Role of Parents in the Treatment of Anorexia Nervosa

November 24th, 2010 | Sources: Wall Street Journal

Traditional approaches to anorexia nervosa are based on the assumption that parental behaviors—or at least their interactions with afflicted individuals—helped cause or exacerbate the problem. Consistent with this assumption, treatments for the potentially deadly eating disorder typically exclude family members.

But a recent study by scientists at the University of Chicago and Stanford provides strong evidence that parents can play a decisive role in improving outcomes for patients with anorexia.

The study of 121 patients with the condition was published earlier this month in the Archives of General Psychiatry. It focused on the so-called Maudsley model, in which parents are present at each meal until the anorexic child eats.

The Maudsley model was developed in London 2 decades ago. It calls for parents to assume responsibility for mealtimes involving their anorexic child, “making it impossible not to eat,” study author Daniel Le Grange explained to the Wall Street Journal.

The study by Le Grange and his colleagues showed that that anorexia patients who received care according to the Maudsley model were more likely to achieve and maintain a therapeutic weight than those treated using conventional one-on-one interventions with a behavioral therapist.

The relative improvement vs. conventional therapy was present one year after treatment ceased, and increased over time. Thus at the end of the second year post-treatment, almost half the patients receiving family-treatment were in remission, whereas only 23% of the patients in the therapist treatment group were in remission. The difference was statistically significant.

“This is additional evidence that involvement of the family can be a very effective way in helping kids overcome their problems,” said B. Timothy Walsh, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center.


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