Family-Based Treatment for Anorexia in Teens

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an approach that is used to treat many mental health challenges, including anorexia nervosa in teens and adults. Anorexia, which usually develops during adolescence, is seen by some as an individual’s method of gaining control over something in their lives during a time in which they feel controlled by parents, teachers, peers, and society in general. CBT has been seen as an appropriate treatment because it addresses the cognitive and behavioral processes, the thinking and eating habits of the teens. However, in a new study, James Lock, professor of Child Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine, tests the validity of family-based treatment (FBT) for the treatment of anorexia. FBT aims to bring the teen to a healthy weight with the assistance of the parent and then relinquishes the maintenance of that weight back to the teen while examining the emotional and social challenges facing the teen.

Adolescent-focused therapy (AFT), a form of ego-oriented individual therapy (EOIT), is the most commonly used method of CBT for anorexia. In his study, Lock examined existing research that comparing AFT with FBT in adolescence with anorexia nervosa and found that teens treated with FBT had superior outcomes to those treated with AFT. In one study, the teens who received FBT were more likely to maintain a healthy weight 5 years after treatment than those treated with AFT alone. In another study, teens treated with EOIT had similar psychological outcomes when compared to teens in FBT; however, the FBT teens exhibited better eating-related thoughts. In this same study, the teens in FBT were more than twice as likely to maintain a healthy weight 1 year after treatment than those treated with EOIT.

Lock also discovered that FBT had a much higher adherence rate than other forms of treatment, a critical component of treatment outcome. He also found that the family members of the teens with anorexia, as well as the teens themselves, thought FBT was an effective approach. Overall, his results suggest that FBT is a more viable and effective treatment option than other methods currently being used for anorexia in teens. Lock added, “Although small, pilot-type dissemination studies suggest FBT can be implemented effectively and good outcomes achieved for typically presenting adolescent patients. Research on how best to train more therapists in the approach is needed if we are to make FBT more universally available.”

Lock, J. Family Treatment for Eating Disorders in Youth and Adolescents. Psychiatric Annals 41.11 (2011): 547-51. Print.

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  • kip


    February 2nd, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    Get the family involved and there is bound to be greater success. Just hope that those heading up the recovery make sure that the family is not part of the problem contributing to the eating disorder.

  • Cheryl


    February 3rd, 2012 at 5:21 AM

    Your family is like your built in support system. That is why it is always a good idea to get them involved in the therapy process, certainly when it is for a child they need to be involved. There has to be some real guidance and structure in that teen’s life to get through something like an eating disorder and sometimes there is no better love and support than that that you can get from a family member.

  • Hans.V


    February 3rd, 2012 at 9:07 AM

    “an individual’s method of gaining control over something in their lives during a time in which they feel controlled by parents, teachers, peers, and society in general.”

    I never thought about anorexia this way..I see my niece doing all the DIETING at ten and wonder what’s up with these kids nowadays..maybe its just a way they think they’re exercising their LIBERTY..

  • MEG


    February 5th, 2012 at 6:54 AM

    Families are the ones that you most need aorund you when things go wrong.
    I am sure that this is no different.

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