Therapy With Family Best Approach for Anorexic Girls
WebMD News Archive
Girls receiving family therapy also resumed menstruation faster than the
The therapies were shown to be equally effective when other types of
behavior were examined, such as eating attitudes, ability to get along with
parents, self-esteem, depression, ego functioning, and desire for thinness,
Robin tells WebMD. "My initial hypothesis was that individualized therapy
would produce greater changes on ego functioning, depression, and awareness of
feelings and so on. That's what individual therapists focus on. I was surprised
at the results ... but they could be the result of the measures we used to see
changes in ego function."
Families receiving both treatments scored very high at the start of the
study on a test that measured the amount of conflict in the family over the
girls' eating habits. For both groups, these scores decreased substantially
after treatment and were maintained at follow-up. "I thought family therapy
would produce a greater change in conflict. Perhaps the family problem is
secondary to the starvation rather than being a family dynamic problem. As long
as you get the child out of starvation, and it may not matter how you do that,
the family problems may resolve," Robin tells WebMD.
So, while family therapy plays a key role, individual therapy still has its
place. "In the ideal situation, if you have a young teen-ager with
anorexia, a clinician should start off with family therapy to restore weight.
As you get to the later stages and approach target weight, individual sessions
can help deal with interpersonal and body image issues," Robin says.
Daniel le Grange, PhD, director of the eating disorders program at the
University of Chicago Medical Center, tells WebMD, "What is encouraging is
that individual therapy seems to be as effective as family therapy for
improving eating attitudes, depression, and eating-related family
No matter what type of therapy is prescribed, anorexia nervosa is a disease
that eludes simple solutions. "It's important to remember that while we
were able to help two-thirds or three-fourths, there's another quarter of
patients who were helped somewhat but still didn't get to target weight. Even
in the early-onset population with all this therapy, there's more to be
learned," Robin tells WebMD.