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Family Therapy for Adolescents with Anorexia: The Treatment of Choice?

The hot treatment for anorexia in adolescents these days is a type of family therapy originally developed at Maudsley Hospital in London, called Family-Based Therapy (FBT). Several studies have shown that this technique outperforms individual therapy.

FBT is a three-phase therapy in which parents are encouraged to temporarily take full control of food decisions. This means that the parents prepare all the food and watch the adolescents while they eat. While it sounds like it is modeled after eating disorders inpatient units, Dr. Le Grange prefers to emphasize that the technique encourages parents to become re-involved in their child’s care. “FBT is a reinvigoration of the kinds of things any parent would want to do with a sick child. In the past, parents were encouraged to remain on the sidelines of anorexia treatment, and were sometimes blamed for their children’s condition. In my experience, parents often see this technique as giving them permission to be good parents again.”

In FBT, once the adolescent achieves normal weight, phase 2 involves giving control over food back to the child, and phase 3 examines the effects the eating disorder has had on the child’s school and social life. FBT has been shown to be effective primarily in the age range of 12-18.