Family Based Therapy for Adolescent Eating Disorders
Parents often feel guilty, siblings may feel pushed aside, and the ill adolescent may worry that everyone is against her. Conflicts arise around food, eating, and ways to treat the adolescent. Parents often need support themselves so that they can better support their child’s recovery.
Family Based Therapy for ED is considered to be a research-based psychotherapy that assists the family to help the adolescent get better. The Trauma and Attachment Report had the opportunity to interview Researcher Karin Jasper, a mental health specialist who treats eating disorders at Southlake Regional Health Center in Newmarket, Canada. We spoke about the stress a family faces when an adolescent is diagnosed with an ED, and how Family Based Therapy can help them cope.
Q: How does having an adolescent with an eating disorder affect the family?
A: An eating disorder is a very serious illness that has life threatening and developmentally related consequences. It can throw the family into chaos. Having a child with an illness may take a lot of the parents’ time and there is much conflict during and after meal-time. For example, if a child is suffering from anorexia and finds it too difficult to eat, the worried parents try to get her to eat more, and that can result in arguments and fights, and disturb family relationships.
Once their weight is restored, and they are helped with underlying issues, they can go back to their social life and school, and their behaviour changes considerably. They are happier to be doing well, and they manage their meals better themselves. The conflicts they now have with their parents are more like normal teen conflicts.
Q: Can families find a way to manage this and move forward?
A: Yes. The majority of families can help their children get past this and go on with their lives. It takes between six months to a year, but parents still need to keep an eye on the child for warning signs. In more complex cases, treatment takes longer and other forms of therapy may be required, including hospitalization.
Q: What are the resources available for families in this situation?
A: There are a number of websites and books that provide information to parents and help them cope. One of the books, A Parent’s Guide to Defeating Eating Disorders: Spotting the Stealth Bomber and Other Symbolic Approaches, was published this past fall by Psychiatrist Ahmed Boachie and myself.
Q: What are some of the warning signs that parents should look out for in their children?
A: There are several warning signs, such as:
- Losing weight or not gaining weight or height as part of normal development.
- Wearing looser cloths to try to hide weight loss or due to profound dissatisfaction with their body.
- Reporting that they are cold and wearing clothes that seem too heavy for the weather.
- Drinking more caffeinated drinks, smoking, or chewing gums excessively -all things people do when they are not getting enough food.
- Liking to cook for others but not eating what they prepared.
- Becoming very anxious and defensive when issues related to body weight are brought up.
- Finding holidays or family occasions that revolve around food to be highly stressful.
- Developing certain rituals during meal times, such as cutting food into very small pieces, eating food in specific order, or taking an unusually long time to finish a meal.
- Starting to be especially interested in physical activity, such as taking the dog out for a run even when the weather is really bad.
-Noga Lutzky Cohen, Contributing Writer