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Bulimic Teens Recover More Quickly When Parents Are Involved

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Parental involvement improves patient outcomes when it comes to treating adolescents with bulimia nervosa, according to a new study.

Researchers from UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital and Stanford University say the findings contradict what clinicians are normally taught about bulimia treatment - which is that parents should be excluded from the process.

"This study shows definitively that parental engagement is imperative for a successful outcome of adolescents with bulimia nervosa," said Dr. Daniel Le Grange, study leader. "It goes counter to the training that physicians receive in psychiatry, which teaches that parents are to blame for bulimia, and therefore should be omitted from treatment."

Family-based therapy works

The study included 130 adolescents with bulimia between the ages of 12 and 18. Participants were randomly assigned either a cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) protocol or a family-based therapy approach (FBT).

While CBT focuses on the individual patient - helping him or her change problematic thoughts and behaviors - FBT includes parents in the process to help them support their children and encourage healthy habits.

Overall, participants in the FBT group had better outcomes than CBT patients - they had higher abstinence rates from binge eating and purging and a higher likelihood of long-term success.

"These findings are quite clear," said Le Grange. "FBT is the treatment of choice for adolescents with bulimia nervosa, because it works quicker and faster and maintains its impact over time."

Treating bulimia should focus on the reduction of bingeing and purging as fast as possible, Le Grange explained, because serious complications - like a ruptured esophagus, electrolyte imbalance or cardiac arrhythmia - can happen every time a patient throws up.

"CBT could be a useful alternative if FBT were not available, but it needs to be recognized that it doesn't work quite as fast and takes time to catch up," said Le Grange.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Source: UCSF
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