Adolescent-Focused Psychotherapy (AFP) for Anorexia Nervosa

Adolescent-Focused Psychotherapy (AFP) is an individual therapy approach designed specifically for adolescents with anorexia nervosa (AN).

The AFP approach

AFP takes the view that adolescents with AN are using food restriction and weight control as a coping strategy to manage challenging developmental issues that they experience as overwhelming or intolerable. These issues include identity formation, establishing separation and independence from the family unit, assuming adult responsibilities and expectations, and navigating challenges of peer relationships and burgeoning sexuality. AFP views the anorexia as serving a function by creating a “way out” via withdrawal and avoidance of these potentially overwhelming or intolerable adolescent developmental tasks.

Three phases of AFP treatment

AFP typically consists of one-on-one sessions with a therapist in an outpatient setting over the course of one year. Treatment moves through three phases aimed at different therapeutic targets. In very simple terms, phase one focuses on establishing rapport between provider and patient and mapping out how the patient’s AN serves as a method of avoidance and coping. Phase two focuses on encouraging exploration of individuation issues, with an emphasis on building independence and confidence in one’s own capabilities. Phase three focuses on identifying and initiating more constructive coping strategies for adolescent challenges.

The therapeutic relationship itself is a crucial component of AFP, with the therapist taking both a nurturing and directive stance to help guide, shape, model, and practice behavior changes throughout treatment. Conjoined or collateral sessions with family members are used in AFP to provide psycho-education and empower family members to effectively support the individual adolescent in their self-directed change process. 

The goal of AFP

Treating eating disorders in adolescence and addressing developmental deficits caused by the eating disorder sets the individual up for more adaptive functioning in the future. Additionally, it improves their chances for a successful and sustained recovery.


If you or a loved one is facing disordered eating of any kind, please don’t hesitate to schedule a complimentary call with one of Columbus Park’s experts.