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Parental help in eating disorders

TRADITIONALLY, parents have not been part of the therapy given to adolescents with eating disorders. Might involving family members be helpful?

A study randomly assigned 80 adolescents with bulimia to receive individual psychotherapy or family-based treatment of 20 sessions over six months.

Individual therapy focused on issues underlying the eating disorder; in family therapy, parents and sometimes siblings also attended sessions, and parents encouraged good eating habits and monitored behavior at home.

By the end of treatment, 39% of the adolescents in family therapy, compared with 18% of those in individual therapy, had stopped bingeing and purging. The behavioral changes occurred more quickly in the family therapy group. Six months later, more family therapy participants remained free of bulimia symptoms (29% vs. 10%).

Who may be affected? Young people with bulimia, in which overeating is followed by purging, often by self-induced vomiting or the use of laxatives.

Caveats: Adolescents taking antidepressants, some of which have anti- bulimic effects, were not excluded from the study. Participants with eating disorders other than bulimia were not included. Although family therapy participants improved more than the others, the authors noted that the relatively low success rates "leave considerable room for improvement".

     

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