Knowledge Bank

The use of family therapy for treating eating disorders

A study has found that the more time teenagers spend browsing Facebook, the more likely they are to suffer from bulimia and anorexia.

But it also finds that the risk is moderated if parents are involved in how their children use the internet.

The way a family interacts, or doesn’t interact, is especially important in tackling eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. The image of the lonely teenager marooned in their bedroom with their laptop is a familiar one, and this can happen when children feel isolated, for one reason or another, from the rest of the family.

It is perhaps, for this reason, that family therapy has had some success in helping with eating disorders in children and teenagers. Once the family starts learning how to interact with one another in a healthy way, and how to listen to each other, the teenager can then feel it is a more attractive proposition to be with the family instead of locked away in their own universe.

What is family therapy?

Family therapy is sometimes also called ‘couple and family therapy’ or ‘family systems therapy’ and is a type of psychotherapy similar to relationship counselling, working with both couples and/or families.

Family therapy was not developed by just one person, but there are many people in the field who have contributed to make this therapy into what it is today. Mostly these people have a psychoanalytic background, though the theory behind family therapy comes from ‘systems theory’ and ‘cybernetics’ (the study of complex systems – as families are thought to be), and secondly from behavioural therapy and cognitive psychotherapy.

More recently, family therapy has further developed to incorporate ideas which are feminist and postmodernist, as well as various other psychological theory backgrounds.

How does family therapy work?

Family therapists will usually have a session with more than one member of the family attending. This gives the therapist the opportunity to see how these family members integrate with each other as often their habits displayed at the session will be the same or similar to their habits at home.

Family therapy presents an opportunity for the therapist to point out emerging patterns seen within the family, and so is more concerned with what is going on ‘between’ people rather than ‘in’ people, although some therapists in this field will also look at the latter.

To learn more about family therapy, go to The Therapy Book.

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