Depending on an individual’s unique family dynamics or circumstances, various family therapy approaches can support patients and their families during the eating disorder recovery process. Evidence supports the many benefits of family therapy for eating disorders, emphasizing that building a supportive home environment is the cornerstone of a lasting recovery.
What Is Family Therapy, and How Is It Different From Other Eating Disorder Therapies?
Family therapy is a collaborative approach to recovery, intending to educate, improve the quality of communication, provide support, and build more effective coping skills for everyone within the family unit.
Because family therapy plays such a pivotal role in recovery, it is typically a standard part of treatment for children and adolescents. However, adults of all ages can benefit tremendously from having family or close friends involved in their recovery journey.
Individual and group therapy work more in silos or one-on-one with the patient, providing their own unique benefits, but they do not necessarily provide guidance, support, or education for family members in the process.
How Can Family Therapy Help Individuals Struggling With an Eating Disorder?
Family therapy’s unique support for someone struggling with an eating disorder is powerful and multifaceted. This inclusive and compassionate approach to recovery can help by achieving the following:
- Building healthier relationships, improving interactions, communication skills, and conflict resolution between all family members
- Breaking down the isolation barriers and reducing the fear of stigma
- Addressing underlying issues and concerns without assigning blame for the disorder to any party
- Guiding families to focus on managing difficult feelings vs. focusing on food during mealtimes
- Educating about the disorder and treatment process and dispelling any myths or misunderstandings
- Promoting long-term recovery by maintaining a consistent approach, both in and outside of the clinical setting
What Are the Benefits of Family Therapy?
Creating a compassionate and inclusive environment makes families feel empowered when they receive the support, structure, and skills needed to understand and empathize with their family member struggling with an eating disorder.
This structure of support allows for many benefits:
- Families become a valuable resource within the recovery process.
- Therapy provides a safe space where all family members’ needs and experiences are valued and tended to throughout the recovery process.
- It increases understanding, empathy, and connection between all family members.
- Parents and guardians build confidence in their ability to support, feed, and care for their child at home.
- Caregivers feel supported to gradually increase their child’s independence while maintaining the necessary care components required to sustain recovery.
- Individuals and their families gain opportunities to practice new coping skills in real-world scenarios.
What Are the Different Types of Family Therapy, and How Will I Know Which Is Best for My Family?
Family therapy can encompass a multitude of therapeutic modalities to serve the individual’s unique needs while also considering any co-occurring mental health concerns or particular requirements or circumstances of the family.
Family Based Therapy (FBT)
FBT, sometimes called the Maudsley method, is the leading treatment for adolescent eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED) (1).
Once the patient is medically stable and can resume living at home, parents assume the majority of responsibility during the three phases of treatment:
- Weight restoration
- Transitioning control of eating back to the child/individual
- Returning the focus to normal development once the child/individual is eating independently
FBT is the most demanding form of therapy on the family. Both individual and family circumstances are necessary considerations when committing to this type of therapy.
In multifamily therapy, several families work together to share the skills, experiences, and knowledge they’ve gained while working through the treatment process.
Systemic Family Therapy (SFT)
The model in SFT is that the problem is not part of the individual but instead lies within interpersonal relationships, social interactions, and narratives about the problem (2).
Family Systems Therapy (FST)
The FST approach considers that a family is an emotional unit, and individual behavior involves the context of the family. When something affects one group member, it can have a resounding impact on every other family member (3).
Deciding which treatment is best is ultimately a collaborative choice made by the treatment team, the individual, and their family. The individual’s unique needs, the dynamics of each family unit, and the available support are all considered when choosing which approach is best.
At Toledo Center, we recognize families’ pivotal role in their loved one’s recovery and offer family therapy and a Family Education and Coaching Program. Please fill out our contact form or give us a call at 419-885-8800 and speak to a team member today, so we can help you find the best support for you and your family.
- Muhlheim, L. (2020, July 21). What is family based treatment (FBT) for eating disorders. VeryWellMind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-family-based-treatment-fbt-for-eating-disorders-4052371
- Treasure, J., Parker, S., Oyeleye, O., & Harrison, A. (2021). The value of including families in the treatment of anorexia nervosa. European Eating Disorders Review, 29(3), 393-401. https://doi.org/10.1002/erv.2816
- Cherry, K. (2022, January 10). Family Systems Therapy: Definition, Techniques and Efficacy. VeryWellMind. https://www.verywellmind.com/family-systems-therapy-definition-techniques-and-efficacy-5213785