Research has demonstrated that Family Based Treatment (FBT)* – also referred to as “Maudsley Treatment” – is more effective for treating Anorexia Nervosa (AN) than any other intervention for patients under 18 years old. FBT is an intensive outpatient treatment focused on empowering parents or caregiver[s] in the critical role of feeding their sick child, with the goal of eventually transitioning that control back to the child when he/she is ready.
In spite of the evidence in support of FBT as the gold standard treatment for childhood/adolescent AN, some clinicians and families alike are opposed or resistant to utilizing FBT. Too often, we find that the rationale for bypassing FBT is based on misinformation. Let’s take a look at some of the most common misperceptions about FBT:
Myth 1) “Teenagers need be working towards independence. I don’t want to stifle age-appropriate separation.”
Adolescence is a time when teens need to separate, spread their wings and develop independent living skills. Some vocalize the fear that a treatment that focuses on taking over feeding might inhibit this growth process.
Of course, separation is essential, however, it can only happen if an adolescent is healthy and stable enough to be able to feed him/herself adequately. If the teen can’t take care of this most basic need, it means that independence in the area of feeding would be inappropriate – and often downright dangerous. The task of FBT is to take control of feeding temporarily with the goal of transferring control back to the teen as soon as it can be managed. Ideally, the teen can participate normally in all other aspects of life while in treatment. It’s just the food that needs to be managed until the teen is ready to take over.
Myth 2) “Anorexia is about control so controlling my child’s food could make it worse.”
I often ask parents to consider how they would intervene if their child was drunk and about to get into a car to drive away. Of course, the response is that they would grab the keys away and escort the child to safety. Anorexia is intoxicating. It takes over the mind and renders the sufferer completely at the mercy of the disease. Ultimately, the sufferer is driven by the disorder and while the restrictive behaviors can feel calming or reassuring in the moment, they can drive a sufferer quite literally to death. When parents relieve their child of the responsibility of food – they take control temporarily, until the patient can responsible get back in the driver’s seat on the road to health.
Myth 3) “Parents can’t participate in FBT if they have their own food struggles.”
There is no reason why a family can’t feed their child adequately even if one or both parents struggle with their own food issues. FBT is not about treating or changing mom or dad’s eating. The treatment is about empowering parents to be able to feed their child adequately and to provide the emotional support necessary for the child to recover. We provide plenty of nutrition education and guidance around feeding, always with the focus on the child and his/her unique needs as a young, developing individual in recovery.
Myth 4) “I don’t want to bring the whole family into this.”
While it is helpful to educate the entire family unit on FBT, this treatment is intended to reduce the stress in the home, not exacerbate it. We integrate family members only if we believe it will be helpful to the process. Siblings are involved if together we agree that they would benefit from more understanding about their family member’s illness. FBT should not be rigid or oppressive. It is a responsive treatment that navigates the family life in order to support full and lasting recovery.
Myth 5) “My child is too sick; we need to consider hospital.”
As long as the patient is medically stable, there is rarely a reason to send a child to a program or inpatient facility. FBT is an alternative to these institutional options. FBT is incredibly efficient and cost-effective (once weekly meetings). We see truly remarkable results using FBT at our center and have seen dozens of young patients avoid hospitalization as a result of successful FBT.