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Keywords:

  • Family therapy;
  • anorexia nervosa;
  • adolescence

Background:  There is growing evidence that family therapy is an effective treatment for adolescent anorexia nervosa. This study aimed to ascertain the long-term impact of two forms of outpatient family intervention previously evaluated in a randomised controlled trial (RCT).

Method:  A five-year follow-up was conducted on a cohort of 40 patients who had received either ‘conjoint family therapy’ (CFT) or ‘separated family therapy’ (SFT). All patients were traced and 38 agreed to be reassessed (29 interviewed in person, 3 completed telephone interviews, 6 completed questionnaires and/or agreed for parents/GP to be interviewed).

Results:  Overall there was little to distinguish the two treatments at 5 years, with more than 75% of subjects having no eating disorder symptoms. There were no deaths in the cohort and only 8% of those who had achieved a healthy weight by the end of treatment reported any kind of relapse. Three patients developed bulimic symptoms but only one to a degree warranting a diagnosis of bulimia nervosa. The one difference between the treatments was in patients from families with raised levels of maternal criticism. This group of patients had done less well at the end of treatment if they had been offered conjoint family meetings. At follow-up this difference was still evident, as shown in the relative lack of weight gain since the end of outpatient treatment.

Conclusions:  This study confirms the efficacy of family therapy for adolescent anorexia nervosa, showing that those who respond well to outpatient family intervention generally stay well. The study provides further support for avoiding the use of conjoint family meetings at least early on in treatment when raised levels of parental criticism are evident.