Seeking Personal Therapy as a Parent in a Support Role

Contributor: Rachel Collins, LPC, guest contributor for Eating Disorder Hope

away-243679_640Parents of children and adolescents who are being treated for eating disorders are an integral part of treatment. Often, however, the needs of the parents can be overlooked when focusing on treatment goals pertaining specifically to the child.

The goal of the parents seeking therapy for themselves would be to help the parent process their own feelings in regards to parenting a child with an eating disorder. In addition, to explore any issues that may affect their ability to parent.

Parents Can Have an Effect on Treatment

Parent’s behaviors and emotions can have a positive or negative effect on the maintenance of the illness once it begins. Issues ongoing and untreated for the parent can impact treatment progress for the child
(Abbate-Daga, Quaranta, Marzola, Cazzaniga, Amianto, & Fassino, 2013).

Although family therapy is integral in child and adolescent treatment it is not the aim of this treatment to focus on unresolved issues of the parent that fall outside the parenting role.

Helping the Parent Understand Their Child’s Disease

One aim of personal therapy for the parent is to help the parent better understand the illness suffered by the child and the development of adaptive coping responses (Abbate-Daga, Quaranta, Marzola, Cazzaniga, Amianto, & Fassino, 2013).

Parents often may have issues with their own body image or self-esteem from a similar age that may or may not have been treated but subconsciously have been passed down to the child. Messages although not purposely meant to cause harm may actually promote development of eating disordered behavior in someone more at risk for development of these disorders.

Supporting the Child By Supporting Yourself

beautiful-2315_640One part of supporting an individual with an eating disorder is to support oneself. If the individual with the eating disorder is willing to work to overcome the challenges, the individual(s) in the support role must work to improve themselves otherwise the environment as a whole will not change.

Abbate-Daga, Quaranta, Marzola, Cazzaniga, Amianto, and Fassino (2013) outlined the use of personal parent counseling as a part of the overall treatment regime.

The intervention as proposed in the research outlines eight sessions for parents in a support role ranging in topics from interpersonal maintenance mechanisms to practical goal setting.

Close to half of the participants in the study showed a significant improvement after the parent counseling intervention in being able to cope with the individual with the eating disorders symptoms.

Counseling for parents was also found to be helpful in working on improvement of dysfunctional family dynamics (Abbate-Daga, Quaranta, Marzola, Cazzaniga, Amianto, & Fassino, 2013).

Accomplishing Goals Outside of Therapy

The goal of treatment is to lessen the severity of presenting symptomology in the natural environment. If this goal is to be successfully accomplished outside the therapeutic environment, the natural environment must also change to aid in decreasing relapse rates.

Changes to maintain gains have to be universal. If the individual receiving treatment meets treatment goals and is able to maintain a life free of eating disordered behaviors then those in the support role should be able to promote maintenance of these gains.

This cannot be done if part of the underlying problem is patholology related to a poor support system because the same messages will continue to be given to the individual with an eating disorder, which in turn could influence a relapse.

Supportive Parenting Practices

cadiz-189290_640Supportive parenting practice helps to strengthen the self-esteem and sense of self-worth of the individual being supported. To be supportive, the parent must feel confident and secure with him or herself.

Personal therapy for a parent thus allows the parent to explore his or her own beliefs in a safe environment to then in turn help out the individual in need of recovery support. Treatment for the individual with an eating disorder is not the place for the parent to explore and resolve issues outside the scope of the family therapy treatment goals.

Seeking Treatment to Support Others

For example, in the treatment of trauma, parents are often requested to seek services for themselves so as to not have their own issues have a negative impact on the treatment progress of the child.

The same could be said in the treatment of eating disorder, the parent as well as the individual with the disorder need to explore issues pertaining to themselves to strengthen their own self-worth and to come together in a more collaborative and understanding relationship.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you sought personal therapy as the love one of a child with an eating disorder? How has personal therapy affected your support role?



  1. Abbate-Daga, G., Quaranta, M., Marzola, E., Cazzaniga, G., Amianto, F., & Fassino, S. (2013).
  2. Effectiveness of parenting counselling in eating disorders. British Journal of Guidance &
    Counselling, 41(4), 375-394.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 31st, 2014
Published on