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Eating Disorders Treatment: Lasting Change for Anorexia

Eating disorders treatment: How are lasting changes achieved for anorexia nervosa?

eating disorders treatmentEating disorders treatment researchers have found that individuals with anorexia nervosa must address their underlying psychological problems in order to achieve lasting improvement. Therapists in eating disorder treatment programs typically offer a mixture of therapy and education in pursuit of this broader goal, using a combination of individual, group, and family approaches. One focus of some eating disorder treatment programs is to help patients with anorexia nervosa recognize their need for independence and teach them more appropriate ways to exercise control. Therapists may also teach them to recognize and to trust their internal sensations and feelings.

Correcting Disturbed Cognitions:

Another focus of most eating disorder treatments is to help people with anorexia nervosa change their misconceptions and attitudes about eating and weight. Using cognitive approaches, therapists may guide clients in eating disorder treatment programs to recognize, challenge, and change maladaptive assumptions, such as “I must always be perfect” or “my weight and shape determine my value“. Therapists may also educate clients about their perceptual distortions typical of anorexia nervosa, and help them to see that their own assessments of their size are incorrect. Even if a client never learns to judge her body shape accurately, she may at least reach a point where she says “I know that a cardinal feature of anorexia nervosa is a misperception of my own size, so I can expect to feel fat no matter what size I really am“. Correcting disturbed cognitions is a key feature in most eating disorder treatment programs.


Changing Family Interactions:

Family therapy is often a part of eating disorder treatment for anorexia nervosa. As in other family therapy situations, the therapist meets with the family as a whole, points out troublesome family patterns (including inappropriate family communications and attitudes about food, eating, and body shape), and helps the members make appropriate changes. In particular, family therapists may try to help the person with anorexia nervosa separate her feelings and needs from those of other family members. Although the role of the family in the development of anorexia nervosa has not been clarified fully, research strongly suggests that family therapy (or at least parent counseling) can be quite helpful in the successful completion of eating disorder treatment.

By Paul Susic Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist

Information from Abnormal Psychology by Ronald J. Comer 

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