Treatment for anorexia and bulimia

Psychologists are finding effective ways to treat these dangerous disorders.

Family therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy can help individuals overcome two common eating disorders.

Anorexia treatment

Families can play a key role in treating anorexia, according to clinicians using a treatment known as the Maudsley approach.

The treatment is a form of family therapy that enlists parents’ aid in getting their daughters to eat again. 

Early in the treatment, clinicians invite the family to share a picnic meal. That gives them a sense of family meal patterns. It also allows them to suggest ways parents can get the child to eat more.

In weekly sessions, the parents then describe what they’ve fed their daughter and what’s working well.

The approach also helps to strengthen the daughters’ feelings of independence by gradually letting them take control of their eating. Clinicians also help the family learn how to help the child cope with the challenges of adolescence.

In contrast to current treatment, this approach is relative short-term. It relies mostly on outpatient treatment. And it’s successful over the long-term, say researchers.

One study found that two-thirds of patients regained normal weight without hospitalization. Most showed big improvements in psychological functioning. And parents became less critical of each other and their daughters.

Bulimia treatment

The largest controlled study on bulimia so far shows that two types of psychotherapy can help individuals stop bingeing and purging:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps individuals change the unrealistically negative thoughts they have about their appearance and change their eating behaviors.

  • Interpersonal psychotherapy helps individuals improve the quality of their relationships, learn how to address conflicts head-on and expand their social networks.