Date of Award

Spring 5-14-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Jeffrey Applegate, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Sheila Reindl, Ed.D.

Third Advisor

Carol Tosone, Ph.D.


Questions about the nature of recovery from eating disorders have long divided the field. While one view purports that eating disorders are chronic conditions, other viewpoints maintain that full recovery from eating disorders is possible. The literature suggests the existence of levels of recovery: a) “partial” recovery, which includes remission of behavioral and physical of symptoms, in the absence of psychological remission, and b) “full” recovery, which includes remission of behavioral, physical and psychological symptoms.

In-depth interviews with women in long-term recovery from anorexia and/or bulimia were conducted, transcribed and analyzed in order to develop a grounded theory of the progression within the recovery process. This dissertation considers the phenomenology of phases of recovery; individual experiences of levels of recovery; and, how change, specifically from early recovery going forward, occurs.

Findings suggest a developmental process of recovery with central themes defining each stage. Participants’ in the study described nuanced experiences of recovery that lay between chronicity and complete freedom from all vestiges of the disorder. The dissertation proposes a model comprised of three-stages: 1) early recovery, which is dominated by a focus on behavioral change and seeking guidance from external sources, 2) transitional recovery in which change processes that introduce an inward focus emerge; and, 3) “full-enough” recovery, a stage marked by the presence of a flexible sense of self-trust. The term, “full-enough” recovery was developed to convey the participants’ experiences of a recovery that allows them both to acknowledge the presence of occasional mental remnants of the disorder and engage fully in their lives.