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Family therapy is often used in eating disorders treatment, particularly when the patient is an adolescent. Tweens and teens live at home and often need their family to support them through treatment. Our professionals at everyBody Behavioral Health will work with the family to help them understand what may have initiated the eating disorder as well as what factors may be maintaining it. We will also guide you in how to best support your child (or sibling or partner) through his or her treatment. Common treatment targets consist of:
- Understanding the eating disorder. Parents often don’t “get it.” They do not understand why or how their child developed an eating disorder and they also do not know what to do to help. They often think, “can’t you just eat?” Or “(s)he is choosing to be this way.” Eating disorders are not a choice and they are serious medical conditions. Similar to those who have a terrible fear of dogs, they can’t “just pet it” without feeling intense anxiety.
- Removing Blame – it’s not your fault! Families often wonder what they did wrong. This is a myth and not helpful for treatment. There is not just one cause of eating disorders. Our therapists will educate the family about the various factors (genetic and environmental) that could have played a role in the development of the eating disorder. Eating disorders do not just occur in one type of family.
- Navigating meals. Our therapists will guide you in family meals. How to manage distress at the table and be compassionate while also not negotiating with the voice of the eating disorder. We will also view how meals are handled at home (what foods are kept at home, family meals versus “on your own,” who grocery shops, who cooks, where eating occurs (at a table, TV, car), etc. While family therapy is often initially quite structured, the goal is to guide the family in terms of decreasing structure (choice of meals, timing of meals, supervision at meals) and increasing independence to the patient as he/she begins to recover.
- Eliminating body talk. Our team will help identify the family’s values towards diet, weight, and appearance, how this affects the patient, and ways to help maneuver this talk at home.
- Improving family interactions and boundaries. Our therapists will look at the role of each family member. Often patients feel unworthy or not good enough. On the other hand, some believe that they need to be perfect to be “good enough” or lovable. Alternatively, some patients are the “adult” and care taker of the family. Sometimes, without knowing, patients use the eating disorder as a way to control something when they feel that they have no control. Other times they use an eating disorder to feel more love and care from others. Eating disorders may also serve as a way to numb emotional turmoil. Our therapists will provide respect for each family member and will help each other see how their own behaviors influence the other people in the family. The therapist will help families learn to navigate conflict, better communicate with each other, and allow for the adolescent patient’s growth and independence through recovery.
- Partner for meal support. While eating disorders tend to be secretive in nature, it is often helpful to involve the partner/spouse in treatment. In addition to the treatment targets above, adult patients with eating disorders may involve the spouse for meal support, diet/appearance values, as well as for help with other relationship issues that may play a role in maintaining the eating disorder.