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Largest worldwide anorexia study sheds light on success of psychotherapy


Of all mental disorders, anorexia is considered to be the most lethal.

Medical professionals are always looking for new ways to treat the complex physical and psychological condition, as well as discovering what combination of therapeutic approaches works best for long-term success.

In a recent trial on anorexia – the largest global project of its kind – researchers found that two new methods of psychotherapy can effectively treat the disorder. The findings are significant, given that research on the topic has been sparse, despite the fact that 20 percent of anorexia cases are fatal.

"Well-controlled, clinical studies with a high level of reliability are rare, especially for outpatient therapy, creating enormous problems," said study author Wolfgang Herzog.

The study

The new findings come from the Anorexia Nervosa Treatment of OutPatients (ANTOP) study, which was conducted at 10 German university eating disorder centers.

Researchers followed 242 adult women over a period of 22 months. Three groups of around 80 women each received a different type of outpatient psychotherapy: focal psychodynamic therapy, which addresses the way negative associations of relationships and disturbances affect the way a person processes emotions; cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps eating disorder patients solve problems related to eating behaviors and weight gain, and addresses deficits in social competence or other areas; and standard psychotherapy, which was conducted as an optimized treatment by psychotherapists and included the patients' family physician as part of the treatment.

For each type of therapy, treatment manuals were developed to correspond with guidelines set forth by international eating disorder experts.

Patients received 40 outpatient sessions over a period of 10 months, which came before 12 months of follow-up observation by the researchers.

Results are 'encouraging'

Patients in all three groups made "significant" weight gain at the end of the study – the average BMI increase was 1.4 points.

Moreover, focal psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral therapies proved to offer encouraging results, while psychotherapy won out as the best option.

"Overall, the two new types of therapy demonstrated advantages compared to the optimized therapy as usual," said Professor Zipfel. "At the end of our study, focal psychodynamic therapy proved to be the most successful method, while the specific cognitive behavior therapy resulted in more rapid weight gain."

Patients who had undergone focal psychodynamic therapy also required fewer in-patient treatment sessions than other patients, the study reported.

"The specific therapies give adult patients a realistic chance of recovery or long-term improvement," a press release on the study concluded. "However, great challenges for the prevention and early treatment of anorexia nervosa remain."

Source: Science Daily