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New research supports involvement of parents as key to eating disorder recovery

SUDBURY - In the past, a parents’ involvement in the treatment of eating disorders was discouraged by well-intentioned therapists if they believed that the parents would interfere with the recovery process.

Today, many parents of adult children or parents who are critical or enable their child’s symptoms are kept on the outskirts of the recovery process.

Now, a new series of studies demonstrate that the active involvement of parents can help to improve the outcomes for both teenagers and adults suffering from these disorders, even when they initially act in ways that seem counter-productive.

The first study looked at over a hundred parents of adolescents and adults with eating disorders.

The team of researchers first sought to understand the root of “recovery-interfering behaviours” in parents, revealing that underlying these behaviors were feelings of fear and self-blame.

Then the researchers tested the effectiveness of a new treatment method - Emotion-Focused Family Therapy (EFFT) - to help parents move through these emotions and support their child in a good way, regardless of age. They found that the process helped, and without the need for extensive psychotherapy.

“Our research showed that these reactions, fueled by fear and self-blame, can be transformed so that parents can become positive agents of change and support their loved one through their treatment,” said Dr. Adèle Lafrance, a university professor, psychologist and co-developer of EFFT.

“Using the EFFT method involves parents and caregivers in a significant way as well as healing some old family wounds in the process.”

The EFFT treatment model involves dealing with the negative emotions, while teaching parents the skills and techniques needed to care for a family member suffering with an eating disorder. As such, parents feel more empowered to participate in the healing process, and without the fear of making things worse.  

“Everything we know about the neuroscience of parent-child relationships supports involving parents more, not less – no matter if the child is 14 or 40,” Lafrance said.

“We also have to stop excluding parents from treatment when they behave in ways that are less than ideal. Our research shows that with some targeted support, they can play a very positive role in the recovery of their child’s eating disorder.”


September 8, 2017


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