Dr. Sarah Ravin - Psychologist | Eating Disorders |Body Image Issues | Depression | Anxiety | Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders | Self-Injury
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Dr. Sarah Ravin

Welcome to my professional blog. I am a Florida Licensed Psychologist and trained scientist-practitioner. In 2008, I received my Ph.D. in clinical psychology. A major component of my professional identity is staying informed about recent developments in the field so that I may provide my clients with scientifically sound information and evidence-based treatment. There is a plethora of information on the internet about Eating Disorders, Depression, Anxiety, Psychotherapy. Unfortunately, much of this information is unsubstantiated and some of it is patently false. It is my hope that by sharing my thoughts and opinions on psychological issues, with scientific research and clinical experience sprinkled in for good measure, I can help to bridge the gap between research and treatment.

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Tag: Research

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Weight Gain Predicts Psychological Improvement in Anorexia Nervosa

A recent study published in the journal Behavior Research and Therapy demonstrated that weight gain was a significant predictor of improved psychological functioning in adolescents undergoing treatment for anorexia nervosa (AN). In other words, adolescents who gained more weight during treatment did better mentally than those who gained less weight. This study also showed that weight gain early in the course of treatment had a greater impact on psychological recovery than weight gain later in the course of treatment.

This finding is extremely relevant not only to clinicians who treat adolescent AN, but also to the adolescent patients themselves and their families. The process of re-feeding and restoring weight often feels agonizing for patients and may cause tremendous stress to caregivers. Psychological recovery lags behind physical recovery, so patients often feel worse before they start to feel better. This study provides objective evidence that it is in the patient’s best interest – both physically and psychologically – to eat more and gain weight as soon as possible after diagnosis.

Weight gain is an essential component of treatment for patients with AN. The knowledge that full nutrition is necessary to repair the physical damage caused by AN – including weakened heart, low blood pressure, hypothermia, osteoporosis, stress fractures, lanugo, amenorrhea, infertility, and risk of premature death – helps many patients and families to persevere through the difficult days of re-feeding. Now, patients and families can hold onto hope that weight restoration will bring about psychological improvement as well. This study provides families with direct scientific evidence that gaining weight gives their loved one a greater chance of recovering mentally, emerging from the fog of depression, and reclaiming a meaningful life free from food and weight preoccupation.

Patients in this study were randomly assigned to receive either Family-Based Treatment (FBT) or Adolescent Focused Treatment (AFT). The authors of this study found that weight gain predicted psychological recovery regardless of the type of treatment (FBT vs. AFT) the patient received. This finding may be especially relevant to clinicians who treat adolescent AN using individual therapy. A common criticism of FBT (usually made by clinicians who reject FBT without really understanding it) is that it focuses on weight gain at the expense of the adolescent’s psychological wellbeing. This study clearly demonstrates that weight gain and improved psychological functioning are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, weight gain and improved psychological functioning are strongly correlated!

It is clear that FBT supports the adolescent’s psychological wellbeing indirectly by promoting regular nutrition and steady weight gain, which help to repair the brain damage caused by malnutrition. I would also argue that FBT has a direct impact on the adolescent’s psychological wellbeing by externalizing the illness, removing any sense of self-blame the adolescent may have, supporting her emotionally, and relieving her of the burden of fighting this deadly illness alone.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Sleep and Mood Disorders: Implications for Mental Health Care

Getting enough sleep is important for everyone. Well-rested bodies and brains are healthier, more resilient, and more energetic. For those with depression and other mood disorders, getting plenty of sleep must be a priority. In fact, research has demonstrated that people with insomnia are ten times more likely to develop depression than those who get sufficient sleep. Further, new research has shown that sleep disturbances can trigger psychiatric illnesses in those who are vulnerable.

Sleep is every bit as important as medication and therapy in the treatment of mood disorders. For this reason, I make a point of discussing and monitoring sleep patterns with my patients, and I integrate sleep hygiene into their treatment plans.

A recent study financed by the National Institute of Mental Health and published in The New York Times found that a psychological treatment called CBT-I (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia) doubled the effectiveness of antidepressant medication in the treatment of depression.

This was not surprising to me. I was trained in CBT in graduate school and I have seen cognitive-behavioral techniques work wonders in many of my patients. But the implications of this study, and the fact that the results have made it into the popular media, are quite significant.

