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 GoodTherapy.org.
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