Parents Can Play Key Role In Anorexia Treatment
Anorexia nervosa is a health threat that can lead to severe medical problems and even death. The disease, which is most common in adolescent girls, is typically marked by significant weight loss, extreme fear of gaining weight and distorted body image. In young women, the condition is also marked by the cessation of menstruation.
Traditional approaches to the treatment of anorexia focus entirely on the patient, as a team of therapists and other health professionals work to restore a young woman to good health. Parents have typically not been involved in the process.
However, a new therapy developed at Maudsley Hospital in London and now practiced at several clinics in the United States, takes a very different approach to treating anorexia.
Terrill Bravender, M.D., director of adolescent medicine and medical director of the Outpatient Eating Disorders Program at Duke University Medical Center, says the Maudsley technique is family-centered. "The difference from more traditional approaches is that we put a large emphasis on involving the parents in the care of their children from the very beginning," he says.
"Parents are part of the initial evaluation of patients and also participate in some of the therapy interventions that we do," explains Bravender. "We try to empower parents and help them learn how to help their children eat."
He says parents are members of a treatment team, along with the patient and health professionals.
There are three basic principles of the Maudsley technique. The first is that food is medicine: parents can learn and follow creative, positive steps to feed their sick child, just as they would to give life-saving medicine to a younger child. The second is that parents learn to re-examine their own behaviors around food, since children are heavily influenced by family attitudes. The third principle is that anorexia therapy must be collaborative, a team effort that includes a therapist, nutritionist, physician and other specialists in adolescent medicine and psychology, as well as patients and their families.
"The parents may feel like they're part of the problem," says Bravender. "We want to bring them into the therapy relationship and see them as part of the solution."