The Importance of Family in Treating Eating Disorders


Research reported in the Journal of American Medicine Psychiatry in September 2014 found that family-based therapy (FBT) is the best and most cost-effective treatment for teenagers struggling with anorexia nervosa. The results of a randomized study showed that FBT, which focuses on teaching parents to help their child eat normally, led to significantly faster weight gain during the first 8 weeks of therapy, significantly fewer days in the hospital, and lower treatment costs than systemic family therapy (SyFT), which addresses general family processes.

Other research has shown that family therapy is far more effective than traditional adolescent-focused psychotherapy for treating young people with the potentially life-threatening eating disorder. James Lock, MD, PhD, director of the Comprehensive Eating Disorders Program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, said “this study suggests that, however you involve them, families can be useful, and that more focused family treatment works faster and more cost-effectively for most patients.”

FBT is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, which we utilize here at Brownback, Mason and Associates. We have always believed that the parents play a significant role in the healing process and consistently include them in the therapeutic experience. Many parents have had the very frustrating experience of being excluded in their child’s healing journey, sometimes not even being informed of the therapist’s determination of progress, or lack thereof. From the outset of therapy, we work with the teen to be able to share with the parents appropriate information, while respecting the teen’s privacy.

This research recognized that Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) often plays a role in anorexia, and here again, we have long known that and have incorporated appropriate cognitive-behavioral techniques that give the teen control over the OCD. We also teach the parents how to support the teen’s efforts to conquer the role of OCD in their eating disorder. Because of our comprehensive approach to treatment, our success rate with helping teenage anorexics to gain control over their eating disorder is about 65%, which is considerably higher than the national success rate of about 40%.

Recommended For You:

  1. Family Therapy: Children and Teens

  2. Impulse Control Disorders

  3. 10 Things to Consider When Your Child/Teen Doesn’t Seem to Care

  4. Dissociative Disorders

  5. Oppositional Defiant Disorder

  6. Attention Deficit Disorders

  7. Anxiety/ Panic Disorders

  8. 8 Tips to Improve Your Child’s Behavior

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