meghan Downey received specialized training and have expertise in treating adolescents and teens with eating disorders and disordered eating. More specifically, Dr. Pekala works with children ages 10+ who struggle with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and ARFID; Dr. Downey works with teens 16+ and young adults who struggle with emotional and disordered eating who do not fit the classical patterns or severity of eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.
Hypnosis can be extremely helpful for adolescents and teens struggling with eating issues at a young age, because younger individuals are imaginative, curious, and inquisitive; in turn, this allows for an openness to new experiences, such as hypnosis. The nature of this playful type of therapy aligns with the types of issues that are prominent within this age group, so it's a natural fit. While it is never a quick fix, there is something particularly valuable in helping adolescents regulate their emotions, which can be very powerful in helping a child feel more in control while struggling with an issue that leaves them feeling so out of control.
To read more about how Dr. Pekala and Dr. Downey works with children, adolescents, and teens, please read here.
Struggling with our relationships with food can be one of the most difficult and all-consuming challenges a person can face today. Restoring balance with food and weight can have a greater impact than anything else in life, because food is a vital part of everyday living and because overcoming this struggle frees up emotional space. And yet, it is one of the most difficult problems to overcome.
People often come to us because they have tried traditional therapy, and while many report it has helped, they still feel stuck. Hypnosis alone, however, cannot adequately address disordered eating nor heal a person from an eating disorder. Hypnosis combined with therapy, however, shows considerable promise to those who have felt stuck in the past and are open to trying a different approach. In fact, several studies show that therapy with the addition of hypnosis can produce greater results than therapy alone, and many of our patients report that the experience of hypnosis has aided in their process of healing. Research has indicated, for example, that the addition of hypnosis is particularly helpful in aspects of eating disorders such as binge eating, distorted body image, food cravings, feelings of inadequacy, perfectionist tendencies, and resistance to therapy.
Once clients take control of their eating, they can start to regain control over their lives in a variety of contexts. This change promotes a new confidence that they may have never experienced before.
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