FAMILY members who are directly involved in the treatment of adolescents suffering from Anorexia Nervosa can help prevent relapses of the disease over longer periods, according to a local researcher.
UWA School of Psychology Associate Professor Susan Byrne says there is a substantial evidence base to support the effectiveness of family-based therapy.
“It is recommended as a first line of treatment for young people, being children and adolescents, because it has the most evidence for its effectiveness,” she says.
“The evidence comes from a number of well designed randomised control trials which show that compared to other treatments that might be offered for psychiatric illnesses that family-based therapy leads to better outcomes and better maintenance of change down the track.
“It is suggested that about 50 per cent of patients that are treated with family-based therapy will have a good outcome and that outcome will be maintained in one or two or even five years later.”
Anorexia Nervosa is characterised by severe starvation and weight loss and can sometimes involve purging behaviours with sufferers usually having an intense fear of becoming fat, despite being underweight.
The condition is split into two types with the restricting type involving weight loss through dieting, fasting and excessive exercise while the other type sufferers binge eat and then purge through self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives.
Family-based therapy involved supporting parents and other close family members in taking responsibility for their child’s eating habits.
Professor Byrne says individual therapies treat the child in isolation while family-based therapy the family is not seen as the cause of the problem but as a resource to address the problem.
“Parents are trained to have a zero-tolerance environment for self-starvation in their home and to identify signs and symptoms or Anorexia Nervosa, hence keeping relapses at bay,” she says.
Anorexia Nervosa has a 15–20 per cent mortality rate, the highest of any psychiatric disorder.
Professor Byrne highlighted the importance of family-based therapy to clinical psychologists in her presentation to the Australian Psychological Society Clinical Psychology Conference in June.
“I also felt that this type of treatment is not widely known amongst clinicians in general practice and I thought it would be worthwhile alerting them to the latest developments in Anorexia Nervosa treatments that are available,” Professor Byrne says.
She says family-based therapy was a treatment that psychologists had to be trained was not widely available outside of specialist treatment centres like hospitals or specialist eating disorder services.