One of the most disturbing and unfortunate trends in mental health care in recent years has been the overuse of psychotropic medication and the corresponding underuse of behavioral and psychological interventions. This trend is especially bothersome to me because I am keenly aware – thanks to my training and experience as a psychologist – that certain evidence-based psychological treatments are as effective, if not more effective, than medication for treating certain illnesses.

Unfortunately, most people outside the field of psychology don’t know this. Americans are bombarded daily with advertisements for psychotropic medication on television, online, and in print. It’s only natural, then, that consumers who are suffering from depression or anxiety would request medications from their doctors, even when they have a problem that can be successfully treated by other means.

Don’t get me wrong – I am by no means anti-medication. I am thankful that we have effective, relatively safe medications on the market now that can help people effectively manage serious illnesses which were once disabling. Indeed, psychotropic medication can be extremely helpful – even life-saving – for many people. My concern is that psychotropic medications are prescribed too frequently to people who may not need them, often without the necessary monitoring, and often without the corresponding psychological and behavioral interventions that have been proven effective.

As a psychologist who practices said psychological and behavioral interventions, rather than a psychiatrist who prescribes said medications, am I biased? Well, obviously. I believe in what I do and I chose this profession for a reason. But still.

My hope is that, with articles such as this one, the general public will learn that evidence-based psychological treatments exist which can reduce their suffering and improve their quality of life. I would like people to be fully informed about their options when it comes to mental health treatment. I look forward to the day when people experiencing psychiatric symptoms routinely ask their primary care physicians for referrals to psychologists who practice evidence-based treatments, rather than, or in addition to, asking for prescriptions.

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Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Columbia University Teen Bulimia Study: Participants Needed

There’s a lot of exciting research being conducted on patients with eating disorders. The results of these studies may help us gain a better understanding of these illnesses and, ultimately, develop more effective treatments.

Here is one study which offers teenage participants free treatment for bulimia nervosa in exchange for participating:

Columbia Center for Eating Disorders Offers No Cost Treatment To Teens with Bulimia Nervosa

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center are interested in learning about the development of Bulimia Nervosa. We are looking for 10 more girls (12 to 17 years) who binge eat and purge to participate in the study. They can receive inpatient or outpatient treatment at no cost. Monetary compensation (up to $900) is also available. Please call the clinic (212-543-5739) and visit the study website for more details: http://teenbulimiastudy.org/

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Monday, November 4th, 2013

Summary of Treatment Outcomes

My blog posts from June through November 2013 have been devoted to describing my patients’ treatment outcomes. I’ve been advised that my recent posts have been too data-heavy and too detailed, but hey – that’s how I roll. I like to be thorough, meticulous, and transparent. Prospective patients and their families deserve to have access to this information. But for those who prefer brevity, I’ve summarized my treatment outcomes below. Click on the headings in bold for details.

    Outcomes for Patients with Anorexia Nervosa


Fifty-seven percent of my former patients with Anorexia Nervosa (AN) completed treatment. Of the “treatment completers,” 94% reached full remission and the remaining 6% reached physical remission. Patients required, on average, 28 sessions over the course of 17 months to complete treatment.

Forty-three percent of my former patients with AN did not complete treatment with me. Of the “treatment non-completers,” 23% were referred to other treatment settings which could better meet their needs; 15% moved to other geographic locations during treatment and thus were referred for treatment near their new homes; and the remaining 62% dropped out of treatment prematurely.

    Outcomes for Patients with Bulimia Nervosa and Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified


Thirty-three percent of my former patients with Bulimia Nervosa (BN) and Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) completed treatment. One-hundred percent of those who completed treatment reached full remission. On average, patients took 15 sessions over the course of 10 months to complete treatment. Amongst patients with BN, 44% made significant progress prior to discontinuing treatment prematurely. For patients with EDNOS, 17% made significant progress prior to discontinuing treatment prematurely.

    Outcomes for Patients with Mood Disorders


Twenty-nine percent of patients my former patients with primary diagnoses of mood disorders completed treatment. Of the patients who completed treatment, 83% achieved full remission and the remaining 17% made significant progress. On average, patients took approximately 23 sessions over the course of 11 months to complete treatment.

Thirty-eight percent of mood disorder patients quit treatment prematurely, 24% were referred to other treatment providers who could better meet their needs, and 9% moved to other geographic locations during their treatment and were referred for treatment near their new homes.

