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Embracing Family-Based Treatment for Adolescents with Eating Disorders

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Holidays are often about family, a time to gather around the table and share meals filled with joy and laughter. However, for some families, these moments can be overshadowed by the challenges of supporting a loved one struggling with an eating disorder. In these cases, hope lies in the form of a groundbreaking approach known as Family-Based Treatment (FBT). Often referred to as the gold standard in the treatment of eating disorders, FBT offers a unique and effective way to address the complex issues faced by adolescents aged 19 and younger dealing with Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa.

Understanding Family-Based Treatment:

FBT is not just a therapy model; it’s a holistic approach that recognizes the crucial role families play in the recovery journey of adolescents with eating disorders. FBT, also known as the Maudsley Method, was developed at the Maudsley Hospital in London and has gained widespread recognition for its success in treating young individuals grappling with eating disorders.

The Core Principles of FBT: At the heart of Family-Based Treatment is the belief that families can be powerful allies in the fight against eating disorders. Instead of focusing solely on the individual, FBT involves the family to support their loved one by temporarily taking full responsibility for feeding them so they can restore their health. As long as clients are medically stable, FBT can be an effective way to receive treatment without leaving home. Many families prefer this over having their loved one go to a treatment center.

The treatment is divided into three phases, with the initial phase emphasizing the restoration of normal eating habits and weight gain.

During this phase, parents take an active role in re-establishing healthy eating patterns by planning and supervising all meals. Parents take responsibility for all decisions around what their child eats, how much is eaten, when it is eaten, while also monitoring all food intake. This is similar to the supervision an adolescent would receive if they were at a treatment center, however FBT can allow for recovery in their own day-to-day environment with their support system around them. This collaborative approach empowers parents to play a central role in their child’s recovery, fostering a sense of unity and support within the family unit.

In later phases of FBT, the goal is to return decision-making over food intake back to the child, once they are adequately nourished and stabilized their weight and behaviors.

The Importance of Empowering Families:

FBT recognizes that eating disorders are not solely individual struggles but affect the entire family dynamic. By involving parents as key participants, the treatment aims to address the emotional and psychological factors contributing to the disorder. This collaborative effort helps build a supportive environment for the adolescent, breaking the isolation often felt during the recovery process.

Family-Based Treatment extends beyond meal planning and supervision. It encompasses therapeutic components that delve into the emotional and cognitive aspects of the eating disorder. Therapists work closely with both the adolescent and the family to explore underlying issues, enhance communication, and develop coping strategies. Through this approach, FBT aims to equip families with the tools they need to navigate the complexities of the recovery journey.

While FBT might sound daunting, many parents have the capacity to manage it. FBT involves working with each family’s unique situation and building on their strengths.

As the holiday season approaches, it’s essential to shed light on Family-Based Treatment as a beacon of hope for families grappling with the challenges of adolescent eating disorders. By recognizing the pivotal role families play in the recovery process, FBT stands as a testament to the power of unity, support, and understanding. Together, families can nourish hope and guide their loved ones toward a healthier, happier future.

Listen to this Podcast, featuring the owner of our practice, Jill Sechi, to learn more about FBT!

Episode 18: Eating Disorder Treatment is a Family Affair with Empowered U

Other Resources and Research on FBT:


Article: Family Based Treatment Research Article

Article: Study Research for Multi Family Therapy Group for Young Adults with Anorexia Nervosa