Benefits of involving family in eating disorder recovery
When someone struggles with an eating disorder, family dynamics may play a role in issues like trust and communication, which can make a big difference in recovery.
Involving family members in the treatment process acknowledges that the recovering individual exists within the a family unit, where they should feel safe to express themselves, and establishes the family as a valuable resource for the person in recovery.1
In fact, the benefits of eating disorder family support are not exclusive to the person in recovery. This approach can help address the family unit as a whole and help improve trust and communication across the board, as well as providing comfort for loved ones who may otherwise be feeling distressed, concerned, or helpless.
Eating disorder family support in treatment
Certain types of therapy are designed around the idea of involving family members in treatment. The most common form of family-based therapy for eating disorders is sometimes called the Maudsley method, named after the hospital in England where it was first practiced.4
This type of family-based therapy (FBT) works around five major tenants, including:5
- The therapist will not focus on the cause of the disorder.
- The therapist is viewed as an expert consultant on eating disorders; parents are viewed as experts on their child.
- Parents are empowered to help their child go through recovery.
- The eating disorder is viewed as a separate entity from the child.
- The focus of therapy is on the "here and now," or how to best address the issues currently in play.
These tenants are put in place to help bypass conversations about blame or other unhelpful emotional detours and focus therapy specifically on treating the issue at hand: Helping someone recover from their eating disorder.5
The educational components of this type of FBT are also meant to empower families to make safe and helpful choices and changes at home for their child.
Effectiveness of family support in therapy
Family therapy can be a helpful path to recovery for people of all ages, struggling with all types of eating disorders, but the method when it comes to adolescents with anorexia, family support has been found to be especially helpful.
In fact, the Maudsley method is generally considered the first choice for adolescents with anorexia nervosa (AN) who are well enough to undergo outpatient treatment.3 And this is especially important, as AN is particularly difficult to treat with other types of therapy, making anorexia family support one of the best treatment options for many struggling with this condition.3,4
Versions of the Maudsley method and other types of FBT have also been adapted to help patients struggling with bulimia nervosa (BN), avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), and other types of disordered eating. And while more research is needed, these methods are generally thought to have promise in treating these conditions, as well as some common co-occurring mental health concerns.3
Support groups for eating disorder families
Just as the support of therapy can help all members of a family going through eating disorder recovery, the process itself can be equally draining on the whole family.
Parents and other family members can make a big difference toward helping a loved one, but it's just as important for these family members to care for their own mental health during this difficult time. Taking some time for self-care can be helpful. Going for a walk, journaling, taking a bath, or doing something nice for yourself can help alleviate the stress often associated with supporting someone's recovery.
Support groups can also help. Anorexia support for families, particularly anorexia parent support, can be found in anorexia family support groups. Other eating disorders may have specific support groups, or there may be more general support groups for friends or family of those with eating disorders.
Just as these groups can help someone going through recovery, they can help those on the outside by providing a sense of community and a forum to offer advice or air shared successes or concerns.
How we integrate family support at Within Health
No patient comes to our care without a family and loved ones, however complex those relationships may be. Failing to address the role of these people in a patient's life is failing to provide the type of comprehensive, whole-person care we pride ourselves on.
At Within Health, we recognize that each family’s history within the context of their loved one’s eating disorder is unique, with their own set of needs and circumstances. We utilize family therapy to uncover familial issues that may need to be addressed to provide our patients with the best possible outcome and to help address unspoken fears and anxiety that all members of the family may experience.
These family therapy sessions all occur virtually through our eating disorder treatment application. No matter where the family members live, they can participate in family therapy sessions conducted by a licensed therapist.
In addition to family therapy, we offer other forms of family support, such as:
- Family education, allowing loved ones to learn more about eating disorders and how to talk about them in a way that isn’t stigmatizing or oppressive.
- Family support groups, giving loved ones the chance to share their experiences and learn from other family units.
While we always aim to be inclusive, we realize in certain situations, family involvement may not be something that the patient and care team feel is helpful, especially if family dynamics include neglect or emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. In these cases, we may refer family members to another support system that can provide outside support and guidance.