Family Therapy on the Rise: Especially Helpful with Eating Issues

Individual therapy has long been one of the most effective and relied-upon means of treating and overcoming anorexia and other eating issues. Therapy may help to uncover psychological and emotional experiences that are causing, or at least triggering, the dangerous behavior. But many sufferers of eating disorder report no particular triggers. Some personality types seem especially prone to eating issues. And a growing number of children are being diagnosed with eating issues, including anorexia, before they’re even old enough to be aware of cultural beauty norms that adolescents are so sensitive to.

A new study indicates that the Maudsley method, a form of family therapy, may be a more effective form of therapy than individual therapy alone, at least for kids and adolescents. In the study, which was conducted at both the University of Chicago and at Stanford, patients were assigned randomly to either individual or family therapy for a year. After two years (one in treatment, one post-treatment), the remission rate in the family therapy group (49% of participants in remission) was more than double that in the individual therapy group (23% of participants in remission).

What makes the family therapy approach so effective? The Maudsley method holds the whole family responsible and approaches food as a form of medicine that parents are responsible for administrating; no excuses. As author and mother Harriet Brown explains it, “You need the physical recovery first, and then the cognitive recovery.” When undernourished, teens are not in a mental place to deal with the emotional and psychological concerns tied to their disease, posits the approach. Parents are taught to be calm, supportive and consistent and to affirm that the family will get through it together, rather than place blame. Whether the physical or psychological side of the problem is best to treat first is hard to say. But if the numbers continue to bear out, then the Maudsley method is on to something.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Will


    October 22nd, 2010 at 11:15 AM

    Wanna know why family therapy can be better than individual therapy? Its because if just one person is going in for therapy he or she may feel like he or she is the one who has a problem and that he or she is the one responsible for everything bad. But when the whole family goes in its like a family exercise and something that is shared by everyone thereby not causing burden to any one family member.

  • Tiff


    October 22nd, 2010 at 12:45 PM

    I would definitely think that family therapy could be very helpful in situations like this. After all you have to think that in many cases it is the dynamics being played out in the family setting which are causing much of the irrational eating behavior to begin with. There may be comments being made or behavior being played out that completely feed this monster known as an eating disorder and without some time together as a family to talk this out with someone objective then that may be tough for any family to see. It is certainly worth giving it a shot if a family member is experiencing this to see if there are some simple changes that could be made which could help the family member in trouble to make some strides toward a healthier lifestyle.

  • ernie


    October 23rd, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    I would be fine with going to therapy along with other members of my family but only for some issues and would prefer individual therapy for some others…

  • Chelsea


    November 1st, 2010 at 10:29 AM

    Maudsley can definitely be effective for certain groups of people, when the family and teenager are willing, and the age of the patient is right.

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