Family-Based Treatment for Eating Disorders


Are you a parent of a child with an eating disorder? Have you watched your child’s weight plummet, or noticed their eating habits and attitudes around food change dramatically? Has your child been overly preoccupied with their shape and weight to the point of significant mood changes and social isolation?

Family-Based Treatment (FBT) is a family-focused outpatient therapy that empowers parents to be active participants in their adolescent’s recovery. This evidence-based approach can be an effective alternative to hospital stays for medically stable teens with anorexia. FBT lasts for approximately 20 sessions over the course of 6-12 months. Through the three phases of treatment, parents initially take an active role in their teen’s meals in efforts to restore weight (Phase I), start handing control over eating back to their teen (Phase II), and finally help their teen to establish a healthy adolescent identity (Phase III).

Family-Based Treatment is considered the first-line treatment for medically stable adolescents with anorexia nervosa, and has promising results for adolescents with bulimia nervosa. You can help your child with this life-threatening illness, and taking action now might have a significant impact on your child’s recovery and long-term wellbeing.

Fundamentals of Family-Based Treatment

  1. You are not to blame for your child’s eating disorder. Eating disorders are caused by numerous biological and environmental factors. Parents are not to blame for their adolescent’s eating disorder, and playing the blame game only makes parents feel more defeated in the recovery process.

  2. Your therapist has a non-authoritarian stance in the FBT process. Your therapist is actively involved as a supportive eating disorder expert. You will consult with your therapist for coaching and guidance, but your therapist does not make final decisions for you. At the end of the day, you know your child best!

  3. You can help your child get better. You and your family are the best resource in your adolescent’s recovery. You have skills as parents and strong familial ties that you can use to help your child. Your therapist will help you tap into these skills so you can help your child recover.

  4. Your child’s eating disorder is not his or her true identity. Your adolescent is not to blame for his or her eating disorder. He or she may act in ways that seem out of character because the eating disorder has a strong hold on their moods and behaviors. This is not your adolescent seeking attention or acting out, but rather being overtaken by a life-threatening illness.

  5. Your child’s current symptoms are the main focus of treatment. FBT focuses on behavioral changes that yield normal eating, weight restoration and healthy adolescent development. The cause of your child’s eating disorder, and the cognitions that sustain it, are not the main foci of treatment while their health is at imminent risk.

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