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The Importance of Family-Based Treatment for Teen Eating Disorders

By October 11, 2023Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that are loosely characterized by abnormal, irregular eating habits, and an extreme concern with one’s body weight or shape. There are several different types of eating disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), and each is categorized under the Disorder Class: Feeding and Eating Disorders. The three most common eating disorders among adolescents are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder (BED). Eating disorders can be debilitating and can adversely affect a person’s emotions, health, and interfere with one’s ability to adequately function in his or her daily life. In 2001, the Report of the Surgeon Generals’ Conference on Children’s Mental Health first identified family involvement as a guiding principle to improve children’s mental health services and outcomes. Family relationships can have a profound effect on one’s physiological health and can play an integral role in one’s eating disorder recovery process.

Family-Based Treatment 

Family-based treatment (FBT), also known as the Maudsley Approach, is the leading treatment for adolescent eating disorders and is typically recommended as the first-line treatment for those who are medically stable for outpatient care. FBT is based on five tenets, or fundamental assumptions, which include:

  1. The therapist holds an agnostic view of the cause of the illness.
  2. The therapist takes a non-authoritarian stance in treatment.
  3. Parents are empowered to bring about the recovery of their child.
  4. The eating disorder is separated from the patient and externalized.
  5. FBT utilizes a pragmatic approach to treatment.

The importance of FBT lies in its unique focus on involving the family as an integral part of the treatment process. For example, it is not uncommon for teenagers with an eating disorder to also experience anosognosia because of brain starvation. Anosognosia is defined as “a neurological condition in which the patient is unaware of their neurological deficit or psychiatric condition.” This can delay an adolescent’s ability to cultivate the motivation to maintain their own recovery. Verywell Mind explains that “FBT assigns the work of behavioral change and full nutrition to the parents and gives them skills and coaching to meet these goals.” Consequently, a teen can begin to take meaningful steps towards recovery even before they have the capacity to do so on their own. Because it tends to work faster than other treatments, FBT reduces medical repercussions and increases the chances of a lasting recovery.

For Information and Support 

Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times.

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.


We are available to answer any questions you may have regarding mental health treatment and our residential program, anytime. Contact us today using the form to the right.

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