Family-Based Therapy, What is it? 

Family-Based Therapy (FBT), it may sound like a simple concept that is therapy that heavily involves the family. However, what is it and how does it work?


As a treatment plan originated at Maudsley Hospital, the Maudsley approach also known as Family-Based Treatment or Family-Based Therapy. This intervention method has been extensively trialled as an outpatient program for people who experience eating disorders, in particular for adolescents.

FBT has found its strength has a treatment plan to follow through its high levels of recovery rates in comparison to some other forms of treatments. This is suggested to have been the outcome of providing family a lot of support during treatment as well as a strong focus on post treatment living circumstances.

A key component when it comes to Family-Based Therapy is the forward thinking focus, as an eating disorder is viewed as an extremely complex illness with many components, it is known to all parties that no one can be blamed for developing or causing the illness to develop. This is especially important to affirm to the participant and their family so everyone can move forward to accelerate treatment and focus on recovery.

Another component of FBT is externalising the eating disorder away from the individual. This approach emphasises that the eating disorder has to an extent taken over an individual and has affected the issues they’re experiencing but they are not the issue and never were the issue itself. This is to ensure all parties that any and all disordered behaviours are not deliberately developed, controlled and cannot be stopped at will. This component called externalisation is beneficial as any blame from any body within the family unit whether on self or on other people can cause negative barriers to a positive outcome.

Family-Based Therapy is also a very strong therapeutic approach with eating disorders due to the acknowledgement of how different family dynamics are and therefore uses a guiding approach. This non-direct approach is to help guide the family through recovery without telling a family what is the best way to do things. Therapists may be experts at understanding eating disorders and therapeutic practises but they’re not experts of someone else’s family and its background, and as a result a collaborative approach with the parents taking the ‘driving seat’ is shown to have positive outcomes.

As a result of these approaches, FBT is strongly focused on symptom reduction and parent and by extension, family empowerment and confidence building. This is to facilitate and ensure that the family is supported with the distress of an eating disorder within the family and to ensure the recovery goes as well as possible.

This is especially important as when supporting a family member experiencing an eating disorder, the family will require support from their specialist team, support networks and support groups are also recommended. 

Therefore, FBT is considered a great first treatment plan for an adolescent as it includes their primary support system to be their agent of change and is beneficial for long-term outcomes.

Photo Source: https://www.canva.com/

Clinical research has come from this source:
Rienecke RD. Family-based treatment of eating disorders in adolescents: current insights. Adolesc Health Med

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