Family Based Treatment for Children and Adolescents with Eating Disorders

The evidence-based treatment of choice for children and adolescents with eating disorders is Family Based Treatment (FBT).

Research studies have consistently shown FBT to be the best treatment for children and adolescents with anorexia.  An emerging body of evidence is showing similar effectiveness for children and adolescents with bulimia.  The beauty of FBT is that not only is it so effective, but it is also time-efficient (once weekly meetings), cost-effective (a fraction of the cost of intensive residential programs), and delivered in a “real-life” setting (restrictive settings like residential are really only indicated for patients with medical complications).

1.  What is Family Based Treatment?

FBT is about equipping parents with the tools they need to restore their child’s health, and then empowering them to do so.  Parents participate in weekly sessions with a trained FBT therapist, sometimes alone and sometimes with the patient.  For a malnourished child with anorexia, the focus is on re-feeding and the 35-40 times a week (3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day) a patient must eat.  Every bite counts as a step back to the healthy child you once knew.

2.  How long does it take?

It varies by patient, but at Columbus Park we typically see patients start to restore weight within the first two weeks and continue with restoration at the rate of around 1-3 pounds per week.  Treatment is broken down into three phases.  In Phase One of treatment parents take back control of their child’s food choices.  In Phase Two parents carefully transfer feeding responsibilities back to their child.  In Phase Three we address any gaps in development that occurred while patients were consumed by their eating disorder.

3.  What if I can’t be present at each feeding?

Many dedicated parents have very real limitations that prevent them from being available at each of the five daily feedings.  At Columbus Park, we provide meal support to step in when parents, other family members, or the nurse/counselor at your child’s school cannot.  Whomever you choose to help re-feed your child, your FBT therapist will work closely with them to ensure that continuity of care is upheld.

4.  Can FBT help children who are being discharged from inpatient care?

Yes.  Insurers often limit inpatient/residential facilities to medically stabilizing patients and, in the case of patients with anorexia, restoring them to 75%-80% of Ideal Body Weight.  Post-discharge, there is still work to be done to get 100% of your child back, and FBT can definitely help.  At Columbus Park, we can help coordinate this transition and help you pick-up where the hospital left off.


FBT is the treatment of choice with children and adolescents for good reason—it works!