    Outcomes for Patients with Anxiety Disorders


All of my former patients with primary diagnoses of anxiety disorders who attended more than two sessions experienced substantial improvement in anxiety symptoms as well as significant improvement in functioning, even if they did not complete a full course of treatment. Patients with anxiety disorders attended an average of 10 sessions over the course of 6 months.

Amongst those who completed a full course of treatment, 75% achieved full remission and the remaining 25% made significant progress.

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Saturday, October 16th, 2010

Pride and Prejudice

“It is never too late to give up your prejudices…No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true today may turn out to be falsehood tomorrow, mere smoke of opinion.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Last weekend, I attended the annual National Eating Disorders Association conference in New York City. It was a fantastic conference and an exhilarating experience, a whirlwind of thinking and conversing and listening and networking.

That said, I attended a few lectures that made me cringe and perhaps set the field back a few years. One well-known psychologist and author stated in her lecture that there’s a false dichotomy between research and practice, because all clinicians are, ipso facto, researchers. She went on to explain to the clinicians in the room that that if you work with eating disorder patients and you contemplate eating disorder issues, then you are a researcher.

I think, therefore I am…a researcher?

And therein lies the rub. Working with eating disorder patients and thinking about them does not make you a researcher anymore than watching MSNBC and contemplating the mid-term election makes you a political scientist.

Historically, a major problem within the field of eating disorders is that etiological theories were formed, and treatment approaches created, based upon clinicians’ casual observation and reflection. Hilde Bruch, MD, who wrote the highly influential book The Golden Cage (1978), based her theories on her observation and treatment of the anorexic patients in her practice. Bruch concluded that anorexia nervosa occurs almost exclusively in upper-class white families (because those were the families, residing in her primarily Caucasian neighborhood, who could afford to enter treatment with her), that dysfunctional patterns of family interaction are key in the etiology of anorexia nervosa (because she observed strained and tense relationships between her severely ill patients and their worried parents) and that anorexia represents a misguided attempt at forming an identity and asserting some control over an otherwise uncontrollable life (based upon the self-reports of malnourished patients suffering from a brain disease).

This book was immensely popular amongst clinicians and the general public, as it was the first book to attempt to explain anorexia nervosa, and these theories became professional dogma. Bruch’s ideas spread like wildfire, and it would be many years before scientific research would be published to counter her claims. And to this day, more than three decades later, many clinicians, anorexics, and their families still hold these beliefs.

We are, in general, resistant to change. People have a very hard time letting go of long-held beliefs, which may explain why societal change tends to happen incrementally over generations. Many clinicians have so much pride in the work they have done in the past, and so much prejudice against new ideas which are diametrically opposed to their own, that they vigorously defend the theories they have held forever even when all reliable evidence points to the contrary. They seek to assimilate new information into their preexisting beliefs (for example, a racist person may boast about having one black friend, claiming that his buddy is “not like most black people”) rather than abandoning their old beliefs once it becomes clear that they are flawed. To quote the 17th century philosopher John Locke: “New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common.”

It is essential, therefore, that the most recent scientific research on the etiology and effective treatment of eating disorders is featured prominently and unapologetically at local, national, and global events aimed professionals, patients, and families in the eating disorder world. The new message cannot be muted or diluted with antiquated theories or treatments under the politically-correct assumption that all ideas are equally valid. As it is, big-name wealthy treatment centers get the most publicity, most likely because of their massive donations to eating disorder organizations who feature them prominently in exhibit halls at conferences. People are so easily swayed by catch phrases and neat giveaways and glossy brochures featuring impossibly happy eating disordered teenagers riding horses and finger painting. But these centers do not necessarily offer the most effective treatments. If we want our field to make progress, if we truly want to save more lives and rescue more sufferers from the agony of this illness, money cannot trump science.

One of the most promising statements I heard all weekend was this, from a psychologist who is the director of an eating disorders treatment program:

“It is no longer acceptable, in 2010, for clinicians to practice a certain way simply because they have been practicing that way for years.”

My friend Carrie Arnold and I gave a standing ovation to that one and clapped until our hands hurt.

We invite you to join us in doing the same.

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Top 10 Psychologists in Coral Gables 2015

Sarah Katherine Ravin's Practice is ranked in the top Coral Gables, FL Psychology practices.

Top 10 Psychologists in Coral Gables 2015