Anorexia can be best treated with family therapy, Stanford study suggests
Having a supportive network of loved ones may be the most important factor when treating anorexia, according to new research published in JAMA Psychiatry.
Stanford researchers found that family-based therapies (FBTs) are more effective than individual therapies when it comes to teen anorexia - suggesting that parents play a large role in encouraging a healthy body image and lifestyle.
“An individual is intrinsically part of a family system," said social worker Maria Baratta, Ph.D., in a Healthline article on the study. "Therefore, in treating a person with anorexia, it is imperative to understand what part family members play in the disordered eating environment. Once that is established, the therapist can begin to address what needs to change on the part of the family system.”
Despite treatment type, involvement matters most
The study had teen patients participate in one of two different types of family-based therapy: treatment that focused on gaining weight at home or treatment focused on resolving challenging family dynamics.
The family dynamics therapy was particularly effective for patients with obsessive-compulsive symptoms, but both types of therapy seemed to bring about positive growth for the anorexic patient.
According to study author Dr. James Lock, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, family involvement should be cornerstone to treatment.
"For a long time, people blamed families for causing anorexia and thought they should be left out of treatment," Dr. Lock said. "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."