• bulimia nervosa;
  • CBT;
  • treatment



Since the description of bulimia nervosa as a distinct diagnostic entity in 1979, several psychological and pharmacological interventions have been developed and empirically tested. The existence of several effective treatments, none of which is completely effective, is common to most psychiatric conditions. The research question that flows from such findings is whether second-level treatments would be effective for those who fail initial treatment.


In the case of bulimia nervosa, the research findings suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the first level of treatment and that both antidepressant medication and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) may potentially be effective second-level treatments. This was a multicenter study in which 194 patients were initially treated with CBT. Those treated unsuccessfully (n = 62) were then randomized to treatment with IPT or medication management.


Of those assigned to secondary treatment, 37 completed such treatment and 25 dropped out or were withdrawn. The abstinence rate for subjects assigned to treatment with IPT was 16% and for those assigned to medication management was 10%. No significant differences were found between medication and IPT in either the intent-to-treat or completer analysis.


Dropout rates were high, and response rates were low among BN patients assigned to secondary treatments who failed to achieve remission with CBT. Offering lengthy sequential treatments appears to have little value, and alternative models for therapy need to be tested. © 2002 by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Int J Eat Disord 32: 271–281, 2002.