Introduction and Aims
A significant body of research has found a positive association between a healthy diet and good mental health, and between an unhealthy diet and poorer mental health. Despite this, nutritional education and methods of intervention remain largely absent from psychotherapy training and practice, and mental health professionals worldwide report poor nutritional literacy. This study aims to explore how therapists understand and view diet and nutrition in the context of mental health, and whether, and how, they use this knowledge with clients.
Methodology and Methods
This qualitative study used an interpretative phenomenological analysis approach when collecting and analysing the data. Participants were from throughout Ireland, with recruitment taking place via an email call for participants. A brief pre-interview conversation ensured respondents fulfilled the inclusion criteria. Six integrative/pluralistic psychotherapists were interviewed about their views and understanding of nutrition in relation to mental health and psychotherapy, as well as about their training, supervision and their use of diet-related interventions with clients.
Four master themes were identified: “therapist experiences and beliefs,” which relates to how participants experienced and viewed nutrition on personal and professional levels; “meanings associated with food and nutrition” by therapists, and their perception of the meanings their clients placed upon food; “boundaries and barriers” that therapists experienced or perceived when it came to discussing nutrition with clients; and “the silence around nutrition in psychotherapy,” in terms of its absence from training, supervision and peer discussions.
Discussion and Conclusions
The study highlights the importance and meaning that individuals place on nutrition for mental well-being, while also highlighting its absence from training programmes, supervision sessions and discussions with peers and within the wider profession. The study further indicates potential boundary issues and ethical concerns as a result of the disparity between training/supervision and client needs/therapist practice.