Family-Based Therapies Can Help Teens With Eating Disorders

By Shawn Dwyer 09/24/14

A new study showed that teens suffering from anorexia nervosa fare better when families are part of their treatment.

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Researchers in a new study recently published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry showed that family-based therapies are more beneficial to teens than treatments that don't include dealing with family issues.

Conducted by Stanford University, the study examined 160 anorexia patients from the United States and Canada between the ages of 12 and 18. Ninety percent were female and all had been suffering from anorexia for an average of 13.5 months.

"The take-away message for parents is that, first, there is good treatment available for their child who is struggling with anorexia," said study author Dr. Stewart Agras, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford. "Second, the preferred treatment is family-based therapy in which parents help their child regain weight."

Participants took part in two different forms of therapy; one that taught parents how to help their children eat normally, and the other that helped resolve family issues. After nine months, both groups showed similar rates of recovery from anorexia. But those that had addressed family problems gained weight faster and required less hospitalization.

"For a long time, people blamed families for causing anorexia and thought they should be left out of treatment," said co-author Dr. James Lock. "But 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."

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.