Eating Disorder Research and Family-based Treatment

Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Special Projects Coordinator at Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope

lterer Sohn im Gesprch mit seinen ElternAs the knowledge and understanding of eating disorders advances and progress, so have treatment methods for eating disorders also become more effective, improving the prognosis and outcomes for those who may be struggling.

Evidenced based treatment methods are demonstrating progression towards recovery in eating disorder sufferers, increasing the chances that a person can reclaim their life from an eating disorder and truly thrive.

How the Maudsley Method Works

One form of evidenced-based treatment for anorexia that has been studied and proven for its efficacy is that of family based treatment, otherwise known as the Maudsley Method or Maudsley Family Therapy. This family therapy treatment approach to eating disorders was developed by Christopher Dare and associates at the Maudsley Hospital in London, England and has since been supported by a multitude of studies.

Family therapy, or family based treatment, has been shown to be most effective in individuals who are under 18 years old and if applied within three years of the onset of the illness1. While family based treatment has primarily been studied and proven effective as a treatment for teenagers with anorexia, studies are also finding encouraging results in trials that involve patients with bulimia nervosa.

The Phases of Family-based Treatment

Family Group Sitting On Boat With Fishing Rod On Winter BeachFamily based treatment for anorexia nervosa progresses through various phases, which typically last for the duration of about one year and is led by a qualified team who specializes in this form of treatment.

The three main phases of family based treatment for anorexia are as follows:

Phase 1: Weight Restoration

This phase of family based treatment involves the key aspect of recovery for anorexia. The treatment team will primarily focus on the consequences associated with severe malnutrition, which results from Anorexia.

The treatment team will also guide parents or guardians in re-feeding their child to promote restoration of the adolescent’s weight. By externalizing the illness, the treatment team will help family members align with their child and help set aside feelings of self blame and criticism. The length of this phase may vary according to the progression of weight restoration.

Phase 2: Returning Control Over Eating to the Adolescent

This phase of family based treatment for anorexia transitions parents into supporting their child to regain control over eating. Parents continue to oversee the task of assuring weight gain or maintenance (whichever is appropriate) and support the adolescents ongoing acceptance of increased and regular food intake.

Phase 3: Establishing Healthy Adolescent Identity

This phase of family based treatment for anorexia begins when the adolescent is able to sustain weight above 95 percent of the ideal body weight independently. Another key sign that this phase is appropriate for the adolescent is that self-starvation has subsided. Personal autonomy for the adolescent is also emphasized in this phase, along with the establishment of health parental boundaries.

How Important Is Family-based Treatment?

Loving mother and daughter sharing computer in outdoorsHow effective is the family based treatment approach for eating disorder recovery? A randomized trial of the Maudsley Family Therapy found that ninety percent of patients involved with this treatment method achieved a normal weight or the return of the menstrual cycle at the end of treatment1.

Other randomized trials have also confirmed the effectiveness of family based treatment for eating disorders, with 70 percent of patients returning to a normal body weight1. The repeated results seen in research studies of family based treatment or Maudsley Family Therapy confirm the usefulness of this approach for adolescents in eating disorder recovery.

If you are interested in integrated family based treatment for your loved one, be sure to inquire about this form of therapy with your treatment team and/or treatment center.



Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you or a loved on participated in family based treatment for an eating disorder? If so, can you share about your experience? How did this form of therapy help you recover from an eating disorder? What advice might you share with others who are considering family-based therapy?


  1. Russell, GF; Szmukler, GI; Dare, C; Eisler, I (1987). “An evaluation of family therapy in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa”. Archives of general psychiatry 44 (12): 1047–56. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1987.01800240021004. PMID 3318754.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 31st, 2015